Finding success as a digital media publisher in the past year has been a messy, frustrating pursuit. Digital entertainment media publishers and other news organizations turning to the same platforms as each other; it’s difficult to differentiate and therefore stand-out.
Throughout the year, TV networks and digital publishers faced hardships based on revenue misses and unsustainable business practices; ESPN went through multiple rounds of layoffs across its on-air talent and digital production arms, Mashable sold for a fraction of what it was worth two years ago, and digital natives BuzzFeed and Refinery29 laid off dozens of employees across multiple divisions.
With many ups and downs behind them, what problems or challenges can media expect to face in 2018?
Selling ads programmatically
According to Neil Vogel, CEO of Dotdash (formerly About.com), more and more CPG companies are trying to buy ads on digital publishers programmatically. The levels of data and control are particularly interesting to brands looking for increased sales and different ad options.
“A lot of sites who used to talk about their scaled custom native content are now talking about how good they’ll be at programmatic ads,” said Vogel. “The previous fear of programmatic is unfounded, but the yields from these ads can be great.”
BuzzFeed, who reorganized its advertising and sales teams ahead of the new year, could benefit in the long run by its recent embrace of banner ads. It’s still creating engaging content as a company, according to market intelligence company SimilarWeb.
“Very often, the combination of layoffs and a ‘change of focus’ should be a serious cause for concern because the underlying foundation of a business is in trouble,” said Gitit Greenberg, director of digital insights for SimilarWeb. “However, for BuzzFeed, a slight shift in focus from a revenue perspective could have the necessary impact because the content foundation upon which the business is based is so incredibly strong.”
Quality and verified reporting
Despite a few setbacks on the revenue side of things, this year showed the strength of newsrooms and news stations across the country. Publishers from Vanity Fair to The New York Times saw huge bumps in subscriptions thanks to politically reporting that drew the ire of the President Donald Trump; the Washington Post, as well, had subscriptions triple since last year.
To that end, publishers are looking forward to more quality reporting on all ends of the media spectrum. Dave Finocchio, CEO and co-founder of Bleacher Report, noted the amount of great work that was produced this year and thinks we can expect more of that to come.
“How can some of these brands and storytellers rise above the noise and start to make a real impact?” said Finocchio. “Everyone is always like, ‘okay, great story, let’s move onto the next one.’ Media will have to learn how to make stuff stick a little more. And ideally, there will be business models in place that will support that work.”
In addition to great storytelling, publishers and platforms must develop a way to fight the “fake news” label. Analyst and co-founder of Kaleido Insights, Rebecca Lieb, suggests that blockchain might be the answer.
“We need a way to verify news that comes from credible and validated sources,” said Lieb. “With the proliferation of viral international stories, more legitimate publications will have to team up with verification solutions so that stories about sex rings at pizza parlors never hit the mainstream.”
For Lieb, Facebook could easily lead the charge in developing that tool as it’s become a major news destination for much of the world.
No tolerance for sexual harassers
Across every industry, survivors of sexual assault or harassment came forward to help pinpoint abusers in their hierarchy. This has led to the removal of dozens of men from positions of power.
Many TV networks like NBC, ABC, CBS, ESPN, Netflix and Amazon have cut ties with men found to have acted inappropriately and dangerously around others in their workplaces throughout their career. Because of the seriousness of these allegations, networks have made steps to make their productions a safer place for the future; as this is something that has come out in every industry from the restaurant world to advertising agencies, providing more clear methods of reporting these infractions and taking measures to protect employees against future problems should become a massive priority.
A ‘reckoning’ for digital video
According to Vogel, the “math doesn’t work” when it comes to publishers creating enough content to meet demands from advertisers.
“It costs more to produce videos for platforms other than your own than it pays you back,” he said. “It doesn’t matter whose overhead apple pie video that is because no one can tell the difference on platforms like that and there are thousands of them.”
Companies that once had seemingly unlimited funds from investors, Vogel indicated, may not have the same budgets that they used to. Because of that, building a scaled video business is proving to be more difficult than initially thought.
Finocchio pointed out that many media companies are trying to find ways of licensing their video productions with entertainment services like Netflix or Amazon. But that’s an “incredibly crowded space,” he said.
“Consumers are expecting content to be even more personalized and social,” said Finocchio. “I expect there to be less short-form content from brands who blend in with other brands online, ones you can’t tell apart from one another.”
This could also be in the form of new video formats; Lieb suggested that 2018 will be the year that news organizations start producing more AR, and then eventually more VR videos.
“Whoever does it first and goes for the moonshot always gets the ink,” she said, regarding the amount of press an advertiser or publisher could get by making a big splash with these types of videos.
Despite being an emerging technology that’s not yet in every household, the opportunities this could bring media organizations access to unique visualizations, data, election night coverage and documentary-style approaches to news.
“When news becomes engaging like that, people can become more immersed in the news itself,” said Lieb, “like how people often get their news from late night comedy, as it’s much more digestible.”