VIDEO: No time to lament the loss of traditional advertising, says National Geographic’s Yulia Boyle

National Geographic is an early adopter. It was created as the official magazine of the National Geographic Society in 1888, and first began to feature colour photography in the early 20th century, when the technology was still rare. In the digital age the magazine has been quick to adopt new practices and new technologies, evolving for example its world renowned photography into the user-generated sphere. 

But even an early adopter must continue to adapt. The winds of change never remain still for too long. So how is the magazine, and indeed the society, dealing with the latest wave of digital change? And what new innovations can we expect to see from National Geographic in the near future?

Technology allows us now to create direct paths to consumers (0:00)

“Certainly, we are entering – we have entered the space – where not only subscriptions are declining but there’s a huge disruption in cable television, and we are quite affected by that because of our cable distribution of National Geographic channel,” said Yulia.    

“However, technology allows us now to create direct paths to consumers. So we created an app that is very similar to the Netflix/Hulu model. It’s called Nat Geo Play, and it’s a TV everywhere platform. That is where we can now have more than 3,000 hours of our documentary content that can be consumed in a streamed environment.”

Interacting with content (0:43)

“What we are trying to do with this platform is to expand it to allow our consumers to not only watch the video, but to interact with various touchpoints of National Geographic: purchase a trip with us, go on an expedition, go on a photo walk, and do it all from one digital space. We envision that it’s going to be either a monthly subscription or it’s going to be a premium offer to existing cable subscribers.” 

National Geographic photo community (1:33) 

“We employ – and we collaborate with – probably the World’s best photographers. But we also get an enormous amount of amazing content from user generated communities. One of our most successful digital products is National Geographic photo community. We have about 650,000 members from 195 countries that submit photos to us and have a chance to be inside the magazine. So it’s a curated environment, it’s an environment where a story is told in a shareable format, and it’s curated by National Geographic photo editors. So we use the power of our professionals to spread the word and to teach amateur photographers how to take better pictures.”

Advertising, in a traditional format, does not really work (2:12) 

“Advertising as a traditional display ad does not work. We know that already, we heard that already from Joe Ripp this morning [at the 2015 FIPP World Congress]. ‘Advertising’ as such, in a traditional format, does not really work. Because there are so many extra ways that are coming to buying products. They have personal recommendations from friends, they are looking at various platforms… mostly social media actually or Amazon model… What we do in that space is we integrate the editorial message with marketing, public relations, and a message of advertising and we create custom advertising platforms, which is increasingly what our advertising business is becoming.” 

And finally, can you give us a flavour of the different types of content that National Geographic produces for different parts of the world? (3:03)

“We publish in 80 countries around the world, we have 40 editions of National Geographic magazine, and in each country we take a very local and versioned approach! Anywhere from 0% to 40% of our content is localised. And we actually encourage that. We want people to have our stunning visual storytelling, but adapted to their environment. Definitely you know our Middle Eastern readers would care a lot about special religious sites… important heritage sites in their area… so they cover that more. And it’s the same in every culture, so there’s a lot of local content that we encourage to be created locally by our partners.” 

Photography is a hugely recognisable part of what the National Geographic does. And this discipline itself is emblematic of the wider changes in media that have taken place over the last 100 years. Once the preserve of the privileged, the camera is now carried around in the pocket of everybody who owns a smartphone – around on third of the World’s total population and counting. And with those smartphones also comes screens, creating a world in which anyone can view or create media anywhere and at any time. As the perennial early adopter National Geographic has embraced the winds of this change while staying true to the content that has traditionally made it so strong, developing new platforms and new revenue streams around it. The magazine certainly paints a good picture of traditional media not only surviving but actually thriving in the digital age.

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