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 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 + 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 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

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 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.

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