How to place your media tech bets without losing your shirt: Answer these questions

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It’s easy to be dazzled and want to dive headfirst into a cool technology. But we see lots of failed technology at media companies we consult with worldwide. 

May I offer you a piece of advice? 

Step away from the tech! 

Stop and think quietly about these four questions:

1. Who exactly is your target audience? Do they use this technology? Or will you be trying to introduce it to them? How likely are they to adopt it?

2. What types of information does your audience want? Where do they look for it? How do they like to consume it? Can this tech deliver what your readers want?

3. Realistically, what human and financial resources do you have to throw at this technology? Can you afford it?

4. What is your turnaround time for a return on investment? Will you run out of time, money, and/or patience?

If you can answer those questions, then, and only then, are you ready to choose the tech tools that make sense for you given what you’ve discovered about your audience and your capability to make the tech succeed.

***INNOVATION Media Consulting, authors of the annual Innovation in Magazine Media World Report, help media companies around the world transform (read their Hanley Wood case study here) and present at conferences (FIPP included) around the world. Want them to present at your event? Contact John Wilpers at***

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Here is our media tech menu for today (there is more coverage of media tech in our “Innovation in Magazine Media World Report” available here):

1. Advertising tech

2. Analytics

3. Artificial Intelligence (AI)

4. Augmented Reality (AR)

5. Beacons

6. Email

7. Video

8. Virtual Reality (VR) and 360-video

9. Voice-activated personal assistants

I covered chatbot and messaging app tech separately (“Go ahead and laugh, but chatbots matter. Be ready now“)

1. Advertising tech

The Washington Post decided to solve the ad tech problems by building a better mousetrap themselves. And then sell it to other frustrated media companies. 

To date, their SaaS (Software as a Service) arm, Arc Publishing, offers 18 products that can be licensed. 

Arc created a tool to solve the page-load-speed problem. Called Zeus and released in the fall of 2016, it dramatically speeds up page-loading times by employing different loading and caching techniques for third-party programmatic display ads. The Post claims to have achieved a 75 per cent decrease in latency. Zeus uses both “lazy loading” and software that will reject all programmatic ads that are too data-heavy.

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Zeus has improved advertising performance exponentially in both viewability and engagement, according to the Post. 

Another Arc tool, Fuse, enables the hosting and delivery of ads natively so that the ads load instantly instead of forcing the user’s device to go elsewhere to be served the ad.

Prism, a tool launched in 2013, is integrated into the CMS, not as a separate entity, like many ad servers. Ads load at the same time as content, resulting in an uninterrupted user experience.

Outside of the Post, another ad tech tool, device graphs, answers user-tracking issues. Because cookies don’t work on mobile devices, it has been a challenge to track users across devices. As a result, the impact of mobile ads has been hard to gauge. 

A device graph is a map that solves the identity management problem. It links individual people to all the devices they use, from their office computer to their laptop to their mobile device. So, instead of counting each device as a different person, media companies and advertisers can track an individual’s total media behaviour, eliminating duplication. 

With a device graph, an advertiser can see what time and on what device a user was exposed to their ad, assisting in determining, for example, the role a mobile ad had on an action such as a purchase.

The benefit to both publishers and advertisers is clear: If advertisers get proof of an ad’s contribution to a desired action, they’ll buy more advertising. 

2. Analytics

“There is much more to editorial analytics than big screens with numbers that go up and down,” Federica Cherubini, the co-author of the Reuters Institute 2016 Editorial Analytics Report, told “Tools are, of course, the first step. But even with the best available tools and a strong analytics team, a newsroom that doesn’t underpin those with a culture of data use will fail to realise its full potential. Equally, a newsroom can have good tools and a culture of data, but with no in-house analytics expertise it will struggle to do in-depth analysis and use analytics systematically.”

At German daily newspaper Die Welt, their Article Score system looks at six metrics to come up with a score. The six measures are: page views, time spent on the article page, video views, social shares, bounce rate, and how many subscribers the article generated.

The tool is “part of a strategic process that focuses on making sure that Die Welt produces quality content that readers will find compelling enough not simply to click on and glance at, but actually to spend time with, perhaps share, maybe even pay for,” according to the Reuters report.

An analytics company, Content Performance Indicator (CPI), built by three former journalists, takes the process to the next level. Like Die Welt’s Article Score, CPI looks at multiple metrics, but CPI goes well beyond six metrics to consider thirty! Then, CPI goes even further and applies 60 different mathematical expressions based on a media company’s goals. The result is a score that reflects true engagement, and loyalty, and helps writers and editors with short — and long-term editorial strategy.

“We take clickstream and social metrics and look into the relationships between them and then weigh them and score them according to what is important to the website or publication,” CPI founder and CEO Dejan Nikolić told me.

“What real-time analytics do very well is encourage the pursuit of clickbait,” CPI content chief Jon Wilks said. 

“The major breakthrough is [giving editors the] bigger picture so that your audience and content are allowed to drive your business model,” Wilks said.

3. Artificial intelligence (AI)

AI, or artificial intelligence, burst onto the media’s radar in 2016 with a sudden frenzy of chatbot launches (check out my earlier post on chatbots here.)

In addition to chatbots, artificial intelligence has other impacts in the media world. 

On the ad side, artificial intelligence can be employed to learn about reader behaviour, using first-party and third-party data to, for example, pinpoint where a reader is in the buying process, and learn how to deliver the personalised messages and ads.

On the editorial side, AI can be used to maximise the leveraging of content. 

Tagging has bedevilled editors and writers for a long time. In the course of writing, tagging slows the process: It’s time-consuming and expensive to take a reporter’s time to do the tedious tagging work. 

And yet, tags enable media to do almost everything that happens to a story: how search engines index the site, how related content is recommended, how ads are targeted, and much more.

The New York Times created a platform called “Editor” that uses machine learning to identify and categorise elements of a story in real time as the story is being written. Where a human editor would feel rushed and tag just a few names and places, this AI-enabled system delivers, in the blink of an eye, fine-grained annotation and tagging to a degree a human could rarely replicate.

Watch the Editor tool in action on Vimeo here.

Editor, an experiment in publishing from NYT R&D on Vimeo.

4. Augmented reality (AR)

In 2016, AR made a huge and global splash with Pokémon GO.

In 2016, investments in AR and VR exploded to reach US$1.1 billion, according to Augment, an AR app developer.

More and more companies are employing AR in print campaigns.


The November 2016 issue of Elle included eight covers, each one featuring an actress (Aja Naomi King, Amy Adams, Anna Kendrick, Felicity Jones, Helen Mirren, Kathy Bates, Kristen Stewart, and Lupita Nyong’o). When readers logged into the ElleNow app and held their mobile device over each cover, they were treated to video interviews with each actress. “If we can make an entire issue come to life  — that would be a lot of work  — but we’d be [pleased] about that. It’s just the beginning,” Elle editor-in-chief Robbie Myers told Women’s Wear Daily. “Bring it.”

The New Yorker

For its first-ever AR cover, The New Yorker enabled readers with the “Uncovr” app to walk through a subway door into a wild, animated world created by artist Christoph Niemann. 

The edition also included two inside-cover Qualcomm ads that were AR-enabled.

Brands even more active

Brands showed the way with AR. Lego’s AR app caused cool jets and trucks to pop out of a page and drive or fly around. Blippar enabled users to get nutritional information about fruits and vegetables just by pointing an AR-enabled mobile device at the object. Movie theatres enabled passersby to watch trailers when they walked by a billboard outside the theatre. The Quiver children’s colouring app brought the kids’ drawings to life with animated characters crawling or flying out of their drawings. The Magic Mirror app allowed customers to try on outfits virtually. The list is almost endless.

Nonetheless, “AR will remain a cool outlier or a one-off until the experience becomes part of something people do on a regular basis,” digital marketing company Matomy Group CTO Ido Pollak told AdExchanger.

5. Beacons

“Beacons are a popular choice because of their ubiquitous reach, as most all mobile phones have this capability. With a wireless coverage range of 50 meters, beacons can target broad areas at a relatively low cost,” wrote Brian Friedman, chief technology officer (CTO) of Loopd, an event engagement management company, on the company blog.

“Beacons can push coupons and promotions and also incorporate personalised messages and recommendations based on geography and/or customer purchase history,” he wrote.

The bluetooth beacon market is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 307.2 per cent from 2015-2020, according to About 80,000 units were shipped in 2015, and this number is expected to skyrocket to 88.29 million units by 2020.

In late 2015, Elle magazine launched a five-week beacon campaign called “Shop Now” that made its editors’ product picks available to users of the ShopAdvisor and RetailMeNot apps. Any of the 25 million users of both apps who had opted to get push notifications would get one whenever they were within a mile of a Guess, Barnes & Noble, Vince Camuto, or Levi’s store, telling them that one of Elle’s recommended products was available nearby.

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When readers opened the notification and entered the store, they’d get yet another push notification with a promotion, such as $25 off their same-day Camuto purchase.

“The single, most universal request I hear from every advertiser, whether it’s luxury, beauty or fast fashion, is, ‘Help us drive retail store traffic,’” Kevin O’Malley, Elle’s senior VP and publisher, told Digiday.

The campaign drove 500,000 store visits in just five weeks, according to O’Malley. The open rate was 15 times higher than the mobile advertising average of 0.8 per cent. In-store visit rates were 100 times higher, according to ShopAdvisor.

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6. Email tech

A French start-up has created tech tools that deliver individualised newsletters. Literally — no two newsletters are alike.

The startup, Paris-based OwnPage, installs JavaScript on the media company’s website and collects data on reader behaviour. By knowing which stories a reader consumes, the tool generates individual stories to be included in that person’s newsletter, growing “smarter” with every reader interaction with the site.

With that data, the tool builds a list of articles that a reader did not read already, but the technology detects it as an interesting article for this reader. Each newsletter is completely different for each reader.

Publishers use the service to grow their subscriber base or to provide an extra benefit to those who are already paying.

The French daily financial newspaper, Les Echos, for example, uses Ownpage to send its twice-weekly newsletter to all its registered users. The newsletters are opened about 500,000 times per month and they drive about 150,000 visits to Les Echos website per month, according to Cambon.

The newsletter is the traffic source that’s generating the most subscriptions, and the conversion rate from overall newsletter recipients has increased by 10 per cent since Les Echos added the personalised email.

7. Video

Two video production companies aim to empower media companies to be able to produce vastly more high-quality videos at reasonable costs.

Wibbitz is a text-to-video technology platform that automatically creates premium, short-form videos using text content. Wibbitz’s customers include Bonnier magazines, Hearst, Gannett and the Weather Channel.

Wochit is a video-creation platform enabling storytellers to create a branded, studio-quality video for any story in just 10 minutes. Customers of Wochit have included Time Inc., USA Today, CBS Interactive, The Huffington Post, Rotten Tomatoes, and NowThis News.

Both companies’ automation features operate similarly: Each analyses and summarises text, whether it is a story or a script, and then automatically searches for photos and video clips to go with the resulting video. Both use services like Getty Images and the Associated Press for video and images.

Both companies claim they can create a video for every published article on a site.

Both companies share revenue with media companies, and Wochit sells subscriptions.

8. Virtual reality (VR) and 360-video

Pure virtual reality (VR) is extremely expensive to produce, and the audience equipped to experience it is still extremely small. 

However, there is a subset of virtual reality that is not so expensive to make and has the similar effect of putting you someplace outside of your reality. 

It’s called 360 video. Consumers can enter that world for as little as US$1.99 for a pair of Google Cardboard “glasses” on eBay (US$15 if you buy from Google.). And publishers can play in that space for far, far less than the tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars it costs to produce a pure VR video.

“You need to be focusing on 360-degree video content right now, not VR  — it is the most feasible option, both in terms of the overheads required in production of virtual reality, and how we can distribute it,” Associated Press interactive editor Nathan Griffiths told the World News Media Congress in Colombia in June 2016.

“It doesn’t make sense for me to spend a month building a VR piece that a handful of users might see on the Oculus or Samsung Gear, because I can make a [360] video that takes me a week to produce that gets seen by millions on Facebook and YouTube,” he said. 

A 360 video offers, as its name implies, a 360-degree look at the world  — up, down, left and right  — with a swipe of the user’s fingers on a screen or just by turning their heads if they are watching on a headset like Google Cardboard.

And 360 video is easier than ever to make. In 2015, editors had to manually stitch together video footage. By 2016, this process has become automated. The shooting and editing tools are now easy to find and becoming less expensive by the day.

The overarching good news is that journalists who’ve never thought of operating a 360 video setup, much less edit a 360 video, are now doing exactly that. 

Plus, audiences are catching on.

For example, more than half of the NYT Daily 360 viewers are return visitors. 

Like readers, advertisers are drawn to 360 video. “They’re coming in all shapes and sizes and forms, often bringing ideas with them,” NYT Magazine vp Andy Wright told Folio.

9. Voice-activated personal assistants

The arrival of voice-activated personal assistants like Amazon Echo’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri, Google Home, and Microsoft’s Cortana will dramatically change the content and consumer-relations game. 

Now, whenever our reader has an information need, we can deliver our content almost anywhere at any time whether our “reader” has access to a keyboard or not. 

Amazon Echo offers 900 functions, and while Google Home doesn’t yet have 900 functions, it is catching up rapidly and even offers features Echo does not.

Amazon Echo ()

Readers are already getting there. Google says 20 per cent of all mobile searches are now voice searches. Mary Meeker’s KPCB 2016 Internet Trends Report showed that in May 2016, 25 per cent of searches on Windows 10 task bar were voice searches. By 2020, a full 50%, of all searches will be by voice, according to ComScore.

Here’s how a voice-activated personal assistant could work for a media brand:

“A publisher, say, Bon Appétit or Food and Wine, would create a ‘Recipe of the Day’ from a famous chef that could be loaded onto Alexa,” suggested Social Media HQ founder and CEO Chris Zilles. “Then, each morning, you could fire up your Amazon Echo and say, ‘Alexa, tell me the recipe of the day’. Alexa would read the recipe to you, and if you liked it, you could ask Alexa to put you in touch with the chef to get more details about the recipe. 

**** HOW TO TRANSFORM A MEDIA COMPANY: “Innovation helped Hanley Wood transform its editorial platform from a Balkanized, print-first, top-heavy, sluggish organisation to a streamlined, fast-moving, highly productive digital-first asset,” said former CEO Frank Anton. “And we did it quickly and without engendering almost any resistance from the existing editorial staff. Here *****

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