Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Mobile Media Services and the New Customer Experience

It's been a while since my last blog post. In my previous research during 2012-2013 it was quite interesting to interview media experts and executives about strategic choices in publishing and how they approach Business Model Innovation. However, focus on the customer experience is by far the most important thing in Service Design, there is "no service that survives its 1st contact with customers." In that sense Customer Insight is everything. "There's a big difference between marketing AT people in new channels and learning about their behavior, values, and expectations to optimize their digital experiences and introduce mutually-beneficial outcomes." (Ref. Brian Solis' Report: Digital Transformation and the New Customer Experience).

Quite a few examples of new media services this year have been designed based on customer insight and co-design with the audience. Just a few newly released services are described in the following paragraphs, illustrated by images of the actual service platforms. 'Mobile First' seems to be the trend as mobile usage represents now more than 25% of all Web usage, and it is growing rapidly. For many media services e.g. BuzzFeed (> 50%) and streaming services like BBC iPlayer (46%) smartphone / tablet usage represents half of all time spent. The desktop customer experience is still important, but more and more time is now spent on media services especially on tablets well suited for reading and watching video, TV programs and movies.




The New York Times launched its new mobile news app on April 2, titled NYT Now. It boasts a clear and visual design, each news topic can be easily found by scrolling down the home screen on your smartphone. It mixes good mobile-centric ideas with a new budget price point. The story selection is similar to NYTimes.com with the Top 8 stories on NYT Now the same as on the desktop version. NYT Now is aimed at readers who primarily get their news from smartphones, but currently do so for free. The entry-level subscription is priced at $8 for four weeks, while existing Times subscribers have access to the official NYT Now app for free. The new, limited publication is overseen by 10 editors that curate content for NYT Now. The entry-level offering is just a sampling of the full coverage available in the Times. 

The NYTimes tablet version has been revamped, the bundled package for NYTimes.com + tablet is priced at $20 for four weeks. Also in April NYTimes launched its Times Premier subscription, which costs $45 for four weeks. The enhanced subscription includes special content, such as compilations of articles from the newspaper's archives, Times Insider and Premier Crosswords among other things. You can see the whole range of price points on NYTimes.com. It will be of real interest to find out whether the new services will attract a good number of new digital subscribers and what this implies in terms of digital revenue. 

As more media services are co-designed with the audience we can actually start to talk about 'paywill' as opposed to the term 'paywall'. User experience alone really does not matter. What matters is the combination of user experience and business value = Customer value

Customer value defines:
  1. How much the customer is ready to pay for the service. 
  2. How often he is willing to buy. 
  3. Does he recommend the product or service in question. 
I will revert to the subject of 'paywill' on this blog later this year. You can also follow my posts related to #paywill on Twitter. Stay tuned.


KSF Media, the publisher of the Swedish-speaking daily newspaper Hufvudstadsbladet has been a forerunner in developing new digital services in the last year or two in Finland: eHBL is available on the smartphone/tablet, HBL+ is a weekly magazine aggregating the best of content from four local newspapers and a monthly magazine, and Studio HBL is a daily program focusing on current affairs and people and their stories on the website HBL.fi



The digital 'evening newspaper' HBL Kväll was launched in January of this year, after nearly a year of work on the concept based on customer insight and co-design, i.e. testing the concept with subscribers and other people interested in a different type of reading in the evening context. The tone of the evening issue, available at 4 p.m. from Monday to Friday, is lighter and the articles are shorter than in the morning paper. The digital-only HBL Kväll also includes several interactive elements, such as links to blogs and Studio HBL, as well as a TV Guide and a cartoon or funny image with witty commentary. HBL Kväll has been well received and has contributed to a jump in the number of digital users to more than 40% of all HBL subscribers. A good number, bearing in mind that many of the HBL print subscribers are elderly people. 



Sanoma Media Finland, the publisher of the leading daily Helsingin Sanomat has been working hard on its digital services. The redesigned HS.fi website was launched on April 15, with the intention to offer readers easier access to articles and deeper analysis of the real stories behind news headlines. Just the news headlines are highlighted in the new HS Mobile app, which bears a visual resemblance to NYT Now. Also the tablet app, first released in December, 2010 has been completely redesigned including access to the latest news and HS TV. To my taste the mobile and tablet app offer an appealing customer experience, whilst the desktop experience offer the opportunity to tag the topics to follow. The Helsingin Sanomat editorial team are putting more emphasis on data journalism and online articles as well as video reports. I am a tablet fanboy, so I mainly use the HS app on my iPad, with access to all these features including the weekly and monthly supplements. More and more readers are signing up for 'combo' (a mix of digital and print) and digital subscriptions. The digital price points are fewer compared with what NYTimes offer: access to all content online and on a smartphone costs 9.90 a month and all-digital access including the tablet app is priced at 14.90 euros a month (see here for the offering from combo to digital access - in Finnish only). According to the latest publicly available figure the rate of combo/digital subscribers is already at more than 45% of the whole subscriber base. 



Last but not least, it's worth looking at how Finnish TV broadcasters are coping with the digital customer experience. The publicly financed Finnish Broadcasting Company (YLE) has offered a whole range of new mobile apps, from YLE Uutisvahti (YLE Newswatch) featuring the manual weighting of news topics to the Sochi Olympic app and the revamped YLE Areena for radio & TV programs available at anytime. The customer experience is rather good, but still lacks the recommendations that at least I would like to have. The major player in commercial TV in Finland is MTV3 (owned by Bonnier): its mobile news apps MTV Uutiset (MTV News) and MTV Uutiset HD for the tablet platforms have been around for a while. A new app for watching TV series, sports and your favorite programs at your convenience was launched a few weeks ago and is titled MTV Katsomo (look up the new Katsomo iPad app on App Store). Its visual design is a real pearl; the service is my favorite among streaming apps. As I am an avid sports fan I have also subscribed to the MTV Total Sport package, giving access to Formula 1 action, Champions League and Premier League matches etc. anywhere in Finland at anytime. With the Easter holidays approaching I look forward to watching my favorite programs at the cottage in the archipelago, where we have no broadband access. With mobile broadband access, it's easy to connect the tablet to the HD screen and find any of your favorite programs on the well designed menu. That's what I call the ultimate customer experience.  




Happy Easter everyone! Thanks for reading my blog and please drop me a line or two if you have a comment or are curious about something I've written.

Monday, 30 December 2013

The 'MEDIANOMICS' of Business Model Innovation and Mobile Value Services

It’s time to sum up our research findings on this last working day of the year. In fact EDGE research group has been working on three interrelated projects during the past two years. EDGE is a research group at the School of Business and Economics at Åbo Akademi University. The focus of the group is issues surrounding business model innovation and revenue models in industries undergoing fundamental transformations. 



Source: Media Map 2013, Bonnier R&D
EDGE research group has had its focus on three research projects in 2012-2013. The planning of these research projects started in the fall of 2011: 


1.   Personal Media Day (PMD) = Consumers’ changing media consumption patterns, mapped by way of e-diaries and a survey to give an overview of Finns' media consumption. Almost 1000 people aged 15 – 80 following the geographical distribution of the Finnish population took part of the survey which covers a wide range of media consumption from print newspapers, magazines and TV to mobile devices, i.e. smartphones and tablets. Personal Media Day (PMD) is a part of the Next Media R&D program and is designed to bring a greater understanding of consumers' everyday media consumption practices. Link to project report: A Multi-method Approach in Exploring Consumers' Everyday Media Consumption..
2.   Disruptive Business Models (DBM) = Media firms’ approach to find new sources of revenue in the digital ecosystem and the process of service design. Making sense of MEDIANOMICS. Qualitative research with 80 interviews conducted to date with media executives, industry experts as well as new disruptive players in Finland, Sweden, the UK and USA.
The material also includes 40 seminars and workshops with media executives, board members and new players in the media business. This project is the focus of my PhD thesis and I hope to finish the manuscript for the monograph during 2014-2015.  Dissertation is planned to take place in 2016. Link to project report: 'MEDIANOMICS' - Strategic Choices and Business Model Innovation in Newspaper Publishing
3.   Mobile Value Services (MVS) = New advertising solutions combined with a personalized media experience on smartphones and tablets. New project started in 2013. Particularly looking at the user experience of mobile applications (measuring behavior), user engagement and impact (understanding the behavior), and the business model of mobile applications (developing and innovating). Link to project report: Mobile Value Services - Case Teknari
The focus of my research project has been on media firms and more specifically newspaper publishers’ approach to find new sources of revenue in the rapidly changing digital ecosystem. The design of new and viable business models is a real challenge in the constantly changing media landscape, where consumers are increasingly online. In fact Finnish Internet users are now among the most avid consumers of online news and rank #1 among European countries. Consumers obtain and share their news on multiple platforms including blogs and social media. Mobile media consumption is clearly an accelerating trend, which in turn requires new business models and new ways of engaging consumers in media and advertising content in the right context. 
In the Digital News Report by Reuters Institute it was found that 49% of 18 to 24-year-olds read a digital newspaper, the highest reach of any age group. The survey of 11,000 Internet users in nine countries revealed that 25 to 34-year-olds are twice as likely to part with their cash for digital news than older readers. According to the study, 20% of 25- to 34-year-olds said they had paid for online news compared with less than 10% of those aged over 55. This should be good news for all media firms developing new services. And multi-platform availability of services is increasingly important, as 33% get news on at least two digital devices while 9% us three or more devices (Digital News Report 2013, Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, Oxford University, 2013). Finland will be included in a longitudinal study during 2014-2016 as a partner to Reuters Institute and it will be of utmost interest to media firms to follow this study closely as the digital ecosystem and new platforms for paid content keep evolving,
The results from the multiple in-depth interviews in four countries (FI, SE, UK, USA) indicate that the change in consumer behavior is accelerating. Recent consumer surveys support this view. The willingness to pay for content is influenced by other media content services (e.g. Netflix, Spotify, MTV Katsomo) and the introduction of ‘paywalls’ for news services has recently taken place in the Nordic countries.
The interviews reveal that there is an increased sense of urgency in deciding which path to choose and where to invest. New concepts and platforms for news are being introduced. Different companies have chosen different approaches to meet the digital demand for news. Printed newspapers may become a luxury product with the increased cost of distribution. Publishers that invest only in printed newspapers will not be successful in the future. The critical question is how to manage digital transformation and utilize customer insight to develop new services to both consumers and advertisers. The strategic choices of newspaper publishers are described in more detail in the project report.

An agile organization is a prerequisite for innovation. It is vital to nurture a corporate culture that supports ideas, development and prototyping. The ability to collect, analyze and utilize customer data is of essence. Service design based on customer insight is required in order to be able to offer valuable content to the consumer in different contexts, on different platforms. It is important to recognize the various phases of the consumers’ purchase path and to offer the right kind of content for each phase including advertising solutions. The innovation process for new products and services needs to be shortened. Trial and error, i.e. testing with consumers is part of the service design process. However, it should be noted that ”no service concept survives its first contact with customers.”


It is time to say Thank You to all the readers of this blog, as well as to colleagues at Åbo Akademi University. It has been a great learning experience to work with our skilled researchers and I would also like to thank all the people I have had the pleasure to interview. The dialog in these interviews and workshops has been valuable to my research. I wish everyone a Happy New Year and the best of success in 2014.


Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Mobiilipalvelujen kehittämiseen kannattaa panostaa!

This time the blog post is in Finnish for the "Kärkkäiset" blog published by Kärkimedia. The theme of the blog post is about Mobile Services and the Mobile Content Market in Finland. As far as mobile gaming content is concerned Finland is the world-leading country and the home of e.g. Angry Birds by Rovio and Clash of Clans by Supercell.



Digitaalinen ekosysteemi vankistuu myös Suomessa entisestään tablettien ja älypuhelinten penetraation noustessa. Åbo Akademin kuluttajatutkimuksen mukaan älypuhelimia oli jo viime vuodenvaihteessa 56 %:lla suomalaisista ja tabletti oli käytössä n. 20 % kotitalouksista. Nuorten opiskelijoiden keskuudessa vastaava penetraatio on älypuhelinten osalta 86 % ja tabletti on käytössä 27 %:lla vastaajista (Y-sukupolvi, syntyneet 1983 ja 1993 väilillä). Voikin kysyä onko mobiilipalveluita kehitetty riittävästi huomioiden diginatiivien käyttäjien odotukset ja tarpeet? Ja tässä tapauksessa mobiilipalveluilla ei tarkoiteta pelkästään pelejä tai oppimisympäristöjä.

Tuoreen tutkimusraportin mukaan mobiilisisältöjen markkina kasvaa kiihtyvällä vauhdilla tulevina vuosina (lähde: Mobile Content Market in Finland 2012-2016, Kalle Snellman, Idean). Tänä vuonna kasvu on ollut huimaa ja mobiilisisältöjen tuottojen arvioidaan ylittävän 1 miljardi euroa v. 2013, josta toki iso osa on Supercellin tuottamien pelisisältöjen huikean menestyksen ansiota. Viennin osuus miljardin euron kokonaispotista ennustetaan olevan peräti 790 miljoonaa euroa! Tulevan kolmen vuoden aikana mobiilisisältöjen Suomen markkinan arvioidaan kasvavan noin 290 miljoonaan euroon vuonna 2016, josta mobiilimarkkinoinnin osuus on n. 62 M€ ja esim. mobiilien mediapalvelujen osuus n. 75 M€. Tähän jälkimmäiseen lukuun sisältyvät erilaisten tilattavien siältöpalvelujen mobiilikäytön osuus kuten esim. MTV Katsomo, Netflix, Spotify ja muut mediasisällöt. Eri mobiiliapplikaatioiden kautta tulevien tuottojen arvioidaan kasvavan n. 36 miljoonaan euron. Tosiasiassa nämä luvut ovat vain arvioita tulevasta kehityksestä.


Aivan ratkaisevassa roolissa tulevan mobiilisisältöjen ansaintamallien kannalta on palvelukehitys: miten luoda sellaisia mobiilipalveluja, jotka tuottavat kuluttajille ja mainostajille aitoa asiakasarvoa ml. käytettävyys ja sisällön koettu arvo. HS:n ja iltapäivälehtien uusien mobiilialustojen lisäksi on tänä vuonna moni uusi palvelu nähnyt päivänvalon, joiden menestystä voimme toistaiseksi vain arvailla. Talentumin SUMMA-palvelu jäsentää eri tyyppisen bisnesinformaation sisältökoreihin aivan uudella tavalla. Responsiiviseen suunnitteluun pohjautuva palvelu toimii mainiosti eri alustoilla esim. tabletissa ja läppärillä. Eri sisältökorit tarjoavat luontevan pohjan sisältömarkkinoinnin ratkaisuille ajatellen esim. johtamisen, lakiasioiden ja sijjoittamisen palveluja. Long Play on taasen uusi toimija joka on luonut "hitaan ja tutkivan journalismin" singlet ihan uudenlaisena sisältöpalveluna ja panostaa jatkossa Uutisraivaaja-innovaatiokilpailussa saamiaan palkintorahoja jullkaisualustan kehittämiseen. Palvelujen saatavuus on a ja o, toimivan käyttöliittymän lisäksi maksamisen vaivattomuus on ratkaiseva tekijä jotta mobiilipalveluiden sisällöistä voi tulla aidosti kannattavaa liiketoimintaa.


Kiinnostava kysymys on myös miten diginatiivien kuluttajien tarpeet huomioidaan palvelujen kehittämisessä - tullaanko Suomessa näkemään esim. BuzzFeedin kaltaisia palveluita, jotka painottuvat nuoremmille ikäluokille ml. sponsoroidut sisällöt. Uusi tulokas mediamarkkinassa USA:ssa on myös uutisvideoihin panostava NowThis News, jonka klipit ovat lyhimmillään 15s pikakattauksia uutistapahtumista Instagram-streamissä.


Henkilökohtaisesti uskon relevantin markkinointiviestin toimivan jatkossakin, niin printtimainonnan sanomalehdessä varttuneemmalle väelle, kuin aikaan ja kontekstiin räätälöidyn markkinointiviestin. Kun olemme liikkeellä on lähin palvelutuottaja tai kauppakeskus kädessämme. Uusiin mobiilimarkkinoinnin ratkaisuihin kannattaa sekä mainostajan että verkkokauppiaan panostaa pohjautuen aitoon asiakasymmärrykseen. Palvelukehityksen suhteen kannattaa panostaa asiakkaiden kuulemiseen ja kuluttajakäyttäytymisen draivereiden havainnointiin.

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

SUM IT UP! Mobile media concepts in Finland

In a recent blog post I have written about the digital ecosystem and service design for mobile media concepts. In Finland about 60% of the population has a smartphone and among young students (born between 1983 and 1993) at Åbo Akademi University the percentage is as high as 86. Out of those representatives for Generation Y already 27% have a tablet and the 'heavy users' spend more than 3 hours a day on the tablet with different media content. It's hard to get exact figures, but approx. 1 million Finns have access to a tablet in their household (about 20% of total population). And naturally most people have a laptop or a PC at home.

It's against this background we see the use of mobile news services grow in our country. Whilst the evening newspapers Ilta-Sanomat and Iltalehti top the charts for mobile news together with the leading daily Helsingin Sanomat, we are clearly seeing a trend towards new media concepts specifically designed for the mobile devices. 

SUMMA is a brand new concept with content published by Talentum, and designed as a media service. Talentum's core activities include publishing media and literature for professionals of various fields and organizing topical training and other events. Books, magazines and events focus on content from professionals in all walks of life from business information, HR, health care, legal, and marketing to information technology and private investments. It's leading titles include the weekly 'Talouselämä' (business) and 'Tekniikka & Talous' (technology and economic trends), as well as 'Arvopaperi' (private investment) and 'M&M' (marketing and advertising). As a professional book publisher Talentum publishes a vast number of titles. SUMMA sums this all up in one service, with a Spotify-like pricing model at 69.50€/month including access to all books, magazines and online content. The responsive design of the service allows easy access online and on a smartphone or tablet.


What's nice about the UI design it's clean and easy to navigate on any device. You can customize the topics and titles you're interested in and it also allows to get a glimpse of all content published by Talentum at one glance. According to CEO Aarne Aktan, the service is intended to be a gateway to all content of interest to those who are currently perhaps subscribing to only one specific title. 

There are several price points for those not opting for the all-in, which to my mind is rather expensive. By subscribing to one title you get all of its content and limited access to other content as well at the price for the title you have chosen. The price for a single magazine and its online content is 16.90$/month. If you subscribe to three titles you get all the content for 29.90$/month. By paying 20€/month you can get access to all books, and you can download them in e.g. iBooks and order printed books through an on-demand service to your home or office address. Easy access and flexible pricing according to your needs is to my mind one key to success. This is quite a novel concept and is not offered by any other publisher in Finland yet.

The Business Model is based on content, however, it seems obvious that content marketing is well suited for those interested in certain topics like e.g. HR development or legal information. Aarne Aktan commented in the interview that "banners are banned" - let's wait and see what happens next with regard to advertising services on the SUMMA platform. Customer data and utilizing different user profiles should be a key to success in advertising sales and I would expect to see more of this in the next few months. SUMMA was only released on October 18, so the service will certainly be tweaked on the go. It's really inspiring to see a new media service being launched in Finland and I trust there will be more information available about its usage and success in the new year.


Another 'new' service that has now been redesigned is Teknari. Teknari is a true innovator in digital publishing on both tablets and computers. It is a publishing concept launched already 3 years ago, just when the first iPad was out in the market (in fact before it came on sale in Finland). Teknari is a startup, and according to CEO Sami Kalsi they are fulfilling a dream to provide a media service based on content available on new technology platforms. Teknari has its focus on cars and consumer electronics, with rich media content including car reviews and news about new products like smartphones, tablets and related consumer technology. The biweekly tablet 'magazine' is complemented by the website with online news and a program on MTV3, as well as the Teknari channel on YouTube. Tests and reviews are extensive and cover a wide number of gadgets: pictured below is the review of the new iPhone 5c and 5S featured in the September issue. 



Teknari's Business Model is based on advertising on the tablet and it sells its content to MTV3 for the TV program. Last spring Teknari experimented with 'paid content', however, they are now back to the original business model with free content. You can download the Teknari app on an iPad (the app is for free on App Store). Android tablets can be used to read the HTML beta-version. Teknari are working on a responsive design for smartphones, which will be launched in the near future. Advertising is utilizing the advantages of the tablet, where they are providing a platform for interactive advertisements providing a rich media experience for the user. The tablet application has been downloaded on more than 85,000 devices and the Flash-magazine on the website gets 100,000-150,000 unique visitors for each issue. The number of active users varies for each issue, for instance for the above issue the aggregate number of unique users of the tablet app and website was 122,527. This can be compared with the circulation of Finnish car magazines that range from approx. 25,000 to 120,000 for Teknari's competitors in print, according to Publishing Director Minna Tuomisto. 

At the time of the writing of this blog post EDGE research group is cooperating with Teknari in studying users. Together with Teknari staff EDGE researchers plan to go deeper and below the surface in studying reader experiences. We are combining our experience and competence within consumer research with experts on usability and user experience, i.e. our colleagues at MediaCity. The collaboration and multi-method model will deliver in-depth knowledge of Teknari users and most important, added value to Teknari about the readers. We also believe that people, who enrich their lives through technology and forerunning digital media services as Teknari are motivated to contribute in improving these services even further. The results of the user study will be wrapped-up before the end of the year, and will certainly give valuable information to both the publisher and the advertisers. We have been quite lucky to recruit a good number of Teknari users who were eager to put Teknari to the test. We will keep you posted on further news about this study on the EDGE website.

Monday, 28 October 2013

Mediedebatt om journalistik på svenska i Finland | Studio HBL

This blog post is about a debate regarding the future of journalism in Finland, arranged by our leading Swedish-speaking daily newspaper Hufvudstadsbladet (the video is available only in Swedish). Many thanks to editor Susanna Ginman for organizing the debate. The next blog post about new media concepts in Finland will be published later this week in English.


Här följer två länkar till mediedebatten och intervjun på bokmässan i Helsingfors söndagen 27.10.2013. Tack till Susanna Ginman för en välorganiserad debatt samt intervjun.

Bokmässan 2013 | Mediedebatt

Varför behövs journalistik på svenska i Finland? Bland annat den diskussionen fördes på Hufvudstadsbladets scen i söndags.

Debattörer är Hbl-journalisten Anna-Lena Laurén, medieforskaren Timo Ketonen vid Åbo Akademie och Hbl:s chefredaktör Jens Berg. Ordet leds av chefen för ledaravdelningen Susanna Ginman.

Studio HBL | Vad ska tidningarna göra för att överleva?

HBL skriver om intervjun idag på HBL.fi: "Papperstidningen kommer att överleva ännu en lång tid, tror medieforskaren Timo Ketonen från Åbo Akademi." Personligen tror jag att många av oss vill ha papperstidningen kvar och upplever att den är behaglig och överskådlig att läsa. Dessvärre bidrar de ständigt ökande distributionskostnaderna och sjunkande upplagorna till att papperstidningen kan bli en "lyxvara", dvs. en produkt som alla inte har råd med. 

Vid sidan om innehållet och journalistiken bör tidningshusen inklusive HBL aktivt utveckla nya tjänster till olika läsarsegment. Ungdomarna läser på ett annat sätt och föredrar gärna kortare nyheter och information om t.ex. kultur, nöjeslivet och sportvärlden. Jag rekommenderar att HBL även funderar på hur man ska paketera relevant innehåll till de yngre generationerna så att den är lättillgänglig och intressant (med hänvisning till mitt inlägg tidigare i denna blogg). De sociala medierna såsom Facebook, Instagram och Twitter utgör ytterligare en plattform där man kan förse både yngre och äldre läsare med relevant information, samt en möjlighet att delta i diskussionen om aktuella nyheter och "snackisar." Jag hoppas att vi kommer att se fler nya tjänster i stil med HBL+ från Hufvudstadsbladets förlag KSF Media i framtiden.

Studio HBL bandades in på årets bokmässa i Helsingfors.

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Mobile News: Service Design in focus


The modern smartphone market is now six years old. When the iPhone was introduced in 2007 the vision was that all of us will have the internet in our pockets, and now that is more true than ever. The recent Nielsen report shows that 64% of U.S. mobile phone owners have chosen a smartphone. In addition, 80% of Americans who had bought a mobile phone in the past three months purchased a smartphone.

Age seems to be a large factor in smartphone penetration, as 81% of young people between 25 and 34 are smartphone users and teens are not far behind with a penetration of 70%. Among older people aged 55+ half of the people are still using feature phones. Obviously this bears a relevance for service design, as many of the new media services are clearly designed for the diginatives.

As for the mobile ecosystem Android and iOS dominate the smartphone market in the U.S. More than half of U.S. smartphones are running Android, while 40% are iPhones. Windows phone has a market share of only 2%, so Microsoft has a long way to go as it now bought the mobile device business from Nokia. The business opportunities may prove bigger in the emerging markets in Asia and South America, where the smartphone penetration is lower than in Europe and the U.S.

Nielsen smartphone os graph


News services are available for smartphones and tablets in a variety of apps from traditional news organizations like BBC, CNN, The Financial Times, The Guardian, The New York Times and many, many more. Almost half of UK internet users are going online via mobile phone data connections, according to the Office for National Statistics. The most rapid growth was among younger people, where 71% of internet-connected 16 to 24-year-olds used mobiles. BBC has reported that mobile access to its services has increased rapidly and is more than 50% of all traffic on weekends. BBC's popular iPlayer service is widely accessed on smartphones and tablets. Viewers prefer the tablet form factor for TV viewing, with accelerating sales of the devices leading to increased streaming media consumption. As for The Financial Times 15-20% of new subscriptions each week are being sold on a mobile device and advertising on mobile devices is increasing. FT has reported that mobile devices account for more than one third of FT.com traffic and app usage is growing particularly fast in the age group from 25 to 34 year-olds. 

In the recent Digital News Report from Reuter's Institute for the Study of Journalism it was found that 49% of 18 to 24-year-olds read a digital newspaper, the highest reach of any age group. The survey of 11,000 internet users in nine countries revealed that 25 to 34-year-olds are twice as likely to part with their cash for digital news than older readers. According to the study, 20% of 25- to 34-year-olds said they had paid for online news compared with less than 10% of those aged over 55. This should be good news for all media firms developing new services. And multi-platform availability of services is increasingly important, as illustrated by the figure below.

It is quite important that the user experience is matched with the device being used, so service design is actually about the combination of relevant content combined with the right kind of user experience on each platform being used for media consumption. Not forgetting the relevance of building elements for engagement and social sharing.

Many of the new services are being designed with these principles in mind. For example The Washington Post has just launched 'Topicly' - a highly visual platform for its website and mobile platforms. Grouping articles by theme and then linking these under an image in a grid, the homepage is a collection of different news topics. You can then navigate onwards to relevant stories, commentaries, graphics and multimedia surrounding the issue. Topicly is powered by proprietary technology to give users timely news that Post editors think will interest readers. All Post journalism — stories, blog posts, photos, videos — is being processed in 15-minute snapshots, and topics are being determined in real-time based on content. The more content that is published about a topic, the higher the topic appears in the display.

Advertising on the site is native, so all adverts appear in the same format as the news topics around them. Land Rover, the official launch sponsor, for example, has its own grid on the homepage, the only significant difference being that it is qualified as a ‘sponsored topic’. I guess you could call this content marketing. The new service is particularly aimed at mobile users, and the plan is to include social media data in its algorithm.


Another interesting newcomer is NowThis News - the social news video startup is building its service on short, visual news videos. NowThis News is available as a website and apps for Android and iOS users. Not unlike the popular BuzzFeed service, NowThis News is aiming at the diginative audience and it has also developed a short-format video service for Instagram with short 15 second news video clips. The photo-sharing-turned-video-sharing app is one that a number of news organizations have played around with, but few have made the sort of push NowThis has. Editor-in-chief Ed O’Keefe says the shorter style of video it produces for Instagram and Vine is now “the focus of our company”, according to an an article published by NiemanJournalismLab

NowThis News is an aggregator i.e. it gets most of its raw material from other sources, but it curates the content to fit each platform. Of a staff of 37, 22 NowThis News employees are dedicated to producing content, two of whom focus on Instagram full time. The aim is to post up to 12 clips a day, depending on the day and the flow of breaking news. Now there's a service for the diginatives, no long form journalism here.

Other media companies with an active presence on Instagram include NBC offering teasers of interviews, MTV has clips of celebrities on the red carpet, and Time and Wired put out video clips. A few, including CNN and the Wall Street Journal, use Instagram to issue calls for user engagement.The Washington Post is one of the few that has made a more substantial attempt at putting news on Instagram. The question here is Instagram the right platform for news services and what is the logic for building revenue? 


Last but not least: an interesting new service in Scandinavia is Aftonbladet Flip, available on the tablet (In Swedish). Aftonbladet is already the most popular mobile news service in Sweden. Its brand new iPad edition is quite visual and simple to navigate i.e. you can tap on the content on the home page and open up a window of more articles relating to the chosen topic of top news, culture, fashion, entertainment, sports, TV content etc. The home page includes sponsored content from an advertiser. As a reader you can log in on Facebook, get recommendations for articles from your friends and participate in developing the service. In fact Aftonbladet's development team have really listened to users in the process of designing the new user interface. 

Commercially Aftonbladet has been leading the way in Scandinavia in building digital revenue. In fact Aftonbladet was the first Swedish newspaper on the Internet in 1994. Early in 2013 Aftonbladet was the first newspaper in the Nordic countries to report more revenue from online advertising than print advertising, based on a total reach of more than 2.8 million daily readers. Mobile advertising revenues are growing rapidly, according to Raoul Grünthal, the CEO of Schibsted Sweden.


In the next blog post I will take a closer look at new media concepts for tablets and mobile news services in Finland. The rapidly increasing smartphone penetration in the Nordic countries and the popularity of mobile news gives plenty of opportunity to design new services. Maybe we will see a news service designed for younger people in Finland as well, similar to NowThis News.

Friday, 9 August 2013

Bold moves and new ownership in traditional newspapers

This summer has signaled a new era of ownership in media, particularly in established newspapers. For traditional owners of newspapers the sale of the  titles reflects a change in strategy and in the case of The Washington Post even an exit from funding journalism.

At the end of July the German publisher Axel Springer, one of the largest media groups in Europe, announced that it will sell off its regional newspapers and magazines to Funke Mediengruppe for a significant purchase price of 920 million euros. Springer will however retain its big national titles including Bild, the highest-circulation newspaper in Europe and Die Welt. Strategic focus will shift to investment into digital media platforms without journalistic content like the the careers platform Stepstone, the housing portal ImmoNet.de and the price comparison portal Idealo. For a traditional publisher this a new strategic focus and it signals the end of an era where journalism was at the core of the operations of Axel Springer. Axel Springer founded the group in 1946 with a daily newspaper. For many in Germany this shift of strategy has been a shock, not least to the German Journalist Association. As for Axel Springer AG digital business already accounts for approx. 40% of total group sales and 45% of total earnings. Now the intention is to drive this development further. Axel Springer has clearly chosen to distance itself from its relatively costly classic journalistic products in favor of new digital business models. This follows an international trend of shrinking circulation figures and markedly falling advertising revenues in print media. 

The news from Germany can be compared with the developments in the past week in the USA. On Saturday August 3 it was announced that The New York Times is selling The Boston Globe and the rest of its New England Media Group to John Henry, the billionaire who is the principal owner of the Boston Red Sox, for $70 million in cash. This came as no surprise as The Boston Globe was put on sale (once again) in February. Financially the deal reflects a massive decline in the valuation of the regional newspaper business: The New York Times Company bought The Boston Globe back in 1993 for $1.1billion. This follows a sharp downfall in both print circulation and advertising: The Globe has seen its average weekday circulation plunge, tumbling 51.6% from 506,996 in 1993 to just 245,572 in 2013. It is easy to figure out why the transaction took place: The New York Times is a global brand with a digital subscriber base of 699,00 while The Boston Globe has only attracted 39,000 digital subscribers and is a regional player with its Boston.com website. The buyer, John Henry sees opportunity in the local marketplace: "The Boston Globe’s award-winning journalism as well as its rich history and tradition of excellence have established it as one of the most well respected media companies in the country.” He also cited the “essential role that its journalists and employees play in Boston, throughout New England, and beyond.” As for business model development it's harder to see what will happen next. The only thing that's obvious is that The Boston Globe will now have an owner with strong local interest. 

For The New York Times Company the sale implies even more focus on its main brand and its digital development. Arthur Sulzberger Jr., the Publisher, representing the last of the great American newspaper families, released a statement on August 8 to the staff and public: "The Times is not for sale, and the trustees of the Ochs-Sulzberger Trust and the rest of the family are united in our commitment to work together with the company's board, senior management and employees to lead The New York Times forward into our global and digital future."

This statement followed the biggest news of all week: the sale of the iconic Washington Post by the Graham family to Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon. The deal was announced on Monday August 5 and it took all the newsrooms in America by shock. The journalism at The Washington Post has been respected and solid throughout the years, famed for reporting on the Watergate scandal in the 1970's to the Edward Snowden-National Security Agency surveillance story, along with The Guardian in June of this year. Losses due to the rapid downfall in print revenues, just like in The Boston Globe case, is the main reason for the sale. The company was in its seventh consecutive year of declining revenues, and in spite of a strategy "to innovate like hell in digital and other businesses and offset the declines in print revenues" it did not succeed. Hence the head of the family, The Washington Post Company Chairman Donald Graham was forced to find a solution to save The Washington Post, and he found the savior in Jeff Bezos who paid $250 million out of his own personal wealth for the Post and some smaller newspapers included in the deal. 

The biggest question remains unanswered - will Jeff Bezos find a new business model to fund quality journalism at a profit? As a cunning businessman he issued a letter to the Washington Post employees, underlining that the values of the Post do not need changing: "The paper’s duty will remain to its readers and not to the private interests of its owners. We will continue to follow the truth wherever it leads, and we’ll work hard not to make mistakes. When we do, we will own up to them quickly and completely."

Jeff Bezos certainly has deep pockets with a reported fortune of approx. $25 billion. He has a proven-track record as an entrepreneur who has disrupted the book business with Amazon.com and Kindle e-readers, and he has reinvented the retail business. Amazon now has revenues in excess of $61 billion and it continues to invest and innovate e-commerce not just in the U.S., but globally. There is a good article on this topic published in Fast Company.
Expectations are high for a turnaround and most people wish to see an injection of new ideas into the troubled publishing industry. There has been a number of articles & blogs published on this subject over the past few days - a real media frenzy over the subject of an 'Internet King' buying a media icon. Amazon's experience and know-how can be utilized as to how media content can be reused and sold in many forms on multiple platforms reaching and engaging a wider audience. And there will more than likely be new delivery platforms for content over time. Amazon’s e-reader Kindle is already in place as one digital delivery platform. Long-format journalism and investigative reporting can perhaps be published both as part of the content of the Washington Post and as Kindle Singles. Content can be packaged as part of the Amazon Prime offering, combined with advertising based on the use of personal data and purchase history for recommendations. Amazon is not the owner of The Washington Post, but the synergies are clearly there.

In other words, whilst Jeff Bezos is known to take a longer perspective on his personal investments it will be more than interesting to see what this new ownership means over the next year or two. He will certainly not rest his case. In the meantime Jeff Bezos and John Henry are building on an image of not only being successful businessmen, but also respectable citizens and publishers.