Remember the first time you got cross-platform delight?
For me, it was when I started a second look at “Lost in Translation” on my TV, happened to click on my Netflix app while working out the next day, and was astounded to see the film paused precisely and ready to start where I’d left off, at the literal single touch of a finger. Pandora is a similar wonder: Create an Adele/Tom Waits station on the web and it’s instantly available on the iPhone. Start with Comcast’s Xfinity app on the iPad and, with a touch, you can record tonight’s baseball game or launch a series recording of “Homeland.”
Such ease is the payoff for true all-access subscriptions: Pay us once, and we’ll really get you our content whenever and wherever you want it. Until recently, that seemed distant, always a bit unreachable. Now, it’s becoming, fitfully, both reality and consumer expectation.
But our news reading is much more disjointed. Read a story on a smartphone and it may be grayed out there when you come back, but it won’t be grayed out on the tablet or web. Save a story on one device, and you won’t find it saved on another. Start a 10-page opus on the phone, and you’ll have to reopen on the web.
In truth, news — and its steady, unending stream — is harder to tame than finite movies, songs, and TV programs. Yet consumer appetite — and now that pesky expectation — has been whetted by those near-miraculous entertainment plays. Tell readers that all-access is the new name of their subscription, as many hundreds of publishers are doing, and they’ll soon think it should be as smooth as their entertainment device switching. Get it right, if you are a news publisher, and you’ll reap the dividends.
It becomes a new reason to be more than an anonymous visitor to a site, to at least register. Of course, registration seems so 1999; it’s paying digital circulation, or all-access customers, that are today’s game.
You’re also on the road to proving out what membership might mean. That’s hugely important as bigger dailies, from the Boston Globe and the L.A. Times to New London’s Day, fill in this hazy notion of membership as a key strategy of the next three years.
Connecting these dots is no longer something to put on a wish list in a month of multiple iPhone and Kindle Fire releases. If you take a look at the recently released Ipsos-created, Google-commissioned research on multi-screen usage, we see that consumers are mixing and matching their own cross-platform experiences quite rapidly. Consider a few of the datapoints in that work, well worth sharing and brainstorming around within news companies:
Then, it gets even more intriguing, as the study starts to put numbers on new behaviors we see in ourselves and our customers.
So, long story short, the need to rationalize cross-platform usage should now be an imperative for news companies.
Luckily, we have some good news. Leading publishers are indeed starting to knit together this cross-platform, semi-personalized experience. As has been the case as mobile news reading took off, it’s the top national/global publishers who are leading the way. And as has often been the case, most regional and local players are moving less quickly, and that chasm between national/global and local offerings looks like it will continue to grow. For all those publishers, it’s well worth thinking — now — how to really fulfill this promise of one price/all-access across smartphones, tablets, web (with some print), in ways that will delight customers, keep them paying, and allow for price increases to work.
So where will we see this first advances in the news world. Let’s quickly explore seven of them, as we look at the newsonomics of all-access delight:
That’s seven to begin with. What would you add to the list?
There’s a lot more on the drawing boards — we’ll all hear much more about day-pathing, active personalization, passive personalization, and “making platforms responsive to the need state” — as publishers understand both unique capacities of these devices and how we’re using them.
For news companies, all of these functionalities have great potential to act as glue between above-average news brands and their customers. Will they be a big hit? Hard to say.
As Marc Frons points out, Instapaper and Read It Later, among other cross-title save-and-read services, have their loyal customers. But only a handful of premium, mostly-daily-read products, like national/global news companies, may be able to sustain brand-identified on-site saving. That becomes more important to a site like the Times, which has been moving forward with lots of curating/sharing/creating tools. As cross-platform matches up with these utilities, the site becomes stickier.
That glue may keep them on a particular news site — or, even more interestingly, may be extendable.
“How do we make it [these kinds of cross-platform utilities] accessible through those other apps too?” Bowen asks. So, in a distributed world — think reading The New York Times on Flipboard or the Journal on Pulse — of multi-device reading, it may be possible that consumers will see multiple benefits without having to be confined within a walled garden.
As Patrick Cooper, an NPR senior product manager and alum of CNN, The Washington Post, and USA Today, puts the changes in perspective, we can see this next world of all-access delight unfolding — and causing more headaches for publishers unprepared: “Everyone finally must cede control to the user. Imagine if Netflix or Spotify didn’t recognize you or give you your queue or materials on different platforms. They’d fail on day one.
“The news industry has to develop to meet that standard. CRM becomes an investment every major news organization needs to make. These are massive changes for how news organizations spend their money, even purely digital ones. Major infrastructure and back-end data management become one more thing to compete with salaries, reporting costs, and front-end news activities, like news apps. User management becomes far more real than in the simple login/member-or-not-a-member systems we all have now.”
Photo by Matthew Wilkinson used under a Creative Commons license.