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Guardian’s Changing Media Summit: Making Content Work Harder

By Gareth Davies, Head of Digital, MSLGROUP London

At UK’s national daily The Guardian’s recently conducted two-day ‘Changing Media’ Summit, we got a glimpse at how the media landscape is reacting and changing in line with the ever changing forces of digital. There were no surprises, of course, despite the varied and outstanding panel of speakers, as to where the media sector would be pushing over the next few years. There was one clear theme that surfaced – ‘making content work harder’.

With pretty much every major brand now online, with thriving communities and interaction, content is the obvious next step in any successful social engagement strategy. Once you’ve captured their attention, you need to retain them. So it was interesting to see how major content players were facing the challenges of making the most of content by creating greater visibility of their content, driving greater interaction with their content and, most importantly, getting consumers to actually pay for content in the first place.

Challenge #1: Getting People To Your Content:

The Guardian newspaper has always been a strong bellwether for the content sector. It’s one of the most visited newspaper sites, not just in the UK but across the globe. So they certainly know a thing about pulling visitors in. But the most surprising revelation related to the impact of social on referring traffic.

Eighteen months ago, search represented 40% of the Guardian’s traffic and social just 2%. Six months ago – before the launch of its Facebook app – these figures had barely moved. However, last month and with the launch of the paper’s Timeline app, Facebook drove more traffic to than Google – accounting for more than 30% of referrer traffic. Not only does this continue to prove Facebook’s growing dominance, it also proves that where content is pushed out to is now more important than how you pull people in.

Challenge #2: How We Consume Content

Moving on, the next challenge we saw coming out of the Summit was for content creators to really make the most of ‘how’ we consume content. The tremendous growth of smartphones and the iPad, the Amazon Kindle and other tablets has definitely impacted where, when and how we consume content but what does that mean for the organisations who push out content in the first place? The Economist seems to have the right answer. They call it the ‘lean-back’ approach.

Andrew Rashbass, CEO, The Economist | Pic Courtesy: @MediaFutureConf


No over thinking, no focus on trying to jam as much interactivity and virality into every piece of content they create. They have cleverly reached a conclusion that despite the many benefits technology can offer, old habits die hard – most people with an iPad or tablet will simply behave as if they are reading a traditional paper based newspaper or book. Whilst this may have mean we’ve gone full circle, surely it is a case of consumers dictating rather than the publishers themselves?

Challenge #3: Paid Vs Free Content

The final challenge, and the tone that sparked our interest the most, related to the demand for the content industry to move to a model where paid content outweighs free content. The freemium model has yet to gain the foothold that most content creators would like – with the ad supported content model still the most dominant and widely spread.

But discussions relating to a new subscription service based on the model used by TV service providers may be a step in the right direction. Rather than paying for a single subscription to a single title, consumers are offered the ability to pay for access to multiple publishers for a single fee. However, this would require the sector to create far more open revenue sharing models – something that will be no easy feat. In fact, such a challenge may limit the implementation of this model to ‘News International’ type businesses – those organisations with multiple content outlets. But even so, does any organisation have a target audience that would happily consume content from multiple titles – some of which they never read or would even consider reading?

So whilst the summit tried to answer many questions, it certainly posed a few challenges. It’s clear that the sector is answering the challenged the digital distribution model by opening more outlets and channels for the content to go and this is certainly reaping rewards.

But as social media and digital platforms continue to become more pervasive and across more devices the real challenge for content providers will be to ensure they have something for everyone. How can they match content to consumers specific and unique information needs? How can they predict what content users want to consumer before they know what they need? To this point, maybe the success that the likes that Google has had in turning search insight into a commercial business may be something that this sector should take to heart.


Gareth Davies is the head of digital and a crisis management expert at MSL London. His digital knowledge is drawn from his time spent running innovative and creative on-line programmes for a range of businesses of all sizes and sectors. He helps our clients drive their brand online and to ensure it resonates with the right audiences at the right times and via the right platforms.


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