Chris Sutcliffe 20th September 2016 00:01 View comments

Digital Media, Mobile

It’s events season in the media world. Just as the MediaBriefing team close the book on one event, we’re in DEFCON 1 for the next.

But we didn’t want the lessons we learned at DMS USA ’16 to be lost in the noise, so we’ve created this round-up of the lessons we learned over in New York, and we’ll be applying much of it to our own strategy over the next couple of months.

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Print to desktop to mobile to… what?

One of the most pressing questions facing publishers is ‘what comes after the mobile internet?’ Since we’re already living in a time in which even the term ‘mobile internet’ is redundant given its precedence over desktop internet, it’s a question to which we desperately need answers.

“The desktop internet is something you do on your grandpa box.” – @BenedictEvans at

Andreessen Horowitz partner Benedict Evans expounded upon how we’ve reached the point at which Google and Apple have won the battle for audience attention on mobile:

“We have the also-rans wishing they owned a platform. We have Facebook very obviously trying to build their own platform. This spring we had Facebook launching its bot platform. You have Snapchat Discover; these people are trying to build new discovery models on top of the operating system.”

But that’s allowed publishers access to enormous audiences

Today, AJ+ has one billion monthly views and 40 videos are produced per day, but that success didn’t come overnight. As Al Jazeera’s global executive director of digital media Yaser Bishr explained: “We spend a lot of time trying to understand engagement.”

Bishr said there are key points at AJ+’s foundation that he thinks makes it so successful.  Understanding the audience is one.  Avoiding organization structure is two, which means not only does an employee belong to the creative team, they can belong to the creative team and the data team as well.  The story makers are also the audience, he said, adding that this lesson was learned when Al Jazeera was first in reporting on the Arab Uprising when it began, and last but not least, the viewer needs to feel they are apart of the story:

“We want to empower our audience, engage, inspire, experience, defy.  We want to share stories that engage conversations.”

Every audience is worth taking the time to understand

About 70 percent of Mic’s consumers are 21 to 34, affluent, earning an average household income of about $96,000 per year. Eighty percent are educated, and 75 percent are mobile device savvy.

Mic’s chief strategy officer Cory Haik explained:

“Its not a homogenous group but there are similarities that we’ve definitely talked about and are thinking about. For example, climate change, LGBT rights, equal marriage, and legalization of marijuana are all things that Millennials tend to want to see. We don’t have to really overthink those.”

For Quartz, which started with its ideal audience in mind, the challenge was then to figure out how it could attract individual members away from the publications to which they were habituated. Founder Jay Lauf explained why they didn’t choose to launch under the banner of parent company The Atlantic, which would arguably have helped with that challenge:

“The back of the envelope business plan was that if we could take low single-digit percentages of market share from the major incumbents we would have the foundation for a really robust stable and exciting business.”

According to his research, that was about a billion in ad sales during 2012.

As a spin-off from The Atlantic, it was a matter of selling the vision to owner David Bradley. “He greenlit the project with only one instruction: at every turn, at every decision and inflection point, be bold and creative as you build this product out.”

Distribution is always changing

CNN Digital was one of the first 12 media organizations, and the only news outlet, to be invited to Snapchat Discover back in January 2015. “I think that’s pretty tremendous,” said executive creative director Aimee Schier. The benefit of being an older brand is that they often get invited to experiment with new platforms early, she said”

“It’s provided us with some great opportunities internally to experiment with storytelling”.

They eventually settled into creating an edition every day based on stories from other social channels, but plan to soon expand publishing to throughout the day. And understanding the Snapchat audience is another adjustment. On Discover, users seem to be coming to the channel three to four times a week. It might appear low, but according to what Snapchat has shared with publishers, it’s the standard.

But even the young guns are still sprinting to stay relevant

Only four years old, NowThis has managed to profoundly alter the landscape of video distribution and style. They innovated the bold, blocky text on video that has proliferated since and have jumped entirely on the distributed content bandwagon. NowThis president Athan Stephanopoulos and Ashish Patel, publisher and manager of the Data Insights team shared their strategy.

Stephanopoulos began by outlining the simple kernel that created the company’s DNA. It’s “the belief that video was going to become the dominant media type going forwards,” said Stephanopoulos. “And that social was going to have a new impact and role in the distribution of content.”

The NowThis audience is primarily young people, which means really understanding them and what they want. “We want to tell stories that are important.” said Stephanopoulos. “Issues that matter to young people today.” He reels off some examples like legalisation of marijuana and the cost of education.

“They’re not beholden to any traditional media company,” he said, recognizing this gives affords new companies a good opportunity as young people primarily learn about the world through their phones. “We know that ultimately you need to cater to them.”