There are a few lessons you can learn from Pokémon Go, the augmented reality game from Niantic and The Pokémon Company. The first – and most important – is that you shouldn’t just abandon your car because a Vaporeon appeared down the street. The second is that Razz Berries are worth their weight in Pokécoins. The third is that, if the servers go down, you must remain calm.
But are there any lessons for media companies, who’d dearly love a viral hit of the same magnitude? As TechCrunch reports:
“According to SimilarWeb, for example, the app passed Twitter in terms of daily active users on Android as of Monday, while another report from SensorTower said that users were spending more minutes per day in the Pokémon Go app than they were in Facebook.”
Well, no, not really, though that hasn’t stopped a lot of people from writing articles entitled ‘Lessons For [Blank] From Pokémon Go’.
Those issues are especially appropriate to Pokémon Go because it’s such a unique beast (like Mewtwo). An augmented reality game based on a decades-old video game franchise, propelled to ridiculous early success on a wave of ’90s nostalgia by people of my own age who grew up with Pokémon and now have the disposable income to buy smartphones? Good luck replicating that situation, publishers.
There are other ways companies are trying to cash in on Pokémon Go’s popularity. A credible rumour suggests that McDonald’s is partnering with the game’s developer Niantic to make its real-world locations confer benefits in the game, a more official version of the techniques some ingenious businesses have already been using. YouTubers are offering hints and tips (and a capella performances) for the game, which in theory boosts their audience numbers.
And publishers are benefiting through good SEO, such as this story which might be more accurately headlined ‘Man Goes Travelling; Has Smartphone’, even when they get most of their facts wrong:
— sanya burgess (@sanyaburgess) July 13, 2016
Even thoughtful, forward-thinking pieces about lessons from Pokémon Go like this one from Poynter’s Melody Kramer are written with the assumption publishers have a product which audiences are not only willing to pay for, but offer access to their data and time for. Without an IP like Pokémon attached, I seriously doubt any similar endeavour from publishers will find success of anywhere near that magnitude.
This is 10,000 Pokémon Go datapoints. If you could easily spot Earth in these dots without context, it’s global. pic.twitter.com/uJGKiyXBKD
— Rami Ismail (@tha_rami) July 17, 2016
It’s understandable that media companies should look at Pokémon Go and wonder whether they can learn any lessons from it. After all, since mobile is the preeminent battleground for user attention now, it is essentially a direct rival. Nor are we entirely blameless, having encouraged similar comparisons: In the past, I’ve advocated media companies take a look at the games industry’s success in diversifying its revenue.
Publishers looking for a silver bullet for their problems won’t find it in Pokémon Go. It’s too unique a beast. But media analysts and reporters (myself included) do have a tendency to try to apply lessons from one case study to another, and that has the potential to be harmful if taken too far. Take media analyst Jim Chisholm’s recent appraisal of Johnston Press, entitled ‘A master class in media mismanagement‘.
In it, he excoriates Johnston Press’ CEO Ashley Highfield for statements like “we’re increasingly confident in saying the worst is over for the regional press” even as his company proved the opposite to be true. But towards the end, the tone of the article changes as Chisholm points out what he considers to be Johnston’s ace-in-the-hole:
“There is however one great asset in JP. A white knight, hidden within the JP board.
“Kjell Aamot is a non-executive director of JP. He is an iconic legend among leaders in the global newspaper industry, having been the man who engineered the extra-ordinary, Norwegian/now-global media company Schibsted.”
He goes on to list the attributes of Schibsted that make it so extraordinary, among them the fact it was among the first media companies with a digital-first strategy and managed to retain control of its classifieds sections. Chisholm concludes “If I were a leading shareholder in JP, I’d invite Kjell out for lunch, and simply ask: ‘What the hell do we do now?’“
Kjell is undoubtedly a very smart man and deserving of that praise, but the situation in which Shibsted transformed itself into a digital powerhouse in the ’90s is very different to Johnston Press’ situation now: It’s generally acknowledged that UK news publishers have lost control of classifieds forever, and have to compete in an established digital world that’s more populated than ever. Kjell might very well have some new ideas that would help Johnston, but they won’t be directly lifted from his experience at Schibsted.
It’s only natural to try to lift lessons from incredibly successful media endeavours like Pokémon Go and Schibsted. Realistically, however, they’re one-offs, the right idea in the right place at the right time, and any media company trying to follow the leader will find that the niche is already occupied.