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A news horizon? Predictions for the future of publishing

From explosive new players to multiplying content channels, demanding digital audiences to proliferating devices, changes to the publishing world have certainly rolled in thick and fast in 2015, and 2016 shows no sign of the pace slowing

From explosive new players to multiplying content channels, demanding digital audiences to proliferating devices, changes to the publishing world have certainly rolled in thick and fast in 2015, and 2016 shows no sign of the pace slowing. But in a rapidly evolving environment, how can publishers get a jump on the changes and continue to demonstrate relevance?

With customers including ABC News, Al Jazeera and Lifetime, we’ve witnessed first-hand the journey the publishing industry is on. So based on what we’ve seen, we’ve considered four key emerging trends that the industry needs to prepare for in the near future.

Publishers will solidify their social standing

Last year saw big advances in the way stories, including news, are told online with traditional copy form increasingly giving way to other mediums. The growing popularity of Facebook Video and Snapchat Story, for example, are partly to thank for this with 100 million hours of video content and six billion video views now enjoyed daily by users on the respective sites.

Our own research last year also revealed that social media sites are now top of the list of go-to outlets for news in the UK. Why? Because social media has the ability to capture a moment in real time; something printed and, to an extent, online news struggles to replicate. And increasingly, publishers are turning to content created and shared by social communities (ie tweets, comments, eye-witness video clips) to bolster their traditional news reports with this real-time flavour.

For this reason, having a presence on social media has been a given for publishers for many years, but in future this will need to advance much further. We’ll see publishers turn into developers, establishing a stronger social standing by building their own platforms to rival the social giants, taking advantage of people’s appetite for consuming and creating content.

But this growing trend for user-generated news content (UGC) is blurring the lines between publishers and the general public. Social media channels have given everyone – whether journalist or member of the public – the ability to self-publish to a wide audience. So, if everyone is publishing content, then we need someone to curate and make sense of it all for us.

Content creators will become curators, or both

Today, the publishing industry faces a fundamental supply and demand issue; it simply cannot keep up with the amount of content consumers want, and the pace at which they want it. And this is exactly what it needs to do if it wants to continue to be the first port of call for audiences seeking news. To combat this, publishers must change the way they view their role in the industry, shifting to become curators and deliverers of content as much as they are creators.

Discovering, curating and publishing third-party content, Buzzfeed-style, will become part of their new bread and butter; enabling them to deliver both quantity and quality news to their audiences, and keep all eyeballs on them. As part of this, expect content owners to begin establishing their own content pools – consisting of content from brands, bloggers, the general public or even fellow publishers – from which they can handpick and distribute third-party content to their own audiences. Think Periscope for publishers, or All 4’s new Walter Presents channel.

Device-specific strategies will continue to emerge

Over the past few years consumer preferences for varying devices have had a dramatic impact on the way we consume content. Audiences want to be able to engage with news as it’s breaking, wherever they are and on whatever device is closest to hand. And publishers are expected to keep up!

So, as consumers continue using multiple devices to consume content – from mobiles and tablets to smart TVs and watches – publishers need to arm themselves with the right strategies for reaching and retaining readers no matter the platform.

Al Jazeera set a stake in the ground back in 2014 with the launch of AJ+, its online-only news channel, available via its mobile app and social media platforms. In the same vein, publishers must turn their attention to developing not just online-only but device-specific (ie mobile-only, tablet-only) content strategies in order to maintain readers across platforms.

Understanding that certain content resonates better on certain devices is just the start. Take video, for example, which has proven a key component of the AJ+ strategy.

Publishers will need to invest in delivering a range of video content, in varying forms – from real-time, short form video clips to in-depth video features and short documentaries – and for varying devices. And while all this extra content will enhance audience engagement, it also comes at a cost. That’s why recognising the revenue stream each device represents is the next key step.

Monetisation will depend on value-ads

In recent years, monetisation of content has become a particular sticking point for publishers. Paywalls have received a mixed reaction from the public – working with varying success depending on the publication – and, most recently, the trend for ad-blocking has sky-rocketed with over 1.3 million having now adopted the technology in the UK, according to the IAB. Yet, our research revealed that two in five (38 per cent) UK adults don’t mind advertising on online news sites so long as the content is free – so why is monetising content via the traditional ad-supported model causing problems? The answer lies in the quality (or lack of) of the ad experience.

Historically, monetisation of news content focused on placing ads wherever possible, paying little attention to the relevance of the content to the reader. This can no longer be the case. Instead of playing a numbers game, publishers need a much clearer ad-supported strategy to maximise revenue opportunities without alienating audiences.

In the future, monetisation must be about placing the right ads in the right places. It will become a value exchange between publishers and the public, for example, readers will get quality content in exchange for their eyes on a personalised ad, or answering a question to provide audience insight.

Tomorrow’s news, today

When considering all of these trends and their implications, a clear checklist emerges for publishers looking to thrive in the future world of news: be social entrepreneurs, curate as much (if not more) as you create, lock your device strategies down and encourage renewed interest in advertising through value-add exchanges.

It’s clear that the way we consume news is already changing, bringing opportunities to tap into new revenue streams as well as obvious challenges, and savvy publishers will move with the times rather than risk falling behind.

by Luke Gaydon (pictured), vice president of OTT solutions at Brightcove