By Emi Gal, CEO and Co-founder, Brainient
Technology has changed the face of media entirely. Not only has it allowed content to be displayed in more varied, engaging and creative formats, it also enables brands to tell multi-layered stories. What’s more, the internet has also changed the way we consume content, as social media has brought ‘sharing’ into the public consciousness and readers are better able to directly engage with articles.
The explosion of online media, and the subsequent fragmentation of the sector, means that traditional outlets must now vie not only with each other but also with the likes of Facebook and Google. News sites compete for readers’ attention in a society that values the entertainment factor almost as highly as information. They have to constantly innovate to add value to their readers while maximising the economic value of their existing content.
Not only that, but they must ensure their online content is effective across every device on which it may be viewed. Publications must adopt a multi-platform approach to avoid alienating segments of their readership, and this means investing in the technologies that can deliver a top-quality experience across web, mobile, tablets and connected TVs.
The Metro is one outlet that has certainly succeeded in this respect. In 2012 it launched a mobile-first strategy paired with a more responsive and swipe-friendly website, and this year it reported the benefits, boasting the largest percentage increase (89%) of any news outlets’ mobile audience according to Ofcom. Needless to say, such cross-device innovation is something of a challenge for traditional outlets whose content is not primarily designed to be read on-the-go, in contrast to some of the industry’s newer entrants.
The new wave of editorial providers utilise many age-old tactics of traditional publications; enticing headlines have become ever-more irresistible as outlets rely on ‘clickbait’ to tempt readers from social media or a search engine. Buzzfeed, Business Insider, Upworthy, VICE and PolicyMic (Mic.com) are some of the current leading examples, and their increasing popularity is encroaching on the territory of traditional players. Specifically targeting the younger demographics, they pepper Facebook feeds with articles that are designed to be shared, sometimes reaching the viral holy grail of millions of views per article.
The primary goals of such sites are to drive first traffic and then engagement. Beyond the must-read headlines they also share a clear dedication to engagement-boosting multimedia content, by interspersing short, pithy text with pictures, videos, gifs and quirky layouts that draw the eye through the full article. Many of the ‘mission statements’ of these new editorial outlets centre around provoking debate and interaction with the content. Not only does this make the article a two-way conversation but it also holds the reader’s attention significantly longer. These sites rely on monetising their content through native advertising techniques, so the increased dwell time directly contributes to their bottom line. Given the announcement earlier this month that Andreessen Horowitz has taken a $50 million stake in Buzzfeed, the advantages of keeping readers’ interest with creative innovations have never been more apparent.
Some traditional outlets have also got it right. Rather than replicating the print experience online, they incorporate all types of multimedia into their stories and thereby increase the dwell time of visitors to the site, which in turn benefits the outlet’s commercial objectives. A great example is Guardian.co.uk, which not only uses infographics and other data visualisations to support its articles but segments the site into a series of professional ‘networks’, allowing readers to better filter the vast amounts of information hosted on the site and navigate more easily to the section of interest to them.
Most traditional outlets at least use some images and videos to augment their stories. Technology affords endless possibilities in pioneering new styles and formats, and traditional outlets that have embraced innovation are reaping the rewards. The Daily Mail, for example, owes its enduring popularity to the runaway success of its digital outlet, MailOnline. As one of the world’s most popular online newspapers, it produces visually-led short form versions of the biggest news stories across the media. This is consistently shareable content that can compete with any younger Buzzfeed-style rivals. As the number of comments under each article reveals, it is second to none in provoking two-way interaction that is crucial for fostering meaningful engagement.
MailOnline was also one of the earliest proponents of increased use of video content. Short films are by far the most engaging of all multimedia formats - you can't generate goosebumps with text like you can with video. It's as close as the audience can get to the real-life experience.
With its traditions already rooted in compelling screen content, broadcast media has less to fear from the new online outlets. The latest Ofcom Communications Market report shows that TV and film are by far still the leading media formats, accounting for 53% of all media content consumed in the UK. Broadcasters have broadly embraced the internet as an opportunity for wider distribution and monetisation of their content. All of the UK’s major broadcasters have ‘on-demand’ offerings online, through which viewers can access additional exclusive material that builds on the TV experience. But with the growth of mobile and tablet use these mediums have had to be adapted again for a tailored ‘second screen’ experience. The BBC is by far the most popular brand for mobile news and gained 1.3 million new users in the year up to April 2014, thanks to the excellent user experience of its mobile apps. Audiences are also eager to interact with live-broadcast content via their smartphones and tablets, as shown by the growth in second-screen popularity for shows such as X-Factor and TOWIE, not to mention major sporting events. Whether it’s to get more information about the show or to make a purchase prompted by the on-screen content, viewers are able to engage in a multiplicity of ways that were previously impossible. Smart capitalisation on these trends allows broadcasters to generate additional revenue from their online video content.
In order to support their online presence, traditional editorial outlets also need to monetise their content. Once again, this is about engaging readers through creative new formats that encourage them to spend more time on the site. Adding a layer of interactivity to their content is one of the most effective methods of doing this. With interactive content, readers are invited to have a say in the creative storytelling process, an appeal which leads to engagement rates of up to 50%. Interactive video content has the added benefit of giving the outlets important intelligence which they can use to optimise their content; they can see what people are responding to, and how.
Advertising has been shaken up by technology just as much as the media, and brands are continually seeking more innovative, less intrusive ways to engage customers and build brand affinity. Brands are using many of the same creative content techniques as media publications, and the two industries can certainly learn from each other when it comes to creative use of online material. The line between pure editorial and brand content is blurred by content marketing techniques such as ‘native’ advertising, also called sponsored content - where brands commission and/or write articles that are published alongside, and in the style of, original editorial on the likes of Buzzfeed and Upworthy. Brands have also found themselves successful in experimenting with editorial-like content on their own sites, be it in the form of blogs or interactive content used to convey brand messages to the sites’ visitors.
As with media outlets, the most engaging format is generally video. Most of the UK national news outlets now have their own YouTube channels and brands have done likewise, creating storytelling videos that might not even mention the brand, but act as a further reinforcement of its image or values. People are so engaged when watching a video that if the right interactive format is combined with the right piece of content, the video engages the viewer so much that they’re willing to go that step further into making a purchase. ASOS is a great example - its #bestnightever campaign video tastefully incorporates clickable links into the filmed content of leading artists’ exclusive music videos.
As new technologies continue to disrupt traditional media presentation, consumption and revenue models, publications that can stay ahead of the curve and boldly experiment with new formats are more likely to survive in the increasingly competitive industry. The positive side-effect of this is that they are being forced to innovate at a pace never before realised, and are producing some brilliantly creative ideas as a result.
Brainient helps the UK’s leading broadcasters, media outlets and consumer brands create, deliver and measure interactive video ads across any device.