The Global Monetization Discussion

July 21st, 2017 by Sonya

The Chartbeat team and I just returned from an incredible trip to Vienna for the GEN Summit 2017 where the three-day action was non-stop. Perhaps most exciting was the opportunity to gather with media leaders from around the world to discuss the biggest issues facing us today.

The main themes of the week focused on how newsrooms around the world have adapted to deal with emerging trends in the industry, including the role of Facebook, the deeper need for data and technology in everyday strategies, the move to subscriptions and exploration of better monetization models, and how we can learn from each other cross-culturally.

As part of the larger discussion around the monetization of news, I participated in a panel titled “How to Monetize Content: Lessons from China.” China is an increasingly interesting news ecosystem to study, primarily because of the burgeoning tech landscape and unique media market there. But is it really as different as we think?

With media heavily regulated by the Chinese government – and with the most prominent platforms in the west, Facebook and Google, blocked entirely – publishers working with Chinese platforms primarily avoid the “news media” label to distance themselves from political news and regulations. Thus, the focus of content providers in China is not a suppressed “Hard News” approach, but instead, a “Soft Content” or lifestyle approach. Social media influencers as well as companies have been able to experiment with content and technology in new ways through this lens to both inform readers and drive revenue streams.

To illustrate this, we look at the top three apps in China, which are all homegrown technology companies. They are:

  1. Toutiao
    A news aggregator that looks and acts similar to the Facebook News Feed, without the social connections. The headlines and content a user sees are automatically selected and ranked based on previous behavior and reading history. Toutiao’s revenue model is primarily ad-based.
  2. Weibo
    Weibo is similar to Twitter with a one-directional following, and the content a user sees is organized based on both users’ selection and actual consumption. Weibo is much more social than Toutiao, and less private than WeChat. The revenue model is primarily ad-based.
  3. WeChat
    Owned by the parent company Tencent which also provides games, e-commerce and digital currency, WeChat offers all content and news separate from the main app experience. Advertising isn’t the major revenue source for WeChat, but content creators can see revenue from micropayments.

Despite the different media environments and platforms in China compared to the U.S. and Europe, the content approach is actually not as different as one might think. While there may be more freedom for publications in the U.S. and Europe to write about politics & society, lifestyle content still dominates traffic in the the West. According to the Chartbeat data below, you can see that the amount of traffic on lifestyle content outweighs that of society and politics. In China, because political content is so heavily regulated, lifestyle content is where the money is really made.

 

It is noteworthy that in both China and the West, soft content (lifestyle) is relatively easier to monetize. Both native ad formats and e-commerce are more natural extensions of this content type as they can fit more smoothly into the topic at hand.

In summary, we see that the monetization models for publishers that apply across borders are closely tied to the type of content they produce. While hard news is difficult to monetize globally and is highly dependent on the country or political or regulatory environment, soft content may be the place where global lessons – particularly from the platform standpoint – can be learned.

For more on this panel and the many others that took place at GEN, check out MediaShift’s article – Trust and Tech Take Center Stage at 2017 GEN Summit in Vienna.

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