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The content wars is heating up 

By Laura Graham

3 minute read

We live in a golden age of content; it’s at the heart of the proposition for publishers and has triggered an ownership battle amongst streaming services.

It is also the biggest investment media organisations will make by far. Both the new Disney — Fox and Comcast goliaths each spent about $22B in 2018, and it shows no sign of slowing down. Based on the insights we gained from interviewing 50+ media professionals for our Membership Economics report, just under 60% said that they will be increasing their investments in content over the next year.

Despite all of this however, optimisation of this investment isn’t as common practice as it is for the equivalent in marketing or product development.

Quality content is like gold dust

With the birth of Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon (GAFA) and the likes, media organisations have been somewhat pushed into a corner. GAFA are both content providers and advertisers; they’ve made an almost endless amount of content available for free online, have effectively commoditised breaking news and now occupy 80% of digital advertising spend.

As a result, traditional media can no longer monetise the masses and are fighting for the attention of the rest.

So what should you do then, if you can’t be the biggest in terms of audience scale or the fastest to release new content? And how do you stand out from the crowd to grab and maintain the attention of the ‘rest’? For us, the answer lies in optimising content investment with something called ‘content economics’.

Optimising your content investments

‘Content economics’ gets to the bottom of what content, drives what business value, from which audience groups. With this insight, you can create more of what works and stop wasting money on what doesn’t.

It’s tempting to over-complicate how you approach Content Economics but the basics will be the same;

  1. Map your value levers to identify all of your sources of revenue, both direct and indirect
  2. Categorise your content and audience actions so that you have a common taxonomy to analyse and compare
  3. Connect the dots by tracking audience behaviours to get a view of what content, results in what actions, to drive which sources of business value

With this view, you have the insights needed to get audiences to engage more with what drives the most value for your business.

Minnesotan newspaper Star Tribune, which has been often highlighted as a successful local publisher in the US, knows the importance of Content Economics. To better serve their readers, they compared when they were publishing their stories with when readers were actually reading their content. Suki Dardarian, the Senior Managing Editor and VP, stated; “We graphed these two against each other, and they are not at all synced up.”

The pot of gold at the end of the rainbow

Get it right and it’s a win-win-win situation; audiences will get more of the content that they love, the business can invest in the content that delivers the best returns and your content creators are empowered to focus on finding the next groundbreaking piece.

A great case study for this is The Seattle Times, using the principle to establish new ways of working in their newsroom. They created a content analytics dashboard that was visible to everyone, created cross-functional ‘mini publisher’ teams and set subscription influencing targets for their journalists. All of this has resulted in their subscriber base increasing in size by ~40%.

‘Content Economics’ is not a one point in time activity, it is a cycle of constant learning and iterating. It may seem like a cumbersome task to undertake because it’s so dependent on your internal capabilities; data, analytics, cross-functional collaboration and an overarching focus on audience engagement and value. It can really pay off though; Netflix’s recommendation engine drives 70% of its content engagement and is estimated to drive $1B per year in reduced audience churn.

So with millions, if not billions of dollars, being invested in content every year, the cost of not doing it, is far higher. Content is king, long live content.

Our top tips for getting started

  • Get a senior sponsor to bring a mandate and people together
  • Pivot focus from lagging indicators (like revenue) to leading ones (like engagement and audience value)
  • Build a team that’s capable of cross-functional collaboration to deliver change across all areas
  • Prioritise data collection capabilities