Digital Media Strategies is over for another year (though DMS USA is yet to come…), but our speakers and delegates managed to share a huge amount of insight into the changing media landscape over those three days.

So we thought it was high time we collected some of that insight in one place, to see if we can tease out a few key themes. 

Great use of data doesn’t have to be flashy

The Telegraph are achieving effective back-room change through clever use of analytics. Malcolm Coles, Digital Media Director at Telegraph Media Group, says they have been working towards making “journalism more accessible for people”, by helping reporters to understand “what drives traffic to their journalism”:

“It’s useful for journalists to see what people are searching for. That way they can think about what stories should be covered [although] data doesn’t replace editorial judgement.”

They have created two in house teams: an Editorial Development Team and a New Formats Team, to streamline existing online processes and to develop new online tools, in a bid to make interactive storytelling as quick and straightforward as possible for reporters.

By contrast, Simon Davies of Quartz believes there’s still a lot that data isn’t necessary to achieve, saying: 

“I worry science starts to overwhelm creativity. We make big decisions with our gut, small decisions with our data.” 

‘News’ is no longer the commodity it once was

We’re seeing many publishers using their news content less as a product in itself and more a lure to attract audiences to whom they can then sell advertising. That’s the case for Ascential, whose CEO Duncan Painter explained:

“We don’t want to be in the news industry. We do provide news but we do not think in the future that is what our customers will be coming to us for.

“We don’t believe that news is something that people put a premium on.”

That’s a sentiment that was later echoed by News UK’s chief marketing officer Chris Duncan, who said:

“There has never been a higher demand for breaking news. Exclusives within a subscription environment don’t work as free digital players would replicate them.

“People don’t go to The Times for breaking news. They go for the analysis and summary of the news. The Times is not a mass audience brand, it’s a brand for its audience.” 

The Guardian is still pinning its hopes on a membership model

Despite the news of 20 percent cutbacks at The Guardian, the CEO of Guardian Media Group David Pemsel is still positive that the loyalty of its audience can be translated into a sustainable operating model. He believes that within three years the Guardian will see fully one third of its revenue coming from users paying for the benefits of membership:

“Content will play a role within membership. Two years ago I would say membership was seen as something on the side of our business.

“In the first six months Kath Viner and I have been very clear… what we will not do in our current thinking is simply tax consumption. We believe we have a way of being able to package up certain membership tiers for our readers… and they in turn will give us more money.” 

The rate of change in how content is distributed is accelerating

Only a handful of years ago publishers still controlled the distribution methods for their content. But that hasn’t been true for some time now, and even as publishers try to grasp how audiences are now consuming their stories the rug is pulled out from underneath them again. 

Hearst’s publishing director Judith Secombe argued that can be just as much of an opportunity as a challenge for legacy publishers:

“Cosmopolitan has its own Snapchat channel which is viewed 300,000 times a day. Millennials spend 18 hours a day consuming media, we need to grab as many of them as possible. A Cosmo reader may well be a Red Magazine reader in time.”

But it’s also rapidly changing even for the third parties who changed distribution initially. Bruce Daisley, Twitter’s VP for Europe, points out that the base unit of content online is rapidly becoming the vertical video:

“We’re allowing more video in tweets to ensure content creators are more easily seen on Twitter. The mobile web has overtaken the desktop web. Cameras are now vertical devices and portrait video content is becoming more common.” 

…but brand values are just as important as ever

Despite all the changes, both past and those still to come, there’s one key lesson that all the speakers took the time to impart: Being true to the core of the brand will always be important. 

Hayley Romer, vice president and publisher of The Atlantic, explained that the magazine’s digital future is absolutely informed by its print past. She described how The Atlantic was founded in Boston 160 years ago by “a group of radical writers with the absolute need to challenge the status quo’ and that this need is completely compatible with digital journalism”.

She revealed the magazine’s motto is ‘question answers’: “This motto has driven the business at every level.”

Image courtesy of Grid Engine via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.