One of the most disconcerting things about walking into a modern newsroom is seeing so many giant homepages on display. If we hung products up based on audience size and opportunity, the homepage would drop immensely in priority. My prediction for 2016 is that distributed platforms and native environments will be more valuable than the traditional homepage.
Admittedly, social and mobile have long been more valuable than the homepage in terms of getting scale to content. But in terms of monetization — and in terms of publisher obsession — it’s a little more tricky. Social has traditionally referred traffic back to sites, where publishers rushed to figure out how to engage that traffic once it came in. Long story short: It’s proven difficult.
Homepage audiences are generally more engaged. Hence some of the reason for the focus, even as those audiences have diminished dramatically. But in the native landscape, there is a new hold out for hope. The audience experience is primarily off-site, meaning it’s generally native to the platform. From a product perspective, that equals better engagement.
The distributed era is dawning. Apple News and Apple TV, Facebook Instant Articles, Google AMP, Twitter Moments, Snapchat Discover, 360º video and VR, over-the-top TV, chat apps — these are all products, platforms, and programs developed (ish — Google AMP is open source) by tech companies. What many of them have in common is that they’re developed for publishers or used by them to engage new audiences. Each is its own animal, with its own business implications and audience growth potential, which in many cases is nascent; high cost to play (VR) with low user consumption (well, VR). But things are quickly changing.
O.G. native apps are also finally going to get their due (phone apps, tablet apps). In fact, I would argue, these native apps will be key. Deep linking will change this game in many ways. We’re only starting to see the beginning of it. Publishers see their app users more than twice as engaged as their web users. And there’s also long been the ability to monetize these apps through higher-prices CPMs or through subscriptions. These are premium users.
Homepage value is inflated. Of course it’s valuable as an organizing principle and as a v.1 product for the web. It’s valuable for direct audiences, and it’s very valuable for big display advertising dollars. But it’s not valuable as a precious obsession for publishers and brands. Because the more we focus on resourcing them, the less we focus on building out other experiences within native environments.
Publishers need a few things for this to be of real value: good analytics, monetization mechanisms, product development partners, and fresh ideas on how to create content that is native to the platforms. And let it be said that the business terms are not always favorable for publishers. That’s going to change. Platforms and publishers enjoy a symbiotic relationship, even more so in the brave new world of deliberate news experiences on new surfaces. It takes a real cross-functional and digital-first organization to understanding how to approach each opportunity. Read into this if you haven’t. It’s your 2016 roadmap. And it’s exciting!
Cory Haik is the outgoing executive director for emerging news products at The Washington Post and, as of January, chief strategy officer at Mic.