Five ways Covid-19 has changed media for good

The post-Covid world will look very different for media organisations and there are five key trends set to stay, including digital transitions and flexible working arrangements. Yet publishers shouldn’t hold their breath and wait for this moment to pass – now is the time to grasp opportunities by the horns and implement positive change, according to the authors behind the brand new Innovation in Media 2021-2022 World Report.

What they call “the new abnormal” that has taken shape over the past 12 months has merely accelerated many trends that were happening already, but there are some surprises too.

John Wilpers, Senior Director and Juan Señor, President at Innovation Media Consulting drew on 12 months of research plus their extensive media consulting experience to present their findings last week. Their presentation, always one of the most eagerly anticipated sessions at the annual Digital Innovators’ Summit (DIS) in Berlin, was held online this year as part of the virtual, two-month edition of DIS (sign up here to get access to all past and upcoming webinars).

See the video here:

Download the presentation slides here.

“Every trend that was there before the crisis will now accelerate into a norm,” said Señor, who joined us from London, while Wilpers tuned in from Boston.

The fresh edition of Innovation in Media has been fully updated from last year’s to include changes wrought by the pandemic, including environmental impact, direct-to-consumer (D2C), retention strategies, what a good remote office looks like, gender equality and diversity, plus tech tools for connecting with colleagues in a post-Covid world and stress reduction tips. It’s also full of concrete how-tos for implementing positive change.

Five major shifts

The authors identified five major areas where they expect changes to last.

  1. Hybrid working conditions

The first is the shift away from Monday to Friday, 40-hour working weeks towards a flexible office model, with employees working from home 100 per cent of the time in many cases.

While this change has many upsides, productivity of home workers is down 40 per cent, and publishers shouldn’t rush to do away with their offices altogether. “The office won’t disappear,” said Señor. “Some journalism just cannot be done from home. Meeting sources, going to events, door-stepping politicians: this is what creates journalism worth paying for.” A hybrid model therefore seems the most likely and desirable arrangement for the future.

2. Digital dominates

The migration of readers from print to digital has happened in a decisive, universal way. Also, ad revenue is being eroded by reader revenue, creating big opportunities for subscriptions and memberships (more on that below).

But hold your horses: “People are rushing to shut down their print operations, but we don’t recommend this,” said the authors. “Perhaps change frequency instead – for example, weekly to monthly. Become digital first only when your revenues are digital first. If not, it makes no sense.”

3. Social media shows its (ugly) face

During the pandemic, a live threat that causes a lot of stress, people have developed a habit to visit news sites directly each day. This has been a big boost for trustworthy news sources over social media, which is full of misinformation. “This we must protect and encourage,” said Señor.

Señor and Wilpers point out that the pandemic has generated a turning point for our relationship with big tech, citing the recent stand-off between the Australian government and Facebook. They call it “social media independence day”. For many publishers, they point out, the investments made in social audiences are not paying off. With a nod to other kinds of distancing we’ve all become used to in the past year, “Social media distancing is key if you want to regain a direct relationship with audiences,” said Señor.

It’s also the end of free news for Facebook and Google, as advertisers funnel their ad revenue back to quality news outlets. The authors pointed to research by their colleagues, who have put a number on the publisher-platform relationship: according to their calculations, at least 8.8 per cent of revenue should be shared with publishers to make the arrangement fair.

4. A boost for quality journalism

The next big change the authors call “the Netflix moment”, and it describes the increasing global recognition that quality news and information is worth paying for. The record rise in digital subscriptions globally speaks to this, and consumer magazines as well as news media are cashing in with memberships, clubs, and perks for loyal readers.

“This is definitely the time to launch a data wall or a paywall,” said Señor. (FIPP, too, has recently done this.) He counsels investing in good journalism and fact-checking, to capitalise on the sentiment that good journalism matters for a well-functioning society.

“Look around you: ad-dependent digital media houses (eg. Vice, HuffPost) are in difficulty. They are all consolidating or collapsing. Almost certainly, that model is not sustainable, unless you’re number one in your market, like TMZ for entertainment or MailOnline. Our role as fact-checkers is the new added value to our journalism, and people will pay to verify fake news.”

5. Culture change

The final shift the authors have seen is less tangible, but no less impactful. The mindsets of media bosses have changed irrevocably under the immediate pressure of pandemic conditions. “In previous years, we witnessed so much holding back; so much reluctance from CEOs to embrace digital transformation and culture change,” said Señor. He and Wilpers advise that in light of this, now is not the moment to sit back and rest: “The world may be frozen, but you must act and not wait for this to simply pass. Manage what you can; make the changes now.”

Get the new Innovation in Media 2021 World Report here.


Other opportunity areas: company culture, D2C, virtual events, and much more

There are many other ways for publishers to make positive change going forward, explained John Wilpers. He cited widespread low ratings for company culture in the media industry, and advises projecting and creating a positive environment by creating value/mission statements, investing in training people, being family-friendly, setting up mentorship programmes, defensive marketing, and making your company an appealing place to work by expanding your “social footprint”. The new book is full of practical tips on how to go about this.

Wilpers also emphasised the rise of D2C, with many more publishers creating a reader-first model. “Who regularly opens your email newsletters?” he asked. “Think about your ‘regulars’: the ones who feel a strong affinity with your brand, and then deliver on the promise you’ve made for them.” One way of doing this is by focusing on your “whales”: the most committed 10-15 per cent of your audience, who probably use your branded tote bag with pride! These provide word-of-mouth marketing, they behave more predictably, and they are less sensitive to price points. “Basically, they take off their consumer hat and put on a member hat,” Wilpers said, citing Robbie Baxter’s research.

Finally, the authors think that no one will ever have a large in-person event without including a digital component any more. There’s lots of space for innovation in the virtual events space, and people have really seen the advantages of them this year. The full Innovation in Media report is full of tips for making virtual or hybrid events a success going forward.

Read more on all the above and much, much more. Become a FIPP member to download your copy of Innovation in Media 2021-2022 World Report now.

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