Virtual reality, web videos larded with kinetic text and puppies, oh, and mashups of Olympic swimming, “something green,” and risk management for a very interested prospect targeting millennials. These are all things publishers, consultants, gurus, and ad sales folks will say I need in 2016.
My response will be something like this.
Don’t get me wrong. I love VR, I love revenue even more, and millennials are great to have around, if only to find the best places to buy fair-trade coffee to fuel the insane hours they keep.
I think, however, there’s a far more important game to be played in 2016 underpinning all the forward-looking business models and technologies: Everyone will be trying to win over and monetize a loyal base of readers or viewers.
It’s about survival. In a market where the audience is irreparably fragmented and new entrants are cripplingly overvalued, publishers and broadcasters will need to start to assemble the tribes that will help win the long war.
How? Reuters TV, for instance, is based on the premise that our content will be available to viewers wherever they want it, whenever they want it and packaged however they want it at a particular moment. It’s built to be habit-forming and adaptive; that’s a strong user connection.
Everything everywhere all the time doesn’t mean a commoditized torrent of headlines or native videos strafed across social. It means building stories around vibrant characters and important consequence; thinking hard about the constructs in which those pieces live and making sure your technology can deliver on the promise of being wherever, whenever, however.
And it’s started already. It’s why Quartz seems hot to build a new homepage; why Axel Springer is thinking about a paywall for Business Insider, and why “Pro” and “Insider” products are proliferating.
We’ve all spent 2015 pushing hard on social, experimenting with newsletters, liveblogging, and pushing alerts simply to be everywhere. That was fine. We got why it was important even if readers and viewers didn’t always have to come back to our domains, and now it’s a core piece of how we think.
When I worked for a major New York daily, we knew circulation would tick up if the Yankees were in the World Series. In that tick was the opportunity to expose new people to our distinct voice and point of view. At Reuters.com, it’s analogous to a liveblog during the GOP debate, a market crash in China, or wall-to-wall coverage of the Paris climate talks.
In 2016, despite the great traffic we’ll see on native videos on Facebook or a pageview pop we get off a pickup, there has to be more gold at the end of these rainbows. We want them not only to come back to us but to look for us across platforms and in their emails.
Many of us already have loyal audiences or are on the way. The key will be not only to build and maintain them but to illustrate the power of having them. Upworthy is looking to measure “attention minutes.” At Reuters TV, we’re hunting monthly active users. Other organizations will have others, but they will all land in approximately the same spot.
In the past few years, we’ve all gotten accustomed to talking about engaging with readers; 2016 will be the year publishers fall over themselves to get engaged to readers — and to make sure the relationship lasts.
Dan Colarusso is executive editor of Reuters TV and Reuters.com.