As is our custom, we end each year of Follow the Money columns anticipating what content monetization trends will drive growth in the coming months. It doesn't seem as if there will be many surprises on this front in 2015 so much as there will be next major stages in models that have already been evolving for publishers. Overshadowing all of it is the unprecedented migration of user attention to devices. "Mobile first" is not a trend or a slogan. It is the reality of modern content.
Members only-While metered paywalls and digital subscriptions have had some impact on the market, especially for local newspapers, many publishers admit you need to offer more than content to attract paying customers. Publications-such as Slate, PEOPLE, National Journal, Cosmopolitan, and many others-are crafting content-plus products that offer perks such as special event access, product samples, paid apps, more direct connections to journalists, or (in the case of Cosmo) virtual workouts with celebrity trainers. This is a model that identifies the core brand loyalists and recognizes they will pay more than a typical subscriber if you offer more than just content. Make them feel as if they belong to a club, not just a readership.
Follow the fragments-As consumers do a multiscreen tango across TV, desktop, tablet, mobile, and wearables, their devotion to specific media brands shatters. Syndicating content into all of the niche providers and use cases for your content will be key. Mobility dictates that the old era of people coming to media is over. Content has to go to the user at the moment of need. Fitness publishers will be in wearable apps. Recipe providers (such as Epicurious) are already partnering with an in-store iBeacon network to provide inspiration in the aisle and their advertisers. The media needs to rethink content as a utility that helps people act more intelligently in the moment. Through partnering with countless apps, platforms, and third parties that users go to first in a given situation, publishers need to distribute content into moments.
Give them something to talk about-Messaging apps such as Facebook's acquisition of WhatsApp, as well as LINE, Snapchat, Kik, Tango, and others, are evolving quickly into media platforms. As the youth segments spend more of their time here, publishers can give these networks something to talk about by seeding sharable content here. The Onion partnered with Audi to put pithy messages into Snapchat during the 2014 Super Bowl. On Tango, Spotify has more than 1 million followers, and Bleacher Report has tens of thousands of people subscribing to its content channel. People like to talk about and share media, so media has to go where the conversations are taking place.
Content marketing needs tools-"Content marketing" was the buzzword of 2014. But talk to any brand marketer following that trend and she will confess to being confused over how to find, distribute, and measure the content assets a brand has. From social monitoring tools to publishing platforms, to internal editing and sharing, and to analytics models, marketers are in dire need of technology that eases the complexity, confusion, and pain. Right now, there are a lot of point solutions waiting for industry consolidation or better integration hooks.
Programmatic goes premium-Automated digital ad platforms have been associated with real-time bidding (RTB) trading and plummeting cost per mille (CPM). But the lack of inventory quality, issues regarding viewability and fraud, and unmet promises of transparency are leading many agencies and marketers away from open markets and into private exchanges where publishers are reasserting their control. One of the largest media buyers in the world, GroupM, announced last year it would stop using open exchanges and use publishers' own private exchanges. Digital advertising is still moving toward an automated future in which programmatic platforms handle much of the process, but publishers should be able to feed premium inventory into them at premium prices.
Glance-o-vision-Mobility changes everything, including lean-back media experiences. Companies such as Discovery Digital Media, NowThisNews, and BuzzFeed are rethinking mobile-first video. In a rapid-fire, feed-based context in which audio often is not an option, communicating a story in the first few seconds (using headlines and self-explanatory images to show, not tell) will be part of an emerging video aesthetic. The age of the 3-second ad spot is upon us.
Following the money in 2015 is more than a matter of jumping on a bandwagon. Whether it is syndicating into new device platforms, easing the pain for brand content managers, or mobilizing video-all of these opportunities require hard reimagining of content itself.
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