The GEN Summit in Barcelona was an eclectic event, covering aspects of the media industry as diverse as the future of paywalls, new delivery methods for news and how best to engage with audiences on social media. With such varied topics of discussion, now that the dust’s settled we think it’s worth pulling out four key takeaways from the conference to determine what issues are keeping editors up at night – and potential ways to solve them. 

Legacy publishers need to “recalibrate” their digital audiences’ expectations

At a session discussing the future of the microtransaction for news content, all three panelists agreed that paying for genericised content simply doesn’t work. Generic, simple reports behind a paywall lack the lustre required to attract consumers across the paywall, as The Sun appears to have recently learned.

But audiences have been trained to expect news – even niche news – to be free online. So, as Blendle’s head of international Duco van Lanschot and Pressreader’s Nikolay Malyarov explain, the first task is to recalibrate their audiences’ expectations about receiving content for free. 

In order to do that, news publishers need to step away from the low-quality high-frequency publishing model that has allowed genericised content and clickbait to thrive. van Lanschot explains that Blendle’s iTunes-like model – which allows consumers to receive a refund on articles with which they are not satisfied – demonstrates that people aren’t willing to pay for clickbait:

“The problem with clickbait article is… there are articles that show 40% refund ratio. That’s useful information because [publishers need to] know ‘is the content good enough that people will want to pay for it’?

“Focus on quality. What will in the end deliver is the difference between a quick piece and… quality content.”

Google’s new Trends platform shows an industry doubling down on data

Google announced the latest iteration of its Trends platform at the GEN Summit, describing it as the biggest update to the service since its initial launch. The new platform, which Googe’s director of its News Labs Steve Grove describes as being first and foremost for journalists and media organisations, launched at GEN. Grove explained:

“Our mission is to empower journalists and entrepreneurs to build the future of news with Google and we’re tackling that mission in three ways. Through tools, through data, and through programmes.

We wanted to reimagine Google Trends for the audience of media to make it much more valuable to newsrooms around the world. Google Trends has been around since around 2007, it’s been a really interesting product, we know that newsrooms use it. We also knew that we could make it a lot better for journalists.”

To that end, Google’s recent hire Simon Rogers (formerly of the Guardian) explained how the relaunch will enable journalists to parse the big datsets that are becoming central to good journalism more easily:

“About 3 billion searches plus every single day. That’s a lot of information out there, and if you really want to get beyond the echo chamber of social media this is quite a good way of doing it. In the past that data’s been inaccessible and difficult to use. For journalists, using big data is often tricky, so this can easily be one of the world’s biggest journalistic datasets.”

Social media is integral to the modern newsroom, not just an appendage

The use of social media within newsrooms has evolved beyond simply announcing when a story has been published on the site. Though that’s been clear for a number of years, now the use of social is as much a delivery system for news as it is a resource for gathering and sharing it. 

CNN’s head of social media and senior director of strategy Samantha Barry reiterated that sentiment. She argues that the social aspect of a news story is now so integral to how a modern audience discovers and consumes news that if a social strategy isn’t including in the earliest planning stages, you’re ultimately doing that story a disservice.

BBC Trending’s Anne-Marie Tomchak explained as much, stating that people tend to use social apps like WhatsApp to have conversations around stories rather than simply sharing them. To that end we’ve seen the BBC trying to integrate WhatsApp into their own UGC and news distribution channels despite the limitations of the platform for doing all the same. And as the next generation of internet users might well experience it primarily through recommendations on chat apps, it’s a safe bet that social media will be integral to newsrooms for many years yet.

New formats inevitably lead to new legal issues

Sky News’ head of social media and audience development Rich Evans answered a question from the GEN audience about ‘hit-and-run’ copyright infringement on livestreaming apps like Periscope and Meerkat with the following:

“If I were to film a livestream right now, Twitter owns the rights to all Periscopes that are filmed. I think there’s going to be a huge rights case very soon.”

Citing the example of a news organisation approaching a Periscope user to request permission to embed their livestream, only to run up against the wall of Twitter’s ownership, Evans made it plain that it’s not just other broadcasters or events companies who are likely to be hit with a copyright case.

CEO of live video aggregator Livestation Lippe Oosterhof believes that publishers can make money from livestreaming video as a direct result of the interactivity at its core:

“We think that the interactive livestreaming – emphasis on interactive – once you can interactive with them, that’s such a profound difference, we’re only scratching the surface. This can greatly complement money newspapers are focusing on, premium and commerce. If you have a live engagement with your audience that’s the best place to place ads.”

And since livestreaming might ultimately be extremely lucrative for digital publishers, that’s an issue the industry will face sooner rather than later…