Publishing

Asaf Peled

Minute Media is a leading global sports media and technology company that provides unique social content experiences for fans. The company recently announced a content platform collaboration with Horizon Media, the world’s largest privately held media services agency.We spoke with President Rich Routman and CEO and Founder Asaf Peled about the company’s bid to remake sports media.

Rich Routman

Tell us about your company’s beginnings. What did you see (or not see) in the market that led you to launch?

Minute Media originally started in 2011 as FTBPro in Tel Aviv, Israel by Asaf Peled. The initial idea came as Asaf, a huge soccer fan and formerly a Cisco employee, noticed that there was little investment in soccer related startups. He saw an opportunity to build a company that would be focused on soccer and could tap into the growing world of social media to connect like-minded fans around the world. FTBPro renamed itself 90min as it expanded to new markets and languages.

In recent years, Asaf saw the potential to bring the same concept of citizen/fan journalism to other sports beyond soccer. Minute Media opened its NY headquarters in 2016 and hired Rich Routman as president to oversee global expansion and the launch of US brand 12up. Rich previously served as Chief Revenue Officer at Perform Media. Since then, the company has expanded to e-sports with DBLTAP.

What were some of the biggest challenges that your team faced at zero stage?

When Asaf started Minute Media, then called FTBPro, he faced some challenges that likely all start-ups encounter. First, raising funding for a media company back in 2011 was much more difficult than it is today. He worked hard to share his vision for where the industry could be at a time when the media world was skeptical of a contributor-driven media model and the real-world use of social media. Recruiting the right tech talent in a competitive market, especially when your company does not yet have a name for itself, was also a challenge. And then on a leadership level, being a CEO for the first time and understanding the operational side of things was a learning process.

Let’s look at the science behind your product. What makes it different from other offerings in this space?

Minute Media’s technology is a sophisticated content creation management platform that enables social and mobile publishing all in an easy to use and scalable application. Based on the technology, fans can create, publish, share and distribute their own content. We are now reaching more than 75 million people around the world, featuring content in eleven languages from more than 4,000 contributors.

In addition to our own solutions, we’ve partnered with some of the largest media properties in the world to power their own sports content engine. Examples include HT Media in India, ProSieben in Germany and Horizon Media, the largest privately held media services agency, which licenses Minute Media’s publishing tools for their clients.

How do you translate your brand’s message in a way that gets you heard above the noise?

Our platforms – 90min for football(soccer), 12up for US sports and DBLTAP for e-sports – are all dedicated to telling the stories behind the games, players, and teams that fans are passionate about. We break through the clutter by being an authentic voice for the fans because our content comes from the fans. We believe that by giving fans the tools to tell the stories and share their passion, other fans get closer to the games, acting as the next best thing to actually being inside the stadium. This is especially true when it comes to our video series. One of the most popular series is FanVoice in which fan contributors are doing videos from the fan perspective to really capture the excitement and sounds of the games.

This focus on authenticity also translates into what we offer our brand partners. Brands like Warner Brothers, Mountain Dew, Nike and more have turned to us to help target the millennial audience and we’ve helped them develop bespoke advertising solutions that authentically bring their brand into the sports stories covered on our platforms.

Let’s talk about brand values. What means the most to your company besides industry success?

Building community is at the core of Minute Media’s brand values. Sports is the universal connector –fans from all over the world come together to share a common love of the game or team or player. Minute Media’s technology and our brands help make those connections and build communities whether focused on soccer or e-sports or basketball. We also give fans the opportunity to share their love and passion for sports by giving them the tools to create their content, curate it and share it amongst other fans.

There’s always been this rivalry between Silicon Valley and NYC in tech. What are some tangible benefits to being based in NYC?

As a media company, it’s a huge benefit to be part of the media capital of the world and be surrounded by other publishers, editorial teams as well as a large number of the brands we are hoping to connect with. Plus as a company rooted in sports, NY features some of the best sports teams, as well a passionate fan base for international sports, including soccer, which is where we got our start. While Silicon Valley is obviously known for its tech, our tech was actually created in ‘Silicon Wadi’ in Tel Aviv, Israeli, which has been giving Silicon Valley a run for its money lately.

Name one place in your company’s NYC neighborhood that you and your team just can’t live without.

Minute Media’s NY office is on 33rd Street. We could not live without Open Kitchen, which describes itself as a dynamic culinary market place with a wide range of gourmet cuisine options. It’s our go-to spot for breakfast, lunch, and mid afternoon snacks (we practically live there).

Learn more about Minute Media here.

 

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Publishers call for rethink of proposed changes to online privacy laws” was written by Mark Sweney, for The Guardian on Sunday 28th May 2017 23.01 UTC

An alliance of news publishers has called on European regulators to rethink proposed changes to online privacy laws, arguing that they will potentially kill their digital businesses and give Google, Apple and Facebook too much control of advertising and personal data.

More than two dozen leading publishers – including the Financial Times, Guardian, Le Monde, Spiegel, Telegraph, Daily Mail and Les Echoes – have signed a letter to the European parliament, which is deliberating proposals to tighten up how data is gathered and used by web companies.

The publishers argue that new regulations relating to “cookies” – small files that remember users’ digital habits therefore allowing the targeting of relevant ads – could cut off their ability to build digital revenue.

Currently, when users visit an individual website or app they are asked if they will consent to a cookietracking them. Under the European commission’s plans, consumers will in the future instead be asked to make a single choice to accept, or reject, cookies from all websites and apps only on one single occasion on their phone or browser.

Publishers argue that creating a single “switch” will most likely result in consumers taking the simplest route of opting out of all cookies, leaving them with scant information to support their targeted advertising models.

In turn, this would leave the few digital giants used by most consumers to access the web, and those like Facebook that have their own giant data mining capability, in control.

“Given that 90% of [digital] usage across Europe is concentrated in the hands of just four companies: Google, Apple, Microsoft and Mozilla, this [proposal]… has the potential to exacerbate the asymmetry of power between individual publishers and these global digital gateways,” the letter says.

“The current ePrivacy proposals will result in the data of European digital citizens being concentrated in the hands of a few global companies, as a result of which digital citizens will become less protected. It will give those global companies a tighter grip on the personal data of European digital citizens.”

Under the proposals, publishers would be allowed to lobby consumers to go into their settings and unblock individual sites and “white list” them, but news organisations believe that in practice this would prove to be an extremely difficult task.

The proposal has been compared to the ad-blocking battle in which publishers ask the increasing number of those who use the software to turn it off, or add their businesses to a white list, explaining how advertising is essential income for many digital news businesses.

The proposals are likely to further exacerbate the huge issue publishers already face as Google and Facebook sweep up as much as 90% of all new digital display advertising.

“The practice of serving relevant advertising to readers is now an established norm in the advertising industry, and is essential to ensure that publishers can compete with Google and Facebook who already control 20% of total global advertising spend,” the letter says.

“If as a result of these proposals news publishers were unable to serve relevant advertising to our readers, this would reduce our ability to compete with the capabilities of dominant digital platforms for digital advertising revenues, ultimately undermining our ability to invest in high quality journalism across Europe,” the letter says.

In recent months, Google, which owns YouTube, and Facebook have faced a barrage of criticism for allowing ads to run next to inappropriate content such as extremist videos.

The companies have also faced a number of issues that have hurt their previously unquestioned ability to accurately target ads, such as brands being charged for ads viewed by “bots”, computer programmes mimicking an internet user, and Facebook admitting to a number of measurement errors.

“The Commission’s ePrivacy proposals will make it more difficult to ensure transparency … and remove any distinction between publishers who place a high value on trust of their users, and those who do not,” the publishers’ letter says.

However, the bad press has so far failed to dent their popularity with advertisers with Google and Facebook enjoying a near duopoly of control of the £11bn UK digital advertising market.

Publishers say that they support the overall objective of the draft “ePrivacy” regulation, which they say has the “potential to clean up the digital economy”, but they need to compete on a fair playing field.

“Citizens are rightly concerned about the use of their personal data by third-party companies of whom they have never heard, and have no idea about the role that they play in their digital lives online,” the letter says. “[But] the commission’s proposals threaten to prevent news organisations from delivering basic functionality such as the marketing of products and services, the tailoring of news products to the needs and desires of news consumers, and relevant and acceptable advertising.”

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Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Stephen Fry: Facebook and other platforms should be classed as publishers” was written by Sian Cain, for The Guardian on Sunday 28th May 2017 18.38 UTC

Stephen Fry has called for Facebook and other “aggregating news agencies” to be reclassified as publishers in order to stop fake news and online abuse spreading by making social media subject to the same legal responsibilities as traditional news websites.

Outlining his “reformation” for the internet, as part of the Hay literary festival’s programme to mark the quincentenary of Martin Luther’s Ninety-five Theses in 1517, Fry accused social media platforms of refusing to “take responsibility for those dangerous, defamatory, inflammatory and fake items whose effects will have legal consequences for traditional printed or broadcast media, but which they can escape”.

“One thesis I could immediately nail up to the tent flag is to call for aggregating news agencies like Facebook to be immediately classified as publishers. At the moment, they are evading responsibility for their content as they can claim to be platforms, rather than publishers. Given that they are now a major source of news for 80% of the population, that is clearly an absurd anomaly,” he said.

“If they, and Twitter and like platforms recognised their responsibilities as publishers, it would certainly help them better police their content for unacceptable libels, defamations, threats and other horrors, that a free belief in the value of the press would, as a matter of course, be expected to control.”

Last week, it was announced that Facebook, Twitter and YouTube were facing tough new pan-European laws, forcing them to remove hate speech and sexually explicit videos or face steep fines.

Fry said he also believed they would soon be forced into new legal responsibilities, and deemed the issue “frankly small potatoes” compared with “some huge potatoes [that] are looming”.

Citing the failure at British Airways’ IT system on Saturday that led to BA flights being grounded at Heathrow and Gatwick airports, Fry cautioned that the world’s reliance on digital systems would also inevitably prompt a cataclysmic cyber-attack and bring on a “digital winter for humankind”.

“An extinction-level event … will obliterate our title deeds, eliminate our personal records, annul our bank accounts and life savings, delete all the archives and accumulated data of our existences and create a kind of digital winter for humankind,” he warned.

During the talk, Fry also addressed the rise of big data, which has seen private companies competing for and using the personal data of millions for corporate gain, the gig economy of Uber and Deliveroo; the inability of governments worldwide to keep up with technological progress; and live-streaming services like Facebook Live allowing people to broadcast acts of violence and self-harm.

Using the myth of Pandora’s Box – where opening a container unleashed evils on the world but left hope trapped inside – as an analogy for the development of online abuse and trolling, Fry said the speed of technological development meant that problems associated with technology were now irreversible.

“The dark side of the rise of machines and the sudden obsolescence of so many careers and jobs; the potential for crime, exploitation, extortion; suppression and surveillance; and even newer forms of cyberterrorism, give us the collywobbles and are challenges for certain. But we must understand that it is going to happen, collywobbles or not, because the lid is already off the jar. So the best we can do is keep the lid of the jar and let hope fly out.”

Having bought his first computer in 1982, Fry is considered an enthusiast of computer technology, being an early adopter of the internet and social media.

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Paul Rossi’s magazine The Economist is a success story in a world strewn with the corpses of publishing icons. This story appeared in The Advertising Technology Review in 2013.

There is a fine line, in publishing, between the accessible and the vapid: this is a line that The Economist does not intend to walk, says Sir Paul Rossi, the magazine’s publisher.

The Economist, now in its 170th year, must solve a contemporary marketing puzzle, said Rossi, “not a content problem.”

That puzzle—the ever-looming specter of a savage contest between content and revenue— is one which has been tangled with by the likes of The New York Times, The Washington Post, and fatally, the print version of Newsweek Magazine, which ceased publication in 2012.

However, long before it was famously trumpeted that print was dead, The Economist had developed a forward-looking business model which would preserve the integrity of its brand across multiple platforms while pursing an aggressive, ROI-driven growth strategy.

However, long before it was famously trumpeted that print was dead, The Economist had developed a forward-looking business model

“One of the things which has become increasingly obvious is that because of Big Data and the abundance of inventory we are living in a world of declining CPMs,” said Rossi in 2012.

“Where your business is wholly dependent on advertising, ” Rossi continued, “you will have to keep adjusting your business model to keep the revenues going- in the long run, that’s not particularly sustainable.”

Unlike publishers laboring under a click-centric business model, The Economist focuses on driving subscriptions with content that is data-driven in its curation— the old-fashioned way.

“We’ve always had a business built around paid content,” said Rossi, so the focus of the magazine online and offline has always been about user experience and sustaining user engagement.

Unlike publishers laboring under a click-centric business model, The Economist focuses on driving  subscriptions with content—the old-fashioned way

Relevant, quality content, according to Rossi, is naturally targeted towards a high-value audience: open-minded, intellectually curious readers willing to explore new ideas and products regardless of how or on which platform that content appears.

He sees no need to switch to a celebrities and shock model that has become the rule of the day in many British publications.

This is not to say that The Economist does not cover pop culture. The Economist’s take on everything— ranging from pop stars to unfortunately named politicians with a predilection for cyber-stripping— attempts to bridge the gap between the mirthless world of critical analysis and the pop-candy-strewn world of gossip and celebrity tattle tales.

That content strategy has built The Economist’s readership and online audience into a formidable force of 1.5 million paid subscribers as of March 2012, with an average net worth of $1,666,0000 and a household income of $250,000.

The company’s strict emphasis on high-quality content, however, creates its own dilemma when multi-platform distribution brings the brand in direct competition with online publishers prone to put sizzle and shock at the forefront of a headline-driven, click-obsessed marketing model.

Rossi stated that the magazine’s formula doesn’t change across platforms—there’s no vacillation on the magazine’s compilation of the weekly parade of “50 things that matter” which details each news item’s broader relevance to the readership.

“We won’t change the brand or the value proposition according to technology,” said Rossi. “We like that there is significant value in what we do, especially in the age of mass information overload.”

The company’s strict emphasis on high-quality content brings the brand in direct competition with online publishers prone to put sizzle at the forefront of a headline-driven, click-obsessed marketing model.

Naturally, publications with a vociferously loyal and growing fan base need not worry about watering down content to the familiar online formula of a universally palatable soup of quips and gossip. The magazine, instead, says Rossi, should be viewed as a resource for the “intellectually curious.”

That emphasis on intelligent inquiry molds the magazine’s marketing strategy as well- ranging from print to online to  digital-out-of-home advertising.

Rossi stated that America represents a major marketing push for the brand. A large part of their marketing plan, developed by BBDO, is a blend of cheeky British humor and an open appeal to the audience’s sense of adventure.

Rossi states that rather than battle the notion that The Economist is a journal which, true its name, draws its topics solely from the realm of finance, The Economist’s campaign focuses on the magazine’s all-encompassing overview of world affairs- challenging potential readers to take their brains “out for a spin.”

A large part of their marketing plan, developed by BBDO, is a blend of cheeky British humor and an open appeal to the audience’s sense of adventure.

Unfortunately, for many venerable publications, good content is often not enough to stay afloat, never mind grow paid subscriptions.

The Washington Post, for example, struggled for decades before being bought by Jeff Bezos. Donald Graham, the Washington Post’s CEO conceded in a public letter that the company’s slow growth and even attempts to innovate online were not enough to defeat the drag of its troubled print business.

Despite the risks, The Economist’s marketing strategy attempts to kindle a national debate about the value of debate itself.

The idea that America is an intellectual wasteland save for a few hamlets near Ivy League universities and major cities is laughable, according to Rossi.

The Economist’s marketing strategy attempts to kindle a national debate about the value of debate itself.

There is a market in America for rich, curated, intellectual discussion, Rossi believes, and The Economist aims to unearth it.

Despite the fact that America’s airwaves are replete with ideologues and flesh-baring reality shows, Rossi is confident that America’s reputation as not being as open to intellectual inquiry as France, for example, is undeserved.

“Americans are intellectually curious, they are open to new ideas,” one cannot, said Rossi, accept the stereotype that cerebral analysis and international affairs are exclusively the interests of American scholars and politicians.

Rossi believes that The Economist’s average consumer engagement time online has near parity with their reported offline reading times because the content isn’t metrics or ad-centric.

There is a market in America for rich, curated, intellectual discussion, Rossi believes, and The Economist aims to unearth it.

“The technology is a bookend,” Rossi said, noting that the goal, whether through the app or the blogs, is to offer a “lean-back reading experience”. “We want to be really clear about the reader engagement proposition- why people pick the magazine up and spend their money for it.” Readers subscribe to content, Rossi said, not platforms or formats.

The Takeaway:
Publishing brands build engagement and lasting readership growth through lean-back content, not headline-driven clicks. A sustainable business model for any publisher requires that the company’s value proposition remains effortlessly obvious: content should be original, valuable to the reader, and of sufficient depth to bring the reader back a second time.


Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “The reinvention of publishing: media firms diversify to survive” was written by Ben Rossi, for theguardian.com on Monday 30th January 2017 15.00 UTC

The traditional model of a media business – a team of journalists creating content and a commercial team selling to the audience that consumes it – has reigned for centuries. Most publishers assumed, with a few tweaks, the model would survive the migration to digital and offset any losses from print.

But spending patterns are proving otherwise. While advertisers are investing more in digital advertising, the money is more widely distributed and, significantly, any growth is being snapped up by Google and Facebook.

Programmatic advertising has eased some pressures on online publishers, but the model favours websites with huge scale rather than brands with smaller, targeted audiences. And chasing scale often runs publishers into new challenges, such as escalating costs and diminishing quality.

“Google and Facebook have become a duopoly in digital advertising,” says Gideon Spanier, head of media at Campaign, a magazine covering marketing and advertising. “The fast-changing media landscape means it remains risky for publishers to depend exclusively on advertising.”

In the driving seat

Dennis Publishing, which publishes more than 35 magazines and websites, is one example of a media company that recognised these challenges and has invested in product diversification, growing its revenue from £59m in 2009 to £93m in 2016.

More than a third of last year’s revenue was derived from digital, but only half of it was advertising. “2016 was particularly choppy,” admits James Tye, CEO at Dennis and chair of the Professional Publishers Association. The other half comes from e-commerce, which has become a major success story for the company.

In November 2014, Dennis acquired online car dealer BuyaCar and integrated the e-commerce business with its portfolio of automotive websites, such as Auto Express and Evo. Dennis now sells nearly 200 cars a month and BuyaCar generates 16% of the company’s total revenue.

“We already had an audience of in-market car buyers and relationships with the car brands,” says Tye. “We saw a change in consumer habit and felt there was an e-commerce potential. The margin is sizeable and we’re leveraging a really important audience through our websites.”

Going live

Diversification was also a top priority when Anna Jones joined Hearst Magazines UK as COO five years ago. Deciding how to do so meant thinking about the common ground across all of Hearst’s brands, which include Elle, Good Housekeeping and Country Living.

“Our content is there to entertain people but also to give consumers confidence in some way,” says Jones, who is stepping down as CEO next month. “We realised that if confidence and entertainment is at the heart of what we do, we can actually build out this business in quite an interesting way.”

This thinking led to the launch of a centralised events business, Hearst Live, in January 2016. Before that, Hearst’s events were managed at a brand level. By inviting readers to experience its brands in a live environment, such as Cosmopolitan’s FashFest and Red’s Smart Women Week, Hearst has driven substantial revenue through ticket sales and event sponsorship.

This not only connects publications with audiences in a new way, but marketers are willing to pay sizeable figures to showcase their brands. As headline sponsor of the Esquire Townhouse, for example, Dior gets direct access to Esquire’s style-craving audience in between four days of celebrity talks, film screenings and fitness sessions.

While Hearst doesn’t share revenue and profit figures for its events, Jones does say that both have doubled since 2015. “We’ve got brands that really mean something to people,” says Jones. “We’ve found that if you’re brave and you push those brands into new areas, it can really resonate with an audience.”

Against the grain

The same challenges publishers face in digital advertising can also be used to their advantage in other areas of their business, such as increasing paid circulations.

“The very drivers of where marketing investment is heading – Google, Facebook – are also how I’ve been able to drive down the costs to recruit subscribers,” says Michael Brunt, chief marketing officer at the Economist and managing director of its circulation business.

Ten years ago, the Economist’s circulation division supported a very strong advertising business but, weighed down by hefty production and distribution costs, made a loss. In a reverse of fortunes, the weekly news magazine has been suffering strong decline in advertising revenues for sometime now, including a drop from £83m to £76m last year, but its circulation revenues grew 8% to £176m.

The biggest factors in this have been price increases and the Economist’s investment in growing its global circulation, which stood at an average of 1,459,929 per issue in the first six months of 2016, 3% higher than five years prior. With 95% of that figure paid-for sales, more people now pay for the magazine than at any stage in its 173-year history. This wouldn’t have been possible, Brunt admits, had it not been for significant spend on search and social media marketing.

“That investment has halved our cost to recruit a subscriber,” he says. “Social media has been probably the most influential success driver for us, introducing the Economist to people who would have been incredibly expensive to reach through other forms of marketing.”

Major challenges clearly exist in the publishing industry, but media companies can survive and thrive by looking beyond traditional business models, diversifying their product lines and seeing opportunities in the challenges they face.

Events and e-commerce are just a couple of ways publishers are building new revenue streams. Others are finding commercial value in content marketing, such as tech publisher IDG and Atlantic Media, publisher of the Atlantic and Quartz. B2B brands monetise through lead generation solutions and titles like the New European from Archant and Dennis’s Minecraft World have even made new print launches successful.

There is no doubt that the media industry is facing enormous challenges when it comes to monetising brands that were traditionally structured for only one or two commercial models. However, the same forces that are causing these long-established models to crumble are enabling new opportunities for brands to evolve. The publishers that grasp this will prosper in the new world of media.

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Justin Choi was CEO of Nativo in 2013. This article originally appeared in The Advertising Technology Review in 2013.

Only 1-year-old, Nativo has risen to prominence in a crowded field through a series of moves designed to make native ad placement easier for advertisers, along with an advantageous alliance with Vivaki. We spoke with CEO Justin Choi about his company and the future of native ads in a world looking for alternatives to traditional display.

Native ads have come under scrutiny of late. What are some reasons that brands should consider the format despite some of the controversy?
There are several reasons: First of all, banners simply aren’t supporting content creators and thus, publishers are at various stages of decreasing their reliance on them. In this attention-based economy, interruption isn’t a brand-building strategy. So native programs are growing. In fact, 90 percent of brands will be providing native ads by the end of the year. Native will be the primary advertising option and on some sites, the only option. The brands who move first will understand this new category the best and have a distinct marketing advantage.
Effective ads are designed for engagement, influencing opinion, and really building a relationship with the consumer. Native done right can do all of those things well. Native really allows the space for deep brand storytelling. Native solves mobile reach for advertisers and mobile monetization for publishers. Smart publishers will figure out mobile monetization as their audiences are spending more of their time on tablets and smartphones. Consumers are less tolerant of interruptive advertising on mobile devices. Native not only works well on mobile, it actually works better there as well as on the desktop.

Native ads seem to have great numbers when compared to traditional display on a fairly consistent basis- why is that?
They are located where the user is looking. They don’t look foreign to the site so they get user consideration. Marketers have to think about headlines and content force and must strive to deliver value, and when they do, users get engaged. Being able to consume brand content where you are already engaged is a very different psychological experience than clicking on something and being whisked away to another site.

Let’s talk about your strategic partnership with Vivaki. What do you hope to bring to the ecosystem with this move?
This relationship really encourages their partner agencies to test various programs. It tells them that although we are a three-year-young company and that native is a new category, we have been vetted. VivaKi looked at various native players and chose Nativo after reviewing our technology. It’s an accelerator.
We plan on doing some very innovative executions and doing case studies around them. We will share learnings with the industry as a whole. The relationship will help us obtain deeper feedback enabling us to evolve our platform more quickly. Ultimately, it supports our goal of building the best advertising technology possible—for both publishers and advertisers.

Each year, another pundit writes that display ads are over, but they aren’t just yet. Eventually, native ads will evolve- where are they headed?  We don’t think banners will disappear but that ads will go in-stream and native. Instream is the evolution of the banner and will draw direct-response dollars. Native is where both the form and function match that of the site. That said, native will eventually become a 10-figure ad spend category and will be the go-to unit for branding. If things go the way we hope, marketers will change their thinking from interruption to engagement.

About Justin Choi
Nativo is the third company Justin has founded, and has fast become the premier native advertising platform for interactive publishers and advertisers. Nativo already works with more 1,500 publications, including The Street Inc., USA Today Sports Media Group, Source Interlink Media, Kiplinger Washington Editors Inc., Internet Brands, Entrepreneur Media Inc., Investor Place Media, Reader’s Digest, Sandusky Newspapers and dozens of major brands, including Mazda, Ford, P&G, T-Mobile, Plantronics, Symantec .

 

This article originally appeared in The Advertising Technology Review in 2013.

Some people—ad tech and publishing people—really, really hate BuzzFeed. The blogosphere, while praising shareability and audience choice, has unleashed a torrent of disdain—ranging from scathing critique to outright jeers—upon the brave new world of curated content, helmed by the ubiquitous BuzzFeed, a $200 million company which has upended the digital ecosystem, bolstered by its 160 million monthly uniques.

Yet major publishers can’t—at least for now—be dethroned by click-driven sites like BuzzFeed, which until 2012 merely ranked and redistributed syndicated articles and user posts, producing limited original content. So why the Kimye-worthy hate? It isn’t because, like Gwyneth Paltrow, it is rich, lean and seems to know and post everything about almost everything that is clever and delightful. It is because BuzzFeed—scrappy, fun and oblivious to The Way Things Are Done—has managed to alter the DNA of digital content, causing the ecosystem to look more like a functional (if somewhat chaotic) democracy and less like a 1950’s Southern gentlemen’s club.

It is because BuzzFeed–scrappy, fun and oblivious, contemptuous or unbending to The Way Things Are Done–has managed to alter the DNA of digital content, causing the ecosystem to look more like a functional (if somewhat chaotic) democracy and less like a 1950’s Southern gentlemen’s club.

1. Content Curation is Data-Driven and Use-Driven
The world of content curation is an odd one, at least for some traditional publishers online: when audiences don’t like content, it leaves the front page. That is a radical, threatening concept for an ecosystem which was built to mimic the hierarchies and the direct response model of print publishing. The reader is now a  full-fledged player in the ecosystem becoming one of many millions of editors-by-proxy via interaction on digital publishing’s most valuable real estate, the front page. Behind the cute kitten slides and addictive quizzes is a difficult question about the state and purpose of modern digital journalism. Consumers, because of the Big Data industry’s efficiency in delivering rich lifestyle insights via ad tech to publishers, have become more powerful now than any other time in digital content’s short history. Readers can make their own case for content value openly:  brands and publishers may soon no longer have the luxury of foisting content upon their readers that they simply don’t want. Not, that is, if they want to keep shareholders happy and investors interested.

Behind the cute kittens and addictive quizzes is a difficult question about the state and purpose of modern digital journalism.

 

2. Content Curation Can Break Hard News
The shrill campaign to paint content curation as exclusively a realm of bemused cats and ‘hot-or-not” quizzes is a failed one, said Jonah Peretti during a group interview at New York’s Social Media Week in February. “Traffic is a by-product of doing good work as a reporter- having smart creative humans making most of decisions guided by great data is really the best model,”  Peretti stated. The company is now investing millions in developing an international hard news wing. This echoes what BuzzFeed’s Jon Steinberg told me in 2012; BuzzFeed not only has no intention of stopping at a mere rebranding of so-called “page-view journalism,” it plans to take a seat next the big media powers-that-be.

“Social is the new starting point for the publishing industry,” stated Steinberg. “There is a sea change from portals to search to social. BuzzFeed is building the definitive social publishing site and this extends to brands. We want to build a giant media company for the social world. I think social has jarred big media, whereas we’re excited about it – it’s our whole world.” BuzzFeed is an open platform, and like open source code, anyone can access it. That means that stories with social and political significance can break directly on BuzzFeed and enter a real-time publishing ecosystem which self-edits for relevance and self-distributes in multiple languages. The lack of an institutionalized editorial process for openly sourced stories means that journalists, academics and ordinary citizens can fact-check, counter-argue and even directly engage with authors far more easily than through traditional publishing brand channels.

“BuzzFeed is building the definitive social publishing site and this extends to brands,” said Steinberg in 2012. “We want to build a giant media company for the social world.”

3. Content Curation Highlights Ecosystem Flaws
One of traditional publishing’s biggest issues with content curation is that it highlights the panoply of sameness which much of the industry, at one time or another, indulges in, as well as a broad, systemic failure to provide consistent results for advertisers. Simply by virtue of its high interaction rates, content curation sites such as BuzzFeed show traditional advertising technology’s long trek ahead towards engagement parity. BuzzFeed hinted, as early as 2012, that it was working on a new model of digital advertising for its partner brands. “We don’t think display advertising works,” stated Steinberg. “Social advertising is the ultimate targeting tool because it’s word of mouth updated for online. Real humans passing content to other real humans. All the big data cookie targeting in the world doesn’t achieve that.”

BuzzFeed’s disruptive role might eventually even extend to serving as an impartial arbiter of editorial voice, as the site could—without fear of offending a league of elite fellow publishers—make a list of copycat headlines which unveil patterns, common themes and even occasional bias. Content curation also allows consumers to view a fairly comprehensive ecosystem snapshot and put aside publishing brand loyalty momentarily to see which source is presenting the news in the most appealing package of data and perspective. Daily, the same stories are reported with varying shades of difference online: consumers–before content curation–would rarely compare the same story as reported by the New York Times, Chicago Sun-Times, and the Washington Post.

One of traditional publishing’s biggest issues with content curation is that it highlights the panoply of sameness which much of the industry, at one time or another, indulges in, as well as a broad, systemic failure to provide consistent results for advertisers.

Today’s readers can now view headlines, ledes, and even the readership of stories globally and in aggregate. Content curation has begun to inject a jarring dose of transparency into a frequently opaque ecosystem unaccustomed to accountability, user-responsiveness and above all, reform. That means that a competition for readership based on the value of content rather than publishing brand loyalty is back, in real-time. Publishers may find themselves drawn back to the old days of the newstand, fighting for territory on a rack that appears to be shrinking minute by minute.

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