For three days in September, key players from some of the world’s most influential publishers, media companies, and tech businesses descend upon a heavily air-conditioned banquet hall in Key Biscayne, Florida.
There’s a chummy vibe, but they’re not there to literally chill in a room together, or hang out by the very lovely hotel pool. They’re in town to share a collective state of business in the digital landscape with each other, and of course, with the tech companies that follow them to the Sunshine State.
At the Digiday Publisher Summit, we’re talking about the challenges faced today, opportunities to innovate under those pressures, the future, and some reality checks.
72 hours, many espressos, and a barely noticeable tan later, I’m bringing you my five biggest takeaways from the conference. But first, here’s a fitting contemporary Greek-American proverb I just coined: “Every opportunity, sooner or later, can create a challenge. Every challenge, sooner or later, can create an opportunity.”
1. Don’t keep all your eggs in one basket, especially if the basket isn’t yours.
With roots in the heavy commodification of user data, and the opportunities that social media created in the first place, Facebook and Google (and now, Amazon and Microsoft, too) command a disproportionate share of web traffic and advertiser budgets, but many content creators that attract those audiences are seeing lower yields, and less control.
Flash forward through a U.S. election, multiple algorithm changes, congressional hearings, GDPR, and now with CCPA looming, the management of audience experience, ultimately trust, should not be ceded to platforms in exchange for ad dollars. Off-platform engagement and monetization must become a priority.
2. Consumers value quality.
Should be a no brainer, right? Producing content in volume based on revenue-minded metrics like CTR won’t cut it any longer.
Publishers need to shift from short-term revenue plays to the prioritization of customer-first audience strategies. High quality, engaging, and differentiated content leads to sticky audiences, and as The New York Times has shown us, consumers are readily willing to pay for access to these types of experiences.
3. USA! USA! USA?
The U.S. has been the belle of the advertising ball, and will continue to be, however global frontier markets represent a significant opportunity for content creators.
China, India, the Middle East, and Africa continue to develop economically, giving rise to more easily available web access for those massive populations, and on the flip side, access to those populations. While the formula for effectively monetizing those audiences hasn’t yet been perfected, early market disruptors and innovators have a clear window of opportunity, and shouldn’t be caught pulling down the shades.
4. Verticalization is all the rage.
As advertisers continue to target brand safety and relevance, diversification and acquisitions across unique site niches are allowing publishers to post new audience growth, and offer far more attractive value propositions to advertisers seeking those specific users.
5. There’s plenty of fish in the sea.
Programmatic, video, and OTT will continue to grow, taking a more central role in publisher business models, but these aren’t the only places they should look to for growth. Audiences are seeking out new ways to engage with content, and different forms of content to engage with.
Publishers are well-positioned to use their power of storytelling to create compelling experiences across a variety of mediums — podcasts, branded content, video, newsletters, push notifications, events, and more.
For certain, business in digital publishing has had to take a pause for self-reflection in the last year, but a little self-reflection can go a long way, depending on what one does with it.
Will we ever go back to wild valuations and breakneck growth? Probably — new technologies and business cycles take time, but they do come about, eventually.
By all indications, the market is moving in the right direction for publishers that recognize not just the opportunity that necessity has afforded to innovate, but also who they serve (spoiler alert: the audience).
Another spoiler alert: Outbrain can help publishers do just that.