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Video, loyalty, and depth: How NBC is building bridges to a digital future

Moritz Gimbel is head of product for the NBC News Digital Group, a part of NBC Universal Media. Earlier this year he spoke at the Digital Innovators Summit (DIS) in Berlin, where we asked him how the 80yr old broadcast brand aims to transition itself into a serious digital player.

To say that the NBC Group holds digital ambitions would be an understatement. In March, the company invested US$500m in Snap Inc., the newly created parent company of Snapchat, to coincide with its Initial Public Offering (IPO) on the New York Stock Exchange. NBC also holds a reported $400m investment in BuzzFeed, and $200m in US news and opinions website, Vox.

But investment into existing platforms is not the only approach to digital expansion that NBC is taking. It also takes the development of its own in-house digital offerings very seriously, as it looks to grow eyeballs and engagement online. FIPP spoke to Moritz Gimbel, head of product for NBC News Digital, to find out how the company is transitioning its existing content offering from legacy broadcast brand into a successful multi-platform media owner.

Please give us a brief introduction to some of the topics you talked about at the Digital Innovators Summit in Berlin… 

“I was asked to speak about how to take a legacy brand – a broadcast brand - into the new digital future (or present to be honest!) What I tried to do was show what I call bridges. So little features, updates, that really take our core websites and apps into a completely new design and strategy for digital. It’s a long journey, and we do this iteratively to a degree, but I showed an update to an app, to notifications, to video technology and also how we do display advertising, which offers some good indications as to where we’re going for this year and next.” 

“This is based on a strategy that revolves around three pillars: video, loyalty and depth. So obviously being a video brand, and video being a very valuable form of engagement with our audience, that’s where our focus is. We’re going away a bit from scale and more towards richness of experience and engagement, and we want ideally to create habits for our users. So those are the three pillars: video, loyalty and depth.” 

***Hear from Nick Ascheim, Senior VP of Digital, NBC News and MSNBC, USA at the 41st FIPP World Congress, taking place in London from 9-11 October, about the innovation strategies the company employs for a digital world. Book your place now at our reduced Early Bird rate, available for a limited time only***

How important is design in digital publishing? Have traditional publishers and broadcasters alike been slow to wake-up to the importance of aesthetically appealing content online?  

“I’m not sure about waking up, or getting away from it, or rediscovering it, but I think you’re definitely right that it matters. So I do think that design is one of our key differentiators. If everyone is a platform publisher there’s very little brand recognition. So we can still make digital experiences better and more exciting and one of the best examples of that is how Snapchat has broken so many rules and has put Facebook on the backfoot, and Facebook is copying them now. So innovation is never over and the worst thing that publishers could do is give up on innovating on how they distribute and display content. So I am very excited about innovating with design and technology, which are deeply correlated.”

Please talk to us about video, which we know is a huge play for NBC. Is video a difficult form of content to right online, particularly with the growth of mobile? Can large file sizes for example hinder consumer enjoyment of content on the move?  

“It’s not so much about reducing the size, but I know where you’re getting with this. It is true that certain context and even the same focus of the same person can differ greatly at different times. For example in the morning, the best way to consume any kind of news content is in briefing form. Whether that’s a newsletter, or a digest app, or even just the homescreen of a native app. While in the evening maybe you do want to sit down and consume more of a linear product that is more similar to a broadcast product. We see a lot of engagement on our OTT platforms with longer videos.” 

“It’s very specific around the context and the motivation that a user brings. What is important is to understand that. So if I could know that you were leaving for a 30min morning commute in 20mins maybe I can preload a bunch of videos so that once you’re on the train and you have a sloppy connection this is a seamless experience. So there’s little, well actually quite hard to implement, optimisation tricks like that you can do. So I think that that’s a really exciting space. Video is all about performance and it’s really important that it just works seamlessly. Text today works so much more seamlessly than video, so I think right now that’s where a lot of our attention has to go: performance and personalisation and understanding the context where you consume a piece of content.”

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Where are we now with apps? Is it fair to say that the industry is moving increasingly away from native apps and towards responsive design? 

“Any data point will tell you that most people hardly ever – maybe ever – download native apps anymore. I think it depends a little bit on what the goal is that a user has for an app. The best example is transactional things like banking. Of course you want a banking app, right? You don’t want to navigate through a mobile website for that. If you come through the site door of search and social to a piece of content you probably don’t want a native app. You probably want a really fast optimised mobile web page, or a progressive web app that builds sort of on the fly as you use it.” 

“However, I talked a bit in my presentation about how we were surprised to see a counterintuitive adoption of native apps. We built a new native app for the Today Show’s anniversary in January, and it turns out that if you have loyal fans who love the brand, and love talent, and love very specific content, they will download a new app. They are excited about it. They will come back to it every day. And they consume more content in a native app than they do on a mobile website. So I have actually learned in a good way, but also the hard way, that native apps are not as dead as everybody seems to think. Granted we also have a big promotional opportunity with a broadcast channel that can actually drive adoption of a native app. So that’s a very important detail that you shouldn’t forget.”   

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