The most recent Chartbeat webinar focused (loosely perhaps) on some of the larger trends in digital publishing industry and what we can expect in 2015. An excellent discussion was had, with digital prophets Justin Bank of the New York Times and Jonathan Goldner of MTV traversing topics such as emerging mobile strategies, video strategies, personalization and the future of paid content.
Take a listen to the full discussion here.
Want the skinny, but don’t have time to tune in for the whole thing? Well, you’re in luck. Below is my TL;DR (sort of) take.
Some highlights from the discussion:
Adam: Responsive design was a big deal in 2014. Is it going to be a big deal in 2015?
Jonathan: I think it’s a big deal to users that when they click the link it works. If it gonks or takes 42 min to load or isn’t available in my region, then I have a bad experience. We wouldn’t go to a movie theatre and—if the film was out of focus—respond with ‘welp, they tried’. Consumers just expect things to work and it’s no longer acceptable for things not to.
Adam: But is it enough? Responsive doesn’t seem to fully exploit the mobile platform. Shouldn’t organizations be trying to create a purpose-built mobile experience?
Justin: Sure, but it’s hard. It’s the easiest way for news organizations to catch up to a multitude of browsers and apps and different experiences. Responsive is a bridge to somewhere. In the future, news organizations will figure out when to put a greater lift into a custom experience on a more mature platform. Deep linking Google results [browser-based search results that take users into the app instead of mobile web version of the content] could get us there. Responsive is a very safe space to go right now to make sure it looks good. And if you can bet on something later good for you.
Adam: So if I’m a news organization trying to decide between designing a responsive site and a native app, I shouldn’t go for the app?
Jonathan: Your app has to really solve a need, have a great experience and content. And there are risks: will people find it? Will they download the updates? Will they be okay with allowing limited (or not so limited) access to their device? Are you willing to commit to the expense and effort involved in iterating the product? Will the experience be superior to the one I can get from other content-based apps? Facebook, Twitter, Instagram become your competitors. I don’t know that a lot of branded apps demonstrate enough value to usurp what Facebook offers.
But a device agnostic or responsive design is more future proof. And when the Nike smart shoe comes out, eventually the content just flows into that. There’s no need to create a new app and, besides, users really just want the content. For example, Reddit or Imgur are successful because they deliver just the content stripped of any gift wrapping.
Adam: Video is hard. It’s expensive and tough to scale. But it’s lucrative. Will we see more video in 2015 or will some organizations give up on video?
Jonathan: Yes - it’s really hard. We are used to really polished looking video and there’s a whole art to it - it has to be well framed, well lit, technically polished, which is expensive. Is it worth the investment? Sure it’s lucrative but that’s a result, not a reason to do something. Instagram didn’t decide to build something that could be sold for $7M dollars and then a bunch of stuff would happen in between. Instagram wanted to make the definitive sharing, quirky and mobile-only experience. In other words they focused on the experience and product.
But video does have some inherent advantages. It travels very well and is more viral that text. A killer story can be easily paraphrased, requoted, and repurposed. But a killer video can only be embedded or linked to - you can measure it, represent your brand exactly the way you want to and hopefully run pre-roll ads everywhere. So yeah, doing a list of the 12 best things about things is ephemeral so if you can do video and not suck at it ...
Justin: We learned how tough it is to do cable news. New York Times is doing great work and I’m confident we’re going to figure it out. For smaller orgs - you can’t build the starship enterprise, but there are certainly some great things you can do with vines, raw video, gifs, or with a talented artist who can mess around in Final Cut.
There is this incredible moment of video distribution now which makes the competitive landscape flatter and has lowered the bar to entry into the marketplace. But that disruption will calcify and normalize and new market leaders will emerge - Youtube is already reaching that point, broadcast diginets will fill up, any potential cable carriage deal imaginable will be negotiated and claimed, smart TVs will have universal standards (or at least slicker UIs that make it appear that way), aero will make it's triumphant return. The dominant video players from this era who navigate those waters will be in great shape. Insurgents that made the right bets will be able to catch up. Others will be further behind than ever before.
Adam: Is paid content a threat to journalism or a critically important source of revenue? Will the debate intensify in 2015 or have we accepted the fact that it’s here to stay.
Justin: If people are good at it it’ll stay. If they’re bad it’ll go.
Jonathan: Agreed. We may start using the word ‘spicy' in all of our Facebook posts, but if it feels forced, then nobody gets value out of it. But this Edward R. Murrow line in the sand where the newsroom shouldn’t be responsible for revenue anymore is over.
Adam: How much personalization will there be in news products this year?
Justin: As much as the technology will afford.
Jonathan: I’m not willing to go that far. I don’t like Lady Gaga but if she gets arrested I still want to know about it. There’s a taxonomical distinction between subverting the user’s selection while still understanding their need. We see that with different artists. People tend to share the Taylor Swift content in different ways than the Bieber content. Bieber is polarizing - he generates love traffic and hate traffic. The DUI stuff gets shared a lot and it’s not something that people want to read.
Justin: Ok but personalization isn’t just one person and his interest and likes. There are broader shades. It could be breaking news. At NYTimes we know how to report on things at different levels - with different depths, emotional tones, etc. that frame the content in a personalized way.
So, where do you think things are headed in 2015? I'd love to hear your take. Give us a shout in the comments or hit me up.