By: Nu Yang
The ubiquitous influence of smartphones continues to disrupt news media as devices become less about placing phone calls and more about integrating every aspect of daily life onto a pocket-sized digital platform.
In 2012, Pew Research Center’s annual State of the News Media report showed that 23 percent of U.S. adults received news on at least two digital devices. Flash forward a year later, and the 2013 report showed even further growth in mobile news consumption. Now, 45 percent of adults own a smartphone, up from 35 percent in May 2011, and at least 31 percent of adults own a tablet computer. As mobile usage increases, news consumption has also evolved. The Pew report revealed that 62 percent of smartphone owners get news on their device every week, with 36 percent getting mobile news every day.
With readers flocking to mobile, publishers must not only keep pace with the migration to new devices, but anticipate the trends and demands coming in the years ahead.
Meeting reader demands with mobile content
When USA Today marked its 30th anniversary last year, it celebrated with a redesign of both its print and digital products. The digital makeover included bigger images and graphic-driven stories across USA Today’s website and tablet app, plus a new Facebook app and new mobile apps for niches such as sports, entertainment, and business. The Web and tablet platforms now feature live video coverage, interactive weather mapping, and more analysis and commentary, with a new user-control feature that makes it easy for readers to customize their homepage.
USA Today is available on most mobile devices, including iPhone, Android and iPad tablets, and the Kindle Fire. As vice president of mobile product and operations at Gannett, Matt de Ganon manages more than 500 digital products across the company.
De Ganon said many newspapers are building their mobile products on “rickety platforms” that essentially repurpose legacy media content. “Gannett was no different,” he said. “David Payne (Gannett’s chief digital officer) told us to rip out our infrastructure and re-platform. If you think Web first, you end up adding costs, but we thought mobile first. Journalists can now publish directly into the content management system for Web and mobile. (Publishers) have to break down that cost structure.”
Mobile usage is habit-forming, almost ritualistic in many aspects. People check their smartphone habitually, even when they first wake up in the morning. De Ganon said he doesn’t want to create new rituals; he wants to make his products part of the news-consumption ritual already in place.
“It’s about making products more habitual and ritualistic,” he said. “Replace current rituals, but don’t spend money on new rituals. Be available where the ritual is.”
Positioning an app into readers’ established routine may seem easy for a large, national company with a special team dedicated to digital platforms and innovation, but what about smaller publishers?
The East Oregonian Media Group in Salem, Ore., went through a digital transformation earlier this year, and even changed its name from East Oregonian Publishing Co., to reflect a broader readership base. “We’re not just a newspaper anymore,” said director of digital development Laura Sellers-Earl. The private, family-owned company produces 11 publications in the Pacific Northwest.
As part of the transformation, the company expanded its team with a digital product developer and digital sales manager. It also partnered with ForkFly, a social commerce company that offers mobile coupons and promotions.
“We decided to go mobile first,” Sellers-Earl said. “We’re changing our digital structure and thinking outside the box with different digital strategies. This is the industry’s biggest growth area. The traditional structure has always been about responding to publishing needs; now it’s about responding to consumer needs.”
Sellers-Earl said late last year the company adopted a new platform to host its electronic editions. The new interface allows readers to download an edition for offline viewing, translate stories to Spanish, have stories read aloud, share stories via email, and view the edition on any mobile device. The company also released digital replica apps for all of its publications, which are free to download but require a print or online subscription to view content.
The group plans to move to a new content management system that will allow for responsive design and create a mobile-friendly experience. Sellers-Earl said the transition is underway with Capital Press, an agricultural weekly based in Salem, Ore. The process of moving all the EO websites to the new CMS is expected to take about a year.
“For small publications, it’s harder financially to find solutions through a vendor,” Sellers-Earl said. “But you have to try the little things. We tried blogs, things where you don’t have to pay a lot of money to get a big bang, and we did well.”
Appealing to advertisers
Once a mobile news product is in place, publishers’ next step is to attract mobile advertising dollars — a feat easier said than done.
AdTaxi Networks (adtaxinetworks.com) was formed in 2010 as an effort to solve the mobile revenue conundrum. Originally a business unit of The Denver Post, AdTaxi was founded by Kirk MacDonald, then executive vice president of advertising, marketing, and digital sales at the Post. It is the first publisher-owned digital ad network specializing in helping brand advertisers target audiences using display, mobile, social, email, and search.
According to current vice president Brock Berry, AdTaxi attracted 20 advertisers in its first 10 months of operation. During that time, MacDonald worked with John Paton, chief executive officer of Digital First Media, to bring AdTaxi to all DFM properties. Since then, the AdTaxi team has grown to 70 employees, and Berry said revenue was on track to be more than $50 million in 2013.
“Publishers are entering the mobile marketplace the same way they did with www-dot sites 10 to 12 years ago,” Berry said. “They go to market, but they’re not currently selling at a premium rate. They need to know how to market, because there is a bigger audience and they’re not monetizing it. Publishers need to take a look at their mobile audience and price efficiently to monetize it at the fullest value.”
In February, AdTaxi expanded beyond parent company Digital First with a partnership with The Dallas Morning News’ marketing solutions group DMNmedia. The partnership combines the AdTaxi networks with the digital advertising assets already in place at DMNmedia. AdTaxi affiliates receive sales training, sales collateral, marketing, dashboard reporting and sales reports, digital operations and fulfillment, as well as new advertising product integration. As part of the agreement, an AdTaxi sales manager is stationed at DMNmedia.
When training sales reps, Berry said the biggest challenge is “going from a static product to a more dynamic execution with digital … it’s outside their comfort zone.” To help make trainees more comfortable with the product, Berry relates the sales process back to their own personal buying habits.
“I tell them to pull out their phones, and ask, ‘What do you do as consumer?’” he said. “I relate the behavior and content back to them. I break it down — auto dealers will always want to be in the classifieds or the sports sections — it’s the same audience and content, just a different platform.”
Another company making waves in the mobile advertising space is Jumptap (jumptap.com), which enables publishers to earn mobile advertising revenue through minor modifications to their existing mobile websites and apps.
Founded in 2005 with headquarters in Boston, Jumptap reaches 171 million mobile users in the U.S. and 269 million mobile users worldwide. It has partnered with more than 20 third-party data providers to analyze mobile audiences and deliver a targeted and effective advertising product.
“A lot of publishers are working with multiple channels,” said vice president of business development Adam Towvim. “It’s a challenge and an opportunity for publishers.”
Towvim described this challenge as “device schizophrenia,” where consumers start reading on one device, such as a desktop computer, and finish on another device such as a tablet or smartphone. Publishers need to deliver effective content and advertising on each platform in order to keep up with readers’ attention spans.
Jumptap’s products help publishers unlock seamless advertising potential across all devices. “In the last six months, I’ve seen a more unified strategy of taking the desktop experience and blending it with the mobile side,” Towvim said.
With more advertisers using a cross-screen approach, a single ad can target audiences across multiple devices. To capitalize on this trend, Towvim urges publishers to create cross-screen reader profiles to unify their audience and better understand how readers interact with the product. “Have your users register with you today and follow them from the PC to mobile. Make it as seamless as possible,” he said.
Just as a newspaper is more than the front page, so too should mobile news sites contain departments targeted to specific interests. “First and foremost, get good content out there, and then create different pockets of inventory,” Towvim said. “Think of the sports section as separate from the entertainment section. They’re different types of user experience with different click-through-rates, and they attract different kinds of advertisers.”
According to Towvim, the best mobile news sites utilize responsive design and don’t take a one-size-fits-all approach to presenting content. “They know the value of the experience and that users will appreciate the experience.”
While many ad networks integrate with their clients’ established mobile initiatives, Rumble (rumble.me) is a vendor that can help publishers build and sustain a mobile presence from the ground up.
Founded in 2011 and based in Philadelphia, Rumble entered the app market in November 2012 with the Philadelphia Daily News’ mobile app. Today, there are more than 50 Rumble-powered apps available on Android, Apple, Kindle, and all Windows 8 devices.
“At Rumble, we have a very strong backend,” said co-founder and chief revenue officer Uyen Tieu. “We’ve combined strong infrastructure and technology as a whole to create beautiful, fast apps and a way to monetize them for over 70 publishers.”
Publishers using Rumble have fully integrated features such as great design and the flexibility to make changes as needed. An executive dashboard measures audience demographics, engagement, paywall system, and monetization tracking. Engagement capabilities include push notifications; widgets for videos, photo galleries, and games; rich media; and social sharing. Rumble also offers revenue plug-ins, such as paywalls, search optimization, content syndication, e-commerce, and direct-sold ads.
“At Rumble, we put mobile first, as we recognized that once you have your mobile app strategy figured out, everything downstream falls nicely into place. If you try to start from print or online and then fit it into a mobile strategy, it’s an uphill battle to change everything and the user experience is compromised,” Tieu said.
In December 2012, Rumble and the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association (formerly known as the Pennsylvania Newspaper Association) launched the “Ready to Rumble” initiative, offering PNA members a Rumble-built, custom-designed mobile app. One of the newspapers that took part was the New Pittsburgh Courier, a small weekly with a circulation of 4,000. Rumble created a self-branded app for the Courier and published it on iTunes and the Google Play app store for both tablets and smartphones.
Courier advertising sales manager Eric Gaines said the paper’s plan is to monetize the app once a certain numbers of downloads is reached. Though he wouldn’t share the precise figure, he did say they’re “halfway there.”
“We have to move at the speed of business and that’s heading toward digital,” Gaines said. “We still have to brand ourselves, even though we’re a hundred years old. Our older audience already knows us, but we have to move into that (digital) space for the millennials to know who we are.”
The advancement of GPS in smartphones has generated a huge push in location-based services and marketing, and it’s all about location at Verve Mobile (vervemobile.com).
“What’s evolving in 2013 is location-centric,” said Bill Ganon, senior vice president and general manager of local markets. Founded in 2005 with headquarters in Carlsbad, Calif., Verve works with more than 3,500 publishers to monetize their mobile inventory based on location-specific audience metrics.
Verve’s location-based audience platform is called Place Insights, and it targets consumer behavior on mobile devices. The company maps out physical space to a scalable grid and identifies clusters based on audience data, including socio-economic status, purchases, store locations, and events. Ganon said these clusters are a valuable tool for advertisers who want to know what the consumer is doing at the “right time and right place.”
This place-based audience targeting gives Verve a comprehensive perspective into consumer actions. Place Insights also delivers pre-determined audience segments, such as soccer moms, pet lovers, or sports enthusiasts.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch has worked with Verve on its mobile initiatives for three years. “From a sales standpoint, mobile is the most important digital addition in the last few years,” said Ian Caso, Dispatch vice president of multimedia advertising. “Our sales team and advertisers understand its value and our mobile goals (revolve) around audience and revenue.”
Geo-targeted advertising will be a key component of the next phase of the Dispatch’s mobile strategy. “It’s going to be an expectation for mobile, or at least there will be a way to opt into it,” Caso said.
The rise of e-commerce and couponing
Mobile advertising isn’t the only way publishers can seek to monetize their mobile content. Another emerging mobile opportunity is e-commerce, and Deseret Digital Media is at the forefront of this arena. Based in Salt Lake City, Deseret Digital Media manages the digital presence of the Deseret News, television station KSL, and publisher Deseret Book.
According to vice president of e-commerce Eric Bright, the media company owns about 65 percent of the market in Utah. He recently spoke with Local Media Association about how e-commerce was helping support the overall strategy.
“We define the differences between e-comm and advertising by the customer … e-comm is primarily focused on the end user, is based on efficient consumer paths through the site, and is directly connected to the consumers through promotion, merchandising, and occasionally sales,” Bright said.
Bright told LMA the company launched a mobile app for its TV station KSL in June. “The biggest change is allowing an app or on-site purchase through our products on the app and mobiles site. We haven’t spent any time creating native apps for iPad, but rather work to design our desktop experience such that it translates well to the smaller screen. We have however, over the past year, invested significant time and money developing mobile apps for the smartphones.”
Mobile coupons are an effective and natural way for publishers to match advertisers with their targeted audience in an engaging environment.
Launched in 2011, Trippons (trippons.com) combines local businesses and mobile coupons on a free app. Consumers who download the app can search for coupons in categories such as food and drink, services and lodging, and shopping. Coupons are redeemed by the merchant, and consumers without a smartphone can print coupons from their computer. Newspapers including the Bozeman (Mont.) Daily Chronicle and Great Falls (Mont.) Tribune are currently partnered with Trippons.
“Newspapers traditionally cornered the coupon market,” said Tripons sales director Kim Lugthart. “Trippons mobile coupon program lets newspapers recapture that market in its updated digital version and connect locals and tourists to their advertisers with instant discounts.”
Trippons provides training to its newspaper clients’ sales team, and also helps with promotion and marketing. Trippons provides a full analytics report every month to both the newspaper and advertiser, showing which coupons were opened and redeemed.
“Going mobile can be a challenge in rural areas,” Lugthart said. “Papers serving rural areas promote both mobile and printed coupons to their readers. We train and support sales teams, assist with promotional plans, and offer mobile marketing clinics for local businesses. I once led a training session where only two of the sales staff had a smartphone, but we made a plan to fit that market.”
According to Great Falls Tribune sales director Max Smith, the publication is on track to meet its sales goal of $40,000 with the Trippons program. The paper has sold more than $27,000 to date, and averaged a monthly conversion rate of 10 to 16 percent for advertisers using Trippons since February.
Lugthart said one of the biggest changes she saw in mobile this past year was the popularity of mobile coupons, from big box stores to small businesses. “Trippons levels the playing field for main street businesses by offering affordable, well promoted mobile coupons with data reporting and top search results. When potential customers are searching on their mobile, they are motivated to take action locally. Put an actionable incentive in their hand.”
The other side
Not all publishers are embracing mobile as the industry’s saving grace. Eric Spitz, co-owner of The Orange County Register in Santa Ana, Calif., and president of parent company Freedom Communications, offers a different perspective. The Register has lately been known for beefing up its print sections, increasing delivery schedules, and hiring dozens of new reporters.
On mobile advertising:
“Mobile advertising in practice is a waste of time … Display ads are a waste of money if no one uses it or clicks it … Right now, we’re in the second inning of a nine inning game.”
On engaging mobile readers:
“When we (he and Register co-owner and publisher Aaron Kushner) purchased the Register in July, we had 100 blogs. Now we have less than 10. Discussion threads are not engagement. It’s a lot of back and forth between people, not with the writer. To be engaged is to lean back and read the paper, not lean forward.”
On implementing an online paywall this April:
“For the past 18 years, the newspaper industry has been training an entire generation that digital content is free, and free means useless and valueless. At the Register, we are reinstating the value of content.”
“Our main pitch to our current subscribers is that we put up the paywall for (them). It was annoying and frustrating when others could get their news for free on the website. The vast majority of our subscribers agreed.”
“After eight weeks, only 10 percent of our subscribers had signed-up for the paywall. It was a huge stat since I was expecting 30 to 40 percent. It’s true our audience is older, but our subscribers prefer news on paper.”
“When we put up our paywall, we said if you are not paying for the Register, you are not a customer. A customer is not someone who comes to your site and clicks a couple of links; a customer has to pay us.”
On fitting mobile into the business model:
“From a business perspective, 90 percent of our revenue comes from print. We’re not ignoring digital, but if only 10 percent of our revenue is coming from there, we have to put our resources to where the revenue is.”
“It’s not dumb to see that the world is changing and to take chances, but it’s dumb to not read the data. When we are using 50 percent of our resources on something that only brings in 10 percent of revenue, it’s a mistake.”
“There is too much time and focus on a market that has yet to prove itself.”
What prediction do you have for the future of mobile media?
“One hand-held device will be the norm for personal and business interactions. Providing useful ways to connect people with what they want — fast and local — is the niche of the future.” — Kim Lugthart, Trippons sales director
“We will stop using ‘mobile’ as a term for convenience. If a desktop has HTML5, is that still considered a desktop or is it mobile? Is a tablet a TV if it can stream cable? In five years, all these devices will merge.” — Matt de Ganon, Gannett vice president of mobile product and operations
“Mobile will overcome desktops as screens get smaller and smaller.” — Laura Sellers-Earl, East Oregonian Media Group director of digital development
“Cross screening will keep growing, but mobile will become the first screen to care for as it becomes the primary screen.” — Adam Towvim, Jumptap vice president of business development