Although a lot of innovation comes from Silicon Valley, it does not mean that newsrooms have to copy all the strategies that made Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft - GAFAM for short - so successful.
But Edward Roussel, chief innovation officer, Dow Jones and Wall Street Journal, thinks that digital publishers have a lot to learn from the Big Tech.
Speaking at the New World Encounters event, he pointed out that some of the biggest West Coast-based technology companies are moving into the news business: Google with its News Showcase (launched in the UK in 2021), Facebook News (2019), Apple News+ (2019) and Microsoft with its different products like MSN.
Just take Apple News+, Apple’s subscription news aggregator that allows readers to access premium content. Two years after its launch, it is available in the US, UK, Canada and Australia. Facebook News tab, a feature that displays news content in a dedicated area rather than in a user’s feed, launched in 2019 in the US and expanded to the UK this year.
Whether we like it or not, Roussel continued, Silicon Valley behemoths are moving to the news publishing business and we need to think about what this means for our industry long term. Sure enough, they are tech companies and their core business is not news gathering or distribution. But considering how fast these companies can innovate - think of Apple’s disruption of the music industry or Amazon’s Kindle - this could change in the next five to 10 years.
So how can we keep up with the Big Tech and get inspired by their innovation culture?
Five critical trends for news
According to Roussel, there are five main areas where publishers need to concentrate their innovation efforts if they want to remain competitive. And a better understanding of the user must be at the centre of any new approach.
Although we check our smartphones some 160 times a day, the average session is around three minutes. Publishers need to take this short mobile attention span into consideration and experiment with new products that meet the need for speed.
Audiences are increasingly focused on how interactive their content feels and not just on its quality. Platforms like Substack, Cameo, OnlyFans or Patreon did very well in lockdown as people are paying for the value that interaction brings, rather than just for the content.
This area is marked by two trends - it is fast-growing and tech-led. Demand for audio content grows with every new product that allows us to access it, like smart speakers, Apple’s CarPlay, and most importantly AirPods that sold around 100m units in 2020 alone. Audio is with us all the time and that spurs innovation in content creation that presents opportunities for publishers.
Say 'no' to initiatives that are a distraction to your strategy.Edward Roussel
User-generated video content defined many of the biggest stories of 2020, like George Floyd’s death or the storming of the US Capitol. The importance of video as both a source and a means of distributing stories is only going to grow in the years to come.
AI opens the door to highly targeted news. Personalisation is penetrating every part of the newsroom, from organising stories on the homepage to distributing newsletters and displaying adverts. As tech companies are increasingly personalising their products, users are expecting their experience to be tailored to their needs and preferences.
"The key is to focus on Silicon Valley innovation that helps to drive your strategy," says Roussel.
"Seek out innovation that is an accelerator to your strategy, and say 'no' to initiatives that are a distraction. Better to work with a small number of companies, with a deeper relationship, than to be scattergun in the approach."
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