The future for published media looks like this
Publishers and agencies outline their plans for a more prosperous future in the face of unprecedented challenges and threats
It's rare that the choice of sponsors for a Mediatel conference should be part of the news, but when the marketing bodies representing both national news publishers and magazines decide it's time to partner, then we think that's worth commenting upon.
The fact that both Newsworks and Magnetic - alongside Rezonence - wanted to host a debate that would reframe key issues facing newsbrands, magazines, agencies and advertisers demonstrates a new and unified approach to countering some of the threats and challenges they all face.
And those challenges are pretty foreboding: at one end of the scale there are problems linked with media fragmentation, metrics and consumer attention, and at the other end there is the threat posed by Facebook and Google, the short-termist approach of modern CMOs, problems with the buying process, and the commoditisation of the market.
On Wednesday an impressive line-up of media and creative agency folk, alongside publishers, set out their plans for a prosperous future in the face of such challenges - and a better way for the whole market to function to ensure brands get the best advertising out of it.
This is what we learned.
THE FACEBOOK PROBLEM
There is a refreshing shift in the narrative around Facebook.
It is well established that the social media platform poses a colossal problem for publishers: People spend so much time on Facebook that publishers need it to ensure scale - but Facebook is also hoovering up all the digital adspend while not having to cough up for the cost of producing publisher-quality content.
It's a tricky relationship that is subject to perpetual change, but the positioning from publishers is beginning to change.
"The reason we all feel so weird about these platforms is because our digital future is so bright because of them," says James Wildman, CEO of Hearst UK, the publisher of Cosmopolitan, Esquire and Elle.
"Hearst wouldn't have had 120 million video views last month if it wasn't for Facebook - but the way I see the platform is as a utility. They're the telephone wire, we're the conversation."
Wildman says that Facebook benefits by absorbing the positive associations from trusted publisher brands. "Those platforms increasingly need the reflective benefits of our brands. So rather than be on the back foot, we should feel pretty confident," he says.
It's what some are describing as a 'halo effect' - and something publishers should use to leverage a better deal.
Meanwhile, Prash Naidu, CEO of Rezonence - a tech company that helps publishers monetise their digital inventory - says he's surprised the publishing industry hasn't collectively done more to push back against Facebook.
"I think they've been caught off-guard by their rapid rise, and in particular the technology," he says.
"Facebook and Google, with their thousands of algorithms, have been optimising and finding patterns, often not even knowing what they're looking for. Meanwhile, publishers have a better product, but they're turning up to a fight with bows and arrows and Facebook and Google have artillery and tanks."
As a Cambridge physics graduate, Naidu previously spent 13 years as a banker building algorithmic trading strategies, so he knows what he's talking about.
Publishers need to match the tech, he argues. "That's going to be fundamental. There's much more they can do."
MAKE IT EASIER TO BUY...AND FIX THE PRICING
The first thing publishers need to do to help them combat current threats in the market, Rezonence’s Prash Naidu says, is get together to create a 'common platform' that will be big enough to compete with the Googles and Facebooks of the world. In a nutshell: simplify the entire buying process.
“When we speak to agencies, and we say ‘here are all the publishers we work with, you can book direct with them,’ they’ve tried it, but every publisher has a different buying process, they offer different things, different metrics,” Naidu says, adding that the agencies he works with are often put off by how complicated the current system is.
“You need to create a published media platform.”
And it looks like things are now heading in that direction.
While earlier attempts to create a joint newspaper sales house have failed (RIP Project Juno/Rio/Arena), news this week that The Guardian, Telegraph and News UK have joined forces to launch a video ad marketplace is surely a sign that they are willing to work together to help them square up to the competition.
However, if it's to work, Naidu says, the execution must be as good as Facebook or Google's ad products. There's a reason they are so popular, after all.
Not only is it imperative to simplify the buying process, but publishers also need to solve the pricing issue - as noted by Dan Coleman, strategic business development director at Time Inc UK.
"It's all very well talking about how we're going to work together better, but the problem we face is the market is commoditised and we're comparing apples with pears, we're comparing impressions on dodgy media against impressions on quality, edited content," he says.
"We need to sort out the pricing and make sure it's priced correctly so we can all benefit, including the client."
GroupM Digital's Paul Rowlinson says the answer to this problem links back to measurement.
"Through better measurement we can make sure we can put a true value on what's delivered," he says, adding that it's not in the agencies' interests to end up with a situation where quality publishers go out of business because of unfair pricing.
Davidp@mediatel.co.uk / Ellenh@mediatel.co.uk / @mediatelnews