This year’s SXSW Interactive, which took place March 13-17 in Austin, Texas, was ground zero for disruptive innovation, brand activations and reflections of new culture.
While there were many engaging and inspiring events and panels, I focused on media (social and digital), content and health -- and saw some crucial trends that will change the future of publishing.
1) There has never been a more exciting time to be in media
While the media business model is in a state of flux, we are entering a golden moment in media. CPMs are not a race to a bottom: Media companies will increasingly focus on quality of views, rather than quantity.
The benefit of disruption is that it allows companies to find new value for their customers. The New York Times has focused on innovations in luxury, men’s fashion and mobile. For instance, it has launched a lifestyle newsletter, a vertical exclusively for men’s fashion, more mobile apps and a revamped The New York Times Magazine.
At the same time, it is increasingly evident that consumers are willing to pay for premium content. The New York Times, The Financial Times and many other digital properties have seen subscribers surge, offering a significant source of revenue.
“Attention and time spent is a much better way to get at quality and attention on the part of the consumers we want to reach” – Meredith Levien, EVP, Advertising, The New York Times
“There hasn’t been a more exciting time to do what we do in media” – Eamonn Store, CEO, Guardian US
2) The landscape of branded content is becoming increasingly complex -- and revenue streams are diversifying
Publishers continue to evolve their understanding of how to create and present branded content. The New York Times has doubled down on T Brand Studio, it’s in-house branded content agency, which reportedly generates ~$20M of revenue.
The Guardian is still trying to understand how to manage readers’ expectations of high-quality impartial content with brands’ desire to control their messaging. To parse these out, it has developed three forms of branded content:
- Sponsored by: A major source of revenue. Editorially independent content that is created with input from advertisers on topics/ideas.
- Brought to you by: Content that is paid for and controlled by the advertiser. Does not involve Guardian journalists
- Supported by: Editorially independent content supported by nonprofits/foundations across the globe
To experiment with alternative revenue streams, The Guardian is also expanding its membership program, a subscription-based community where people can connect online and offline (via events and physical hubs) on various conversations.
Content providers are also expanding into commerce. (A topic that is discussed further on.)
“It’s more about how do you take the grass roots of what we do and build out movements around the country to get deeper into conversations and actions.” – Eamonn Store, CEO, Guardian US
“Membership for us isn’t just about money…it’s also about contribution, how people choose to get involved.” – Eamonn Store, CEO, Guardian US
3) The shift to prioritizing time spent on page over page views is still being played out
In recent months, The Financial Times and The Economist have started exploring charging advertisers based on engagement, rather than views. TimeGuarantee promises that mobile audiences will spent at least 250 cumulative hours with an ad over the course of a campaign, which usually runs two to three weeks. ViewGuarantee promises that 75% of impressions across an entire campaign will be viewed for at least one second.
The future of this model is still to be determined: Is a publisher’s mission to get people to stay on their site for extended periods of time? Or is a publisher supposed to deliver value by making people’s lives easier + quicker information.
Q: When thinking about delivering value to readers, is it about time spent or time saved?
4) Good content is king -- and the key for attracting and retaining readers' attention
All organizations underscored that good content is the golden goose that lays the egg. In the future, there will be fewer places creating high quality content. Publishers need to double down on creating top quality content that is true to their DNA.
“It’s going to be won on quality and won on attention…this is a golden moment for marketers who have more opportunities to connect with audiences in meaningful ways on topics where they can add some value” – Meredith Levien, EVP, Advertising, The New York Times
“If you can dominate a niche, people will trust you…and you certainly will be able to gather eyeballs” – Elisabeth DeMarse, chairman and CEO, The Street
“Good journalism is the goose that lays the golden egg” – Bob Garfield, co-host of On The Media, NPR
5) The distance between content and commerce is collapsing
Thanks to e-commerce, the distance between inspiration and point of purchase has collapsed. Ben Lerner of Thrillist and Jack Threads argues that a media company’s core asset is its relationship with its audience – and that because media companies are closest to consumers, they are in a unique position to work with commerce.
Last year, for instance, to celebrate the 45th anniversary of the moon landing, Thrillist worked with GE to create a series of articles that highlighted the brand’s role in the 1969 moon mission. In tandem, Thrillist also designed and produced a limited edition set of sneakers that looked like moon boots. The 100 pairs sold out almost immediately and quickly reappeared on eBay.