Throughout media history, the main value publishers provided marketers with was distribution, i.e. the opportunity to reach massive audiences, and often in a targeted way.
If Procter and Gamble wanted to reach suburban moms 25-44 then advertising on Good Housekeeping would have probably been a good idea. But does this still hold true? Is Good Housekeeping still the best way for P&G to reach its target audience? In a world of seamless micro-targeting offered by Facebook, Google, and the whole programmatic ecosystem, P&G can reach its audience more accurately and more efficiently than ever without depending on publishers.
So what’s left for publishers to offer? Premium publishers, i.e more New York Times and Conde Nast, less Viral Nova and Dorkly, are still the best content creators out there, and their content holds significant credence.
In a time where Content Marketing seems to be taking marketers by storm, it’s nothing to sneeze at. However, publishers are facing some major challenges, and there’s one thing that can help them solve them.
Publishers have a discovery problem
When was the last time you actually visited a publisher’s homepage?
It’s no secret that the homepage is dying. The notorious leaked New York Times Innovation Report has revealed the Times had lost half of its homepage traffic in just two years. Publisher sites are just not a destination anymore. We discover our content mostly through search and social, as well discovery platforms such as Outbrain, Flipboard, or Reddit, and increasingly through dark social – text messaging, email and messaging apps.
Referral traffic to publisher sites by source:
Building discovery through search did require some fancy SEO, but luckily Google has favored quality content on reputable publishers over content farms.
Social discovery is a different ball game, which has proven to be much less about the content quality and much more about its distribution strategy. And indeed, social distribution whizzes like BuzzFeed, HuffPo, Upworthy and others have managed to build huge audiences despite arguably lower content quality than traditional publishers.
Publishers now depend more than ever on social traffic, which has surpassed search traffic in the past year, following Facebook’s decision to promote more publisher content in its news feed.
Referral traffic to publisher sites from Google and Facebook:
Publishers have an experience problem
As programmatic ad spending is booming, publishers have been able to squeeze a few extra cents from their audiences, but these come with a price, in the form of a degraded user experience.
Loading dozens of vendors, pixels, and banners leads to incredibly long page load times. Kissmetrics research shows that 47% of consumers expect a web page to load within 2 seconds and that anything longer than 10 seconds is unacceptable by all. Yet, another study found that some publisher sites take much longer to load, for example – The Financial Times – 29.5 seconds, Bloomberg – 27 seconds, CNN – 18.8 seconds, The Wall Street Journal – 18.6 seconds.
Visitors can’t accept this experience and the longer the load time the more they bounce.
When we talk about mobile, now the majority of digital content consumption, the experience is even worse.
With the limited site real estate to monetize, visitors are bombarded with lengthy mega-intrusive interstitials, even before the long load time, which is even longer when reaching the content through apps, now the great majority of time spent on mobile. With these types of user experiences, it’s no wonder why ad blockers are on the rise and are publishers’ fear-du-jour.
Publishers have a monetization problem
In a world of big desktop screens, lots of site real estate to stuff endless remanent impressions into, and a programmatic ecosystem to provide demand, monetization still wasn’t easy but it was possible.
When 62% of time spent on digital is with limited real estate mobile devices, it becomes much harder. Publishers have never really realized how to monetize mobile, and currently take home less than 30% of the mobile ad revenue pie – the rest goes to platforms – Facebook, Google, Twitter, Pandora, etc.
Mobile ad revenues by channel:
This has also been one of the major drivers to the tremendous mobile monetization gap – only 13% of digital ad spend goes to mobile, despite the 62% of time spend we’ve mentioned.
And it doesn’t seem like the tide will shift.
Content consumption on mobile happens on apps – 87% of time spent – and not on mobile web. None of the top apps belong to publishers – all are platforms, and mostly part of Facebook and Google. In order to survive in a mobile future, publishers will have to learn to monetize through those platforms.
An emerging new format can enable them to do so while also confronting the experience and discovery challenges.
The future of digital media, my friends, is Containers. Yes, it’s not a sexy word. Definitely not a word that would have gotten you clicking into this post. Nonetheless, it can help digital publishers with many of their problems.
What’s a Container?
A Container is a piece of content which includes an inherent monetization model, as well as an inherent analytics layer. Essentially the monetization and analytics travel with the content wherever it might be.
A good example of a Container is a YouTube video, which can be embedded just about anywhere across the web, while enabling the video creator to monetize – it keeps 70% of revenues – and to track performance. And indeed we’ve seen an influx of video creators and MCNs (Multi-channel networks) such as Machinima, Maker studios, Fullscreen and Defy, that didn’t bother to build their own destination sites, or their own monetization – they’re happy to focus on content creation and leave the rest to YouTube.
Even established content creators such as Vice, Complex, Vox, and BuzzFeed have significant monetization coming from their embedded Containers. Recently Facebook, the newly crowned #1 video site, announced a similar model where video creators keep 55% of revenues and already has some serious players on board such as the NBA, Hearst, Funny or Die, and Fox Sports.
But what about content creators outside of the realm of video? Do they have to stay confined to an editorial destination site format? Can we find the Container format for textual content?
The future of most publishers depends on it.
Well, all the big guys are jumping on the bandwagon to try and solve it – Facebook, Apple, Google, and even Snapchat. Traditionally, these companies haven’t been very friendly to publishers – e.g. Google changing its PageRank (SEO) algorithms without notice, and Facebook doing the same with its EdgeRank – but now they all understand the tremendous opportunity in becoming the sole gateway to mobile content, and they need publishers’ cooperation to get there.
Publishers on their end definitely see the risk in embedding their content on other platforms, losing control of their audience, their monetization, and to some extent – their editorial brand, but the way things are going they just can’t miss the life raft called Containers and the reward it might bring – to discovery, to experience, and to monetization.
Facebook Instant Articles
Back in May Facebook has launched its Container called Instant Articles.
Publishers’ content can now be consumed directly within the Facebook app, solving all the challenges we’ve covered:
– Instant Articles is just a gorgeous content consumption experience, maybe the best on the web today, and it’s amazingly fast-loading as well.
– Believe it or not, publishers can keep 100% of the revenues if they monetize directly, or 70% of revenues if Facebook monetizes for them. Given their
well-known challenges in monetizing mobile, 70% of Facebook monetization will probably be the way they go.
– Facebook can obviously provide an endless firehose of new audiences for the publishers, and it will undoubtedly do so given the premium content,
premium experience, and inherent interest.
Many are already on board including New York Times, National Geographic, BuzzFeed, NBC News, Atlantic, the Guardian, and BBC News. Many more to come.
With iOS 9 Apple released its own Container for content – Apple News – a Flipboard-style discovery app offering publishers an enhanced content consumption experience, and the opportunity to reach over half a billion iPhone users.
As for monetization, Apple chose the exact same model as Facebook – keep 100% if you monetize yourself, or 70% if you use iAd to monetize. And again premium publishers are already game including the New York Times, The Economist, the Daily Mail, BuzzFeed, ESPN Vox Media, Conde Nast, Hearst, and Time Inc.
Another beautiful Container comes from Snapchat that chose to monetize itself through content with its Discover module, released at the beginning of the year. It allows publishers to reach a 100 million of the audience that traditional publisher sites have been missing the most – Millennials.
On Discover, publishers monetize themselves, but it’s a super-premium 100% share-of-voice package for brands, enabling them to reach the coveted Millennials. The usual suspects shine here as well as CNN, ESPN, Daily Mail, National Geographic, People, Vice, and Cosmopolitan join the party.
Google developed Containers quite a while ago and started integrating actual content into its search results, though without a monetization and analytics model.
Some examples are Wikipedia content and weather content.
Google has since become one of the leading proponents for standardization of Containers as it clearly communicated in the Digital News Initiative it launched with leading European publishers such as the Financial Times, the Guardian, El Pais and La Stampa. We’ve seen the first sign of standardization a few weeks ago when Google announced that the first partner in its open-source Container will be Twitter.
Experience, monetization, and even branding are still to be unveiled, but we can already catch a sneak peek of how it might look like.
Although we’ve seen a parade of publishers jumping on the Container bandwagon and join forces with the Googles and Facebooks, there’s still some apprehension among many.
The editorial website is still the holy grail, and so is the ownership of its audience. But at the end of the day publishers have to focus on their strong suits. And their primary strong suit, the thing they do better than anyone else, is undoubtedly content creation. It’s not monetization, not audience development, and not the digital experience.
In the same way many brands gave up creating content on their own and turned to the newly formed publisher brand studios to create it, publishers should not feel the least bad about joining forces with digital experts to take their content and brand to the next level. And the way to get there is through Containers.
Publishers, if you still need convincing, just think about the most profitable content model out there – cable syndication.
Facebook, Google, and Apple are essentially the Comcast or Time Warner Cable of the web, providing the gateway to your content while helping you monetize it and reach new audiences through a beautiful experience. Be the HBOs and AMCs of the web. Win some creative awards. That’s your strong suit.
Now go create your Container.