Traditional Media is far from doomed, but only if product and editorial start having lunch together

May 6, 2016

This article is the first in a 3-part series that outlines technology solutions to the big challenges that traditional media companies (particularly those in Asia) currently face. I draw from my experience in developing products for journalists, so parts of this series might be somewhat self-promotional.

The internet is rife with troubles in the media business. After all, how can traditional media companies, who built their reputations doing serious long-form journalism, compete with cat pictures and exploding watermelon videos that dominate the web?

When ad-revenue is the tail wagging the content dog, and an article about Kim Kardashian’s latest tweet is worth the same per pageview as a long-form article about the Syrian refugee crisis, are traditional companies — with their “bloated” cost structure — not bound to fail?

<aside> 💡 My experience in consulting for media clients has convinced me that while the challenges that traditional media faces are real, the rumors of its demise are greatly exaggerated. The greatest threat that a traditional media behemoth faces is itself, not BuzzFeed or Scoopwhoop.


What's changing?

Firstly, platforms are catching up to the game. Facebook recently announced changes in its newsfeed algorithm that will give more preference to engaging journalism, as opposed to low-effort, clickbait articles that users don’t spend much time on.

This means that, other things being equal, you are now more likely to see a longform article about the refugee crisis on your newsfeed than an article titled “OMG! Can you guess what Beyonce wore last night?”.

Users that visit the former are likely to be engaged for a substantial amount of time, while users that visit the latter are likely to leave as soon as they check out what Beyonce wore last night.

Secondly, advertisers are now beginning to move away from the pageview as a unit of digital ad-currency. While a lot of infrastructure has been built using the pageviews as the advertising metric, and inertia dictates that the pageview will be a mainstay for a while, alternative, time-based metrics are beginning to gain steam.

Already, Upworthy primarily uses active time-spent as its key metric, while BuzzFeed, New York Times and the Financial Times are beginning to develop composite metrics that include pageviews, time spent, scroll depth and social shares, along with other components.

Moreover, research indicates time spent is a better indicator of ad effectiveness than pixels viewed. As advertisers begin to shift their advertising dollars more intelligently into ad-products that incorporate time spent, expect engaging journalism to mount a comeback.

Thirdly, and most importantly, traditional media companies still have drastically more resources than new media companies. They have an army of reporters and years-long relationships with politicians, business-people and folks in the entertainment industry. With the right mindset and technological tools, they can far surpass digital offshoots. As someone who has developed tools for large media companies, I have seen first-hand how the right mixture of analytics, content strategy and automated research can do wonders for both web-performance and staff motivation.

Writers’ perception needs to be more aligned with reality

To do this, however, companies need to start understanding the mindset of the web-consumer, and break down the walls that exist between editorial and technology teams. It is impossible to be an effective web-publication without having a deep-rooted integration of content and analytics.