Plat­forms are the fu­ture of me­dia

An in­ter­view with Ross Daw­son

The Insider - - FRONT PAGE -

I was re­cently watch­ing fu­tur­ist Ross Daw­son’s key­note speech at CeBIT Aus­tralia, “Plat­form Strat­egy – The chang­ing struc­ture of value cre­ation,” and was struck by how the whole world (in­dus­tries, me­dia, so­ci­ety and gov­ern­ments) is be­ing trans­formed into a net­work of plat­forms.

It re­minded me of Ross’s ad­dress at In­ter­na­tional News Me­dia As­so­ci­a­tion (INMA) World Congress in 2015 where he talked about the fu­ture of news be­ing trusted ag­gre­ga­tion of con­tent + com­mu­nity + com­merce (i.e. the fu­ture of me­dia as a plat­form).

As pre­dicted, in 2016 plat­forms be­came all the rage, un­til Face­book started its in­fa­mous al­go­rithm tweak­ing, send­ing many pub­lish­ers into a fit of jeal­ous rage over what they be­lieved to be stolen ad­ver­tis­ing rev­enues.

I de­cided to reach out to Ross and find out more on his think­ing around plat­forms and their value in the me­dia ecosys­tem, and learn about his plans for his news­pa­per ex­tinc­tion time­line.

Thanks for join­ing me, Ross. Let’s start by ad­dress­ing how main­stream me­dia can en­able the cre­ation of ex­po­nen­tial value through the in­ter­ac­tions be­tween jour­nal­ists and con­sumers on plat­forms.

It all goes to the fact that plat­forms are the fu­ture of me­dia. One could ar­gue that a news­pa­per in the past had its own plat­form, which was its dis­tri­bu­tion of pa­per, pri­mar­ily. There, it ag­gre­gated news, ad­ver­tis­ing, clas­si­fieds and so on. So it was a plat­form in terms of be­ing able to pull all that con­tent to­gether and dis­trib­ute it to all of its read­ers.

But now, in a con­nected world, we’re start­ing to see just how many other plat­forms there are, and sin­gle par­tic­i­pants are find­ing it very chal­leng­ing to be able to play suc­cess­fully in this world. Most promi­nently of course we’re see­ing the so­cial plat­forms (e.g. Face­book, Twit­ter) and now the mes­sag­ing plat­forms as be­ing places where peo­ple go for all of their me­dia. The way in which we in­ter­act with peo­ple on so­cial is an en­tirely valid form of me­dia, along with the more tra­di­tional news, en­ter­tain­ment and ed­u­ca­tion from es­tab­lished pub­lish­ers.

One of the key is­sues then is, “What are the strate­gies for pub­lish­ers to be able to play on these plat­forms?” What we can en­vi­sion is a world where plat­forms bring to­gether those who are cre­at­ing con­tent, as in jour­nal­ists and those who col­lab­o­rate with them, to­gether with their con­sumers. A key el­e­ment here is that there are three do­mains which come to­gether to be able to cre­ate high-value con­tent and news:

• Pro­fes­sion­als, in a news con­text that are tra­di­tion­ally jour­nal­ists and ed­i­tors who have ex­pe­ri­ence in how we pull to­gether in­for­ma­tion, how we com­mu­ni­cate that and how we vet or fact check in­for­ma­tion

• Crowds, who are of­ten where news is hap­pen­ing, who bring their per­spec­tives to bear and who can an­a­lyze and add to the news

• Al­go­rithms, that can take lower-level data and pull it to­gether into fi­nal prism pieces for au­di­ences

In the fu­ture we can start to see more and more fluid plat­forms for news pro­fes­sion­als. I think that starts to be­come a more apt term than jour­nal­ist. They’re news pro­fes­sion­als who are work­ing with crowds, who are work­ing with al­go­rithms and who are work­ing with each other, not nec­es­sar­ily in terms of just be­ing an em­ployee of the news or­ga­ni­za­tions. In or­der to be able to col­lab­o­rate with other news pro­fes­sion­als around the world and bring to­gether con­tent, some­times they will work in­de­pen­dently and some­times ad hoc for the right news, event or con­tent. News pro­fes­sion­als are sup­ported by a plat­form where con­sumers, in­di­vid­u­als or or­ga­ni­za­tions around the world can ac­cess their con­tent, and where a fair value ex­change can hap­pen.

It is pos­si­ble that some of the ex­ist­ing plat­forms to­day, in­clud­ing Face­book and oth­ers, could be en­ablers of this, though I think it is also fea­si­ble for some of these plat­forms to evolve out­side of what we have to­day. This is the space where we can see this po­ten­tial for ex­po­nen­tial value, where we start to see greater and greater value cre­ation for in­di­vid­u­als and or­ga­ni­za­tions — those who are try­ing to un­der­stand the world and make sense of it, to live their lives and make busi­ness de­ci­sions — and the news pro­fes­sion­als who bring that to­gether so there’s a feed­back loop which will cre­ate a pos­i­tive fu­ture for the news in­dus­try.

In terms of the end con­sumer, there’s ob­vi­ously a lot of mis­trust in the me­dia that ex­ists to­day, and just con­tent in gen­eral. There is also a lack of proper vet­ting done by the gen­eral con­sumer; they tend to go with cu­ra­tion that’s done by the crowd. How do you es­tab­lish the value propo­si­tion for the con­sumers that this is some­thing that they would have to pay for, given they’re not used to pay­ing for con­tent?

That is the most fun­da­men­tal chal­lenge we have mov­ing for­ward. We’ve seen evolv­ing be­hav­iors over the last 15 to 20 years as more and more dig­i­tal news be­comes avail­able. I’d re­frame this as the ex­per­i­ment, or the jour­ney to find rel­e­vant and valu­able rev­enue mod­els and busi­ness mod­els – where for ev­ery coun­try, sec­tor and pub­li­ca­tion, there is go­ing to be a dif­fer­ent an­swer for where the right rev­enue mod­els lie. This ac­tive ex­per­i­men­ta­tion, which hap­pens across the do­main of news, needs to be driven by in­di­vid­ual or­ga­ni­za­tions.

Ev­ery or­ga­ni­za­tion needs to find, for its own cur­rent or po­ten­tial au­di­ence, how it can mon­e­tize it ef­fec­tively. There’s a whole ar­ray of dif­fer­ent ap­proaches which are pos­si­ble. And of course there’s been a lot of ex­per­i­men­ta­tion with pay­walls, leaky and oth­er­wise, over the last num­ber of years. We’ve seen a lot of moves to var­i­ous ways to price in­di­vid­ual con­tent through mi­cro-pay­ments and other struc­tures. We are see­ing an in­creas­ing shift to­wards branded con­tent or na­tive ad­ver­tis­ing of var­i­ous guises to be sources of rev­enue. And for each of these dif­fer­ent ap­proaches, I think we are go­ing to see dif­fer­ent or­ga­ni­za­tions find their own suc­cess.

I don’t think we can say at this point what the suc­cess­ful rev­enue mod­els in the fu­ture will be, and I think they will be dif­fer­ent. We’ll see more and more va­ri­ety in the use of those mod­els. Again, we’re see­ing some or­ga­ni­za­tions shift to mem­ber­ship frames from sub­scrip­tion frames, look­ing at events or other ways of en­gag­ing peo­ple suc­cess­fully. This is still, as I framed it for some time, a grand ex­per­i­ment, where if we start to see the value cre­ation, which is in terms of per­son­al­ized use and in terms of news which is highly rel­e­vant and lo­cal­ized, we can start to see be­hav­ior changes.

I think this is go­ing to be more suc­cess­ful in some coun­tries than oth­ers, and also in some de­mo­graph­ics/sec­tors than oth­ers as well. I think that’s one of the chal­lenges and op­por­tu­ni­ties for or­ga­ni­za­tions to dis­cover, and to cre­ate the rev­enue mod­els that are go­ing to be rel­e­vant for them given where they stand to­day, and their cur­rent au­di­ence base and read­er­ship.

“En­gage with se­lect plat­forms be­cause you can’t en­gage across all of them; but you do need to make a com­mit­ment.”

Based on for­mal re­search and what we’re see­ing at PressReader through our be­hav­ioral an­a­lyt­ics, trust in brands is on the de­cline and there is a re­duced in­ter­est in know­ing the nam­ing of the pub­li­ca­tion in which a trend­ing ar­ti­cle is pub­lished.

In that sense, can the pub­lish­ers be­come plat­forms of their own, or are they ef­fec­tively suc­cumb­ing to work­ing with the third-party plat­forms that ex­ist to­day, and per­haps some that will emerge in the fu­ture?

Ev­ery me­dia or­ga­ni­za­tion, and in­deed, many other in­dus­tries need to have two strate­gies. One is whether/how they de­velop or drive plat­forms, and the other is how they par­tic­i­pate in other ex­ist­ing plat­form ecosys­tems.

There are ways in which me­dia or­ga­ni­za­tions can po­ten­tially build their own plat­forms. I think where the real op­por­tu­nity lies is in col­lab­o­ra­tive de­vel­op­ment of plat­forms with other me­dia par­tic­i­pants. One of the ref­er­ence points here is Piano Me­dia, which started in Slo­vakia and Poland; it was able to es­tab­lish multi-pub­lisher plat­forms, and build pay­wall rev­enue so­lu­tions with a sin­gle au­di­ence base.

There are some mar­kets where that be­comes pos­si­ble, where it is far eas­ier to build a plat­form which can draw in oth­ers. It is a lot harder as an ex­ist­ing player to come in and try to build a plat­form on its own. It is far eas­ier if you’re al­ready a par­tic­i­pant in a mar­ket and are able to col­lab­o­rate with oth­ers.

That’s one frame around the build­ing of a plat­form. It is very chal­leng­ing and I think it’s only pos­si­ble for a few. Ev­ery me­dia or­ga­ni­za­tion needs to make a de­ci­sion around whether, at this point in time, they will look to cre­ate their own plat­forms, or col­lab­o­ra­tively work with oth­ers in par­tic­u­lar lan­guage mar­kets and coun­try mar­kets. Or say, “At this point, strate­gi­cally, we

don’t have the re­sources or just find it too dif­fi­cult a path to build our own plat­form, so we choose to par­tic­i­pate in other plat­forms.”

If we look at how you par­tic­i­pate in other plat­forms, I think there are four key el­e­ments in that:

1. An­a­lyze those plat­forms ef­fec­tively; map them. Iden­tify what the costs are of par­tic­i­pat­ing in the plat­form. What are the trade-offs be­tween them? Ex­plore some of the po­ten­tial paths for­ward, the dif­fer­ent sce­nar­ios and how they may play out.

2. En­gage with se­lect plat­forms be­cause you can’t en­gage across all of them; but you do need to make a com­mit­ment. Then es­tab­lish con­tin­gen­cies that de­ter­mine in what sit­u­a­tions you are go­ing to pull out, and what the trig­ger will be that moves you into a dif­fer­ent space. If you end up choos­ing to en­gage with a plat­form, pro­mote it and then get and un­der­stand the data from that.

3. Strengthen your po­si­tion, given the fact that you are go­ing in­side a re­la­tion­ship. En­sure that at all points you are ac­cu­mu­lat­ing as much data as pos­si­ble. You are us­ing plat­forms to en­tice read­ers into a di­rect re­la­tion­ship, which The New York Times and oth­ers have done suc­cess­fully on Face­book. Yes, pro­mote on Face­book, but al­ways use that to try and cre­ate di­rect re­la­tion­ships with au­di­ences.

4. Ap­ply in­flu­ence as we saw re­cently where the ed­i­tor of Aften­posten es­sen­tially changed the poli­cies of Face­book. It was partly through, I sup­pose, be­ing right, but it was also be­ing able to take a stand promi­nently, draw­ing oth­ers’ opin­ions out. It is crit­i­cal that if you are par­tic­i­pat­ing in other plat­forms, then you need to be able to say, “How can we col­lab­o­rate with other par­tic­i­pants, not as an in­di­vid­ual player, but as col­lab­o­ra­tors and share our data and in­flu­ence in or­der to make sure that we can shape that plat­form as ef­fec­tively as pos­si­ble?”

If you’re par­tic­i­pat­ing in a plat­form, you need to mon­i­tor the shifts in the land­scape, en­gage with new plat­forms that are emerg­ing and po­ten­tially de­velop/add onto plat­forms that are com­ple­men­tary. Once you’ve made the choice to en­gage with oth­ers’ plat­forms, which is es­sen­tial in to­day’s dis­tri­bu­tion world, you do need to have ef­fec­tive strate­gies to par­tic­i­pate in those plat­forms in a highly dy­namic way, where you can re­spond to changes as they emerge.

With re­spect to Piano, I think it’s a fas­ci­nat­ing ex­am­ple of pub­lish­ers be­ing able to co­op­er­ate, and come up with a na­tional con­tent mon­e­ti­za­tion strat­egy. That said, one of the key el­e­ments of Piano was that they started with a mar­ket that had quite a tight con­trol on their con­tent and lin­guis­ti­cally pre­dis­posed that con­tent to be hy­per­local. Not­with­stand­ing the fact that Piano has re­cently shut down their orig­i­nal Slo­vakian and Pol­ish pay­walls, sim­i­lar ap­proaches in other coun­tries, such as France, haven’t worked out.

Blen­dle tried to go into France, which re­quired the pub­lish­ers to co­op­er­ate with re­spect to the pric­ing of the con­tent and set­ting out the rules of the game; and de­spite pro­mo­tions,

“Once you’ve made the choice to en­gage with oth­ers’ plat­forms, which is es­sen­tial in to­day’s dis­tri­bu­tion world, you do need to have ef­fec­tive strate­gies to par­tic­i­pate in those plat­forms in a highly dy­namic way, where you can re­spond to changes as they emerge.”

Blen­dle hasn’t re­ally been able to pen­e­trate France.

You don’t hear a lot of com­men­tary about the suc­cess or lack thereof of Blen­dle in the U.S. ei­ther, which leads me to this next ques­tion. Do you think pub­lisher co­op­er­a­tion can work only where the con­tent ecosys­tem is hy­per­local for lin­guis­tic rea­sons or oth­er­wise, which means that, in the An­glo-Saxon world, this model doesn’t quite work very well?

All ex­tremely valid. I think there’s a very rich dis­cus­sion to be had around this. I think the high level an­swer is that it is greatly fa­cil­i­tated if you do have lin­guis­tic bar­ri­ers. If it is a rel­a­tively small and lin­guis­ti­cally-iso­lated com­mu­nity, that makes it far eas­ier. For ex­am­ple, even in Scan­di­navia, where you do have lo­cal lan­guage mar­kets, peo­ple still speak English, which makes some­thing like that harder than for ex­am­ple in Slo­vakia and Poland, where there are fewer other lan­guages spo­ken.

I think Piano has ba­si­cally piv­oted on its busi­ness model, so with­out know­ing all the is­sues be­hind what’s hap­pened with Slo­vakia and Poland more re­cently, I still think that it is a valid model for other

“I point to in terms of in­dus­try lead­er­ship; the role of the in­dus­try leader is to demon­strate and take other pub­lish­ers along the path to show them that there is mu­tual and greater value for the col­lab­o­ra­tion, even though that may not be their first in­stinct.”

mar­kets to look at how one can col­lab­o­rate in a bounded do­main.

In­ter­est­ingly, I think in Aus­tralia, which has two ma­jor pub­lish­ers and one of the most con­cen­trated me­dia own­er­ship mar­kets in rea­son­ably large economies, there is the po­ten­tial for News Corp and Fair­fax to col­lab­o­rate, but they never would. They ba­si­cally, in­sti­tu­tion­ally dis­like each other, so there would be no chance for ef­fec­tive col­lab­o­ra­tion there.

I think more broadly, the is­sue is around col­lab­o­ra­tion, and so even in English mar­kets there can be the po­ten­tial to col­lab­o­rate. Part of this is the dis­tinc­tion around lo­cal news ver­sus na­tional news, or re­gional news, or global news and dif­fer­ing ap­petites. Again, we see in dif­fer­ent parts around the world dif­fer­ent bal­ances be­tween the de­gree to which peo­ple are look­ing to lo­cal news or global news.

In France, with­out hav­ing seen the de­tails of what’s hap­pened there, I think what I would sus­pect is that a very sig­nif­i­cant el­e­ment is that there were in­suf­fi­cient num­ber of pub­lish­ers that were will­ing to take this ap­proach of a col­lab­o­ra­tive or col­lec­tive or co­op­er­a­tive ap­proach.

The re­al­ity is that even as a sin­gle pub­lisher, you may have an at­ti­tude of col­lab­o­ra­tion, but un­less oth­ers are also will­ing to col­lab­o­rate, it only takes you so far. I think this is part of what I point to in terms of in­dus­try lead­er­ship; the role of the in­dus­try leader is to demon­strate and take other pub­lish­ers along the path to show them that there is mu­tual and greater value for the col­lab­o­ra­tion, even though that may not be their first in­stinct. Blen­dle, of course, is a plat­form and it has been suc­cess­ful in some mar­kets; again, ones which while they are lan­guage-bounded still have sig­nif­i­cant ac­cess to English, at least in the Nether­lands.

Part of this goes to game the­ory in the sense, where oth­ers have in­ter­ests in how to ei­ther move to block it, to make other po­ten­tial plays and to be able to com­pete with that. The re­al­ity is that there is greater value to con­sumers if we do move to a greater con­sol­i­da­tion of plat­forms, but other plat­forms play­ing against each other ba­si­cally slow the de­vel­op­ment of the mar­ket sig­nif­i­cantly. We’ve seen that, for ex­am­ple in mu­sic stream­ing in var­i­ous guises, where they’re all ag­gre­ga­tors of mu­sic, and the com­pe­ti­tion be­tween them, which has been up un­til fairly re­cently, slowed the con­sumer up­take of these plat­forms to ac­cess broad ranges of con­tent.

Pick­ing up on what you said about Aften­posten forc­ing Face­book to change how they ed­i­to­ri­al­ize con­tent, nei­ther of the big guys re­ally en­gaged with the pub­lish­ing com­mu­nity, apart from open­ing up the doors to dis­tribut­ing con­tent and set­ting out the rules. It started fa­mously with Ap­ple im­pos­ing the, so called, Ap­ple Tax a few years ago. Do you see that chang­ing in the fu­ture? Is what Face­book did a few weeks ago, the pre­cur­sor to po­ten­tially a more en­gaged re­la­tion­ship be­tween the plat­forms and the pub­lish­ing in­dus­try?

It’s a great ques­tion and I don’t have the an­swer. I think that Ap­ple is far less likely to be­come deeply en­gaged, just given its his­tory as an or­ga­ni­za­tion, and I sup­pose its DNA and cul­ture. I think that Face­book is shift­ing that way as it rec­og­nizes that it is in fact a de facto me­dia or­ga­ni­za­tion that prin­ci­pally makes ed­i­to­rial de­ci­sions. Google I think has the out­look to en­gage ef­fec­tively, and again, it needs a shift in at­ti­tude. But I think that it will shift to en­gage in a pos­i­tive way with other plat­forms.

I think we have seen that the global mes­sag­ing plat­forms, which are grow­ing faster than so­cial net­works with younger peo­ple be­com­ing

“...the role of the in­dus­try leader is to demon­strate and take other pub­lish­ers along the path to show them that there is mu­tual and greater value for the col­lab­o­ra­tion, even though that may not be their first in­stinct.”

in­creas­ingly the pri­mary in­ter­face to a dig­i­tal world, are al­ready sig­nif­i­cantly ori­ented to pub­lish­ers, en­abling them to en­gage ef­fec­tively with them. I think the jury is still out, but I think the trend, even though it may not be fast or dra­matic, is to­wards gen­eral larger plat­forms en­gag­ing more con­struc­tively with the pub­lish­ing com­mu­nity.

In 2010, you pub­lished your news­pa­per ex­tinc­tion time­line de­tail­ing “When news­pa­pers in their cur­rent form will be­come in­signif­i­cant”. You have USA news­pa­pers be­com­ing ex­tinct in their cur­rent form as early as 2017. A lot has hap­pened in the last

six years. Can you share how/if your vi­sion of the time­line has changed? Will you be pub­lish­ing a re­vised time­line soon?

For sev­eral years I’ve been try­ing to do a re­vised time­line, and I’ve just never found the time. I’d still very much like to. Six years ago and also within the last year, the point I made was that I didn’t ex­pect it to be right, but I was tak­ing my best guess. I was us­ing it as a provo­ca­tion to help peo­ple think through what were their own opin­ions around what the time­line might be. At this point I don’t think it’s look­ing to be dra­mat­i­cally in­ac­cu­rate, but clearly there are some things which do need re­vi­sion.

Broadly speak­ing, some of the coun­tries that are ear­lier on the list I would push back a lit­tle – the US, Nor­way and pos­si­bly Aus­tralia (I’m not even sure that I would) by some years. But in my trav­els over the last six years since I’ve re­leased that time­line, I would say that most of the coun­tries which I pre­dicted 2030 or beyond, I would ac­tu­ally pull back closer.

We’ve seen China, where there was rapid growth of newsprint up un­til the news­pa­per time­line was pub­lished, has been sig­nif­i­cantly pulling back with the ex­plo­sion of mo­bile news up­take since then. That’s one of the dra­matic shifts.

I would pull back coun­tries like Rus­sia, in­flu­enced more by Moscow than other parts of the coun­try, where the shift away from printed news has been very sig­nif­i­cant. Quite a few of the more devel­oped South Amer­i­can coun­tries I would pull in closer, along with South­east Asia.

In the Mid­dle East there has been a mas­sive up­take in so­cial me­dia and a big shift to so­cial and mo­bile news. There are some spe­cific dy­nam­ics there around gov­ern­ment sup­port of news­pa­pers, but I think that there are many coun­tries that are a lit­tle fur­ther down that list that I would pull back to be closer than my ini­tial es­ti­mates.

In terms of re­pub­lish­ing it, I still don’t have a spe­cific date in mind, but I am look­ing to launch a new pub­li­ca­tion, Cre­at­ing the Fu­ture of News, which is in­tended to be a com­mu­nity of peo­ple in news that can build a pos­i­tive fu­ture for the in­dus­try. One of the ways to launch that and get en­gage­ment will be a re­vi­sion of the news­pa­per ex­tinc­tion time­line.

Comments

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.