Insights

Traditional media find a second wind with the smartphone generation

Business Development & Strategy Director
Valtech France

March 31, 2017

Traditional media are facing a new reality. In 2017, the overall digital advertising spend will exceed TV advertising as the latter switches to mobile broadcasting. While advertisers refocus budgets, the industry needs to adapt so that it can meet demand from online readers.

The magnitude of the change now afoot will sort out success stories from failures among media firms attempting the switchover. The challenge is to understand and anticipate the expectations of millennials, who communicate with the world primarily via their mobile phone. This audience, who will account for one third of the working population by 2020, have their own codes and habits. Relying on Facebook and Snapchat, they often instinctively go first to social media to get news and completely ignore traditional media. The fact is, most TV channels are now over 60 years old on average, and time spent by American youngsters watching TV has plunged almost 40% over the past five years. This forces a whole business sector to re-assess its ways of doing business, and to find ways of appealing to a generation where everyone plays at being photographer, cameraman and journalist.

Facebook Live lets us all witness real life

Facebook Live, introduced by Facebook late 2015, is a constant source of new ideas for all media. Users now have the option to broadcast live videos with their mobile phone via Facebook Live. The feature has been so successful that this month it was rolled out to laptops (provided you have a webcam). The success is down to millennials' motivations – they no longer waste time waiting for news that others have decided to air. On the contrary, they seek to be actors or witnesses in the action. Transparency and immediacy have become the new watchwords.

So Facebook Live allows us all to play at being a reporter for the day, pushing aside existing TV news channels and lettings us strut our stuff as fully-fledged media moguls. Requiring just a smartphone, the feature has built up a huge volume of original videos shot around the world. Furthermore, a growing number of traditional media now use Facebook Live to add to their existing content. In October 2016, Kurdish media group Rudaw even used Facebook Live to air pictures of Mosul (Iraq) being retaken from ISIS; this was the first ever live war broadcast, thanks to Facebook Live. Advances in technology have brought us instant news, but it must not stop there since we are liable to frequently come up against ever more crude pictures with no explanation or context, unable to make people think or stimulate debate.

To be or not to be a services platform: how to succeed

Smartphones are the favorite device of the "Mobile First" generation. They give consumers access to the outside world. Music, shopping, friends/family and of course news: smartphones satisfy all our everyday needs. Today Uber needs no introduction, it is a planet-wide beacon for the digital switchover. Going far beyond personal mobility, Uber strives to diversify customer services provided from the same platform. Traditional media are now engaged in the same struggle to build their internet presence, where they need to adapt to new demands including popular content (particularly video), while using algorithms to classify data based on popularity and adapting to the lifestyles of their audiences. This last point above all means beefing up the range of services on offer.

As new business models begin to emerge, we can understand Uber and the Washington Post's desire to team up together. Readers of the famous American newspaper (since 2013 owned by Jeff Bezos, Amazon's CEO) can open an Uber account from the newspaper's smartphone app. When they've ordered their ride they can look up the time needed till they reach their destination on the same app while continuing to read their chosen article. Taking this strategy to its logical conclusion, the Washington Post taps into its Uber alliance to attract new readers. Indeed, connecting an Uber account to the paper's app will give free 30-day access to the entire newspaper. This is the first successful adaption to new economic and financial norms by one of the oldest newspapers in the world.

The budding journalist's algorithm

The growing proportion of Millennials among the world's working population has up-ended current practices. Readers and TV viewers no longer wait to receive pre-edited news, they want to get news about whatever they want to read or comment on at any time they choose, and if possible they want media to anticipate their needs! This is the goal of the advent of algorithms developed by media firms. Following a Google investment fund’s call for media innovation projects, French language Swiss daily Le Temps was one of the second series of winners with its project dubbed ‘Zombie’: based on a digital offer, they just promoted their best articles relating to stories that excite readers. Zombie, which is currently still a prototype, aims to recycle past content at the right time; this will involve articles (e.g. biographies or historical articles) from the paper's mobile app that readers liked, which could be recycled and promoted at a future date if current affairs warrant.

In practice, an algorithm starts by measuring the relevance of each online article published by the newspaper. It will principally make use of Google Analytics, which measures reading time, readership history and social media engagement. Zombie will be able to record key words from articles (i.e. names, events etc.) and by cross-referencing this data it will allocate a score for relevance. Concurrently the algorithm picks up topical stories that attract readers using Google Trends, Google News and trending topics on Twitter. It then compares stories on the up with the database and suggest the best choice of past articles to be recycled. In this way, the newspaper seeks to enhance its editorial output by providing mobile app content that matches readers' interests and wishes. The community manager will also benefit from the algorithm for running daily social media activities.

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