The only constant in the news media world is change. And today it is happening at a pace that demands publishers understand what’s in store — and take immediate action.
Señor drew information from the Innovation in Media 2022/23 World Report, for which was an editor. He provided some of the key findings from that report and used them as a springboard for developing future-proofed strategies.
Media publishers must get ready for the world of Web 3.0, which is being touted as the future of the Internet and is being built using new technologies such as blockchain and decentralisation. While much of it still remains a mystery, Señor said there are certain things publishers must do now to be part of that new frontier.
“This is not just about the metaverse; it is about rethinking the Web as we know it,” he said. “The news site as we know it may disappear in the Web 3 world.”
He declared this a new beginning and said the changes will be profound and irreversible. To keep from being left behind, publishers must adopt a first-party data strategy.
“2023 is the year digital advertising changes forever,” Señor said, referencing Google’s phase-out of third-party cookies. “The shift is epochal, and it is coming fast in 2024.”
Preparing for what’s next
Until now, publishers have been running what Señor called “blind digital businesses” and lacked a direct relationship with their audiences.
That needs to end now, and the way to remove the blinders is through data: “If you have their data, you can have an informed direct relationship,” he said. “Control what you offer, what you charge, and what’s next.”
As publishers prepare for the future, Señor said there are five specific innovations to adopt. All of them can help extend reach and revenue — as well as keeping news media companies in the game.
Somehow, newsletters have become a business model of their own, and Señor referred to them as “conversion monsters.”
“Newsletters have proven to be the most versatile tool in the publishers’ arsenal,” he noted. “That’s because, at the end of the day, e-mail is still the best thing for people. It’s personal, it comes to you, and it’s something people check.”
When done properly, newsletters are welcomed by readers. They can promote causes, provide analyses of complex topics, provide important information in a timely manner, and generate revenue. “And it’s a key driver for collecting first-party data.”
Although broadcast companies have experienced a drop in listeners, podcast is experiencing a boom—and advertising is following. In May, the number of podcast advertisers grew by 42% in the United States, and the next revenue model could involve listeners paying for audio.
“The great insight that we’ve seen is that people are not just willing to consume it, but they are now willing to pay for a podcast, too,” he said. His findings indicate 20% of listeners are “somewhat” or “very likely” to pay for a podcast subscription in the next 12 months.
“Not too many are willing to pay for newsletters, but they will pay for podcasts. The podcast subscription revenue model is here.”
The podcast habit was driven by the pandemic and has given birth to another listening trend: audio stories.
He pointed to Zetland, which started offering audio versions of its stories and, in just two months, saw 40% of its consumption come through audio. Six months in, that number had grown to 50%, and today 80% of content consumption is via audio. INMA recently visited Zetland during its study tour portion of Media Innovation Week in Copenhagen.
“Now when you offer this as part of a subscription, people love it and expect to not just read the story but listen to it. And the great thing about this innovation is that it doesn’t cost that much money anymore.”
AI + news
Artificial Intelligence is working its way into newsrooms, with robots providing reporting services — but Señor noted there are limitations.
“What we see is AI and machines are basically writing full articles, but mostly for reportorial journalism,” he said. This can include things like sports stories and real estate listings, and it can free up journalists’ time and allow them to focus on other stories.
AI also is useful in gaining insights into readers’ habits and improving engagement, but it lacks one thing human editors bring to the table: conscience. And conscience, he said, is the essence of intelligence.
“It cannot replace the human insight in terms of what is a good story and what is not a good story,” he said. “Technology is a means, not an end. You still have to listen more to your editors and to human intelligence than you do to Artificial Intelligence.”
Advertising is no longer a viable form of sustainability for news media companies, and paywalls should be looked at as tools for retention and revenue.
“You need to charge for content,” Señor said. “You really must abandon display advertising.”
Data visualisations became an incredibly popular form of storytelling during the pandemic and were major drivers of subscriptions, Señor said. The combination of testimonials and data sets allows news media outlets to tell a story in a new and specific way, and when the data is available to everyone, its reach and impact are even greater.
These five innovations are critical to preparing for Web3, but they are not the only actions publishers need to take as they plan for the future. Señor said there is one strategy that also is critical for all news media companies to implement immediately:
“Re-invest in quality journalism,” he said. “Because only journalism will save journalism.”