Stream Ignites Fresh Ideas on the Future of News by Lindsay Pattison, Worldwide CEO, Maxus
The set-up of Stream, WPP’s (un)conference is informal and unconventional, its fluid programme designed to encourage ideas and conversation to flow. Our most recent gathering in Cannes was a characteristically inspiring meeting of minds serving as a distraction from the noise of the festival (plus flip-flops and pastels are just more conducive to creative thinking, fact).
I was most interested in the Future of News and Storytelling session; when the chiefs of the New York Times and The Guardian sit down with the CEO at Vice in this setting, an interesting narrative around ‘established’ vs ‘new’ is bound to unfold — and it did…
We’re all well aware that the way people source news continues to shift. And thinking in terms of a one-way migration from print to digital is far too simplistic. We now have increased emphasis on social sharing and linking direct to news sites from social media. The boundaries between journalism and citizen news are very blurred, entirely non-existent for many.
So publishers face a growing challenge to reach audiences and remain profitable, highlighted by Facebook’s deal with nine media owners including The Guardian last month. Some would call the tie-up predictable — why bite the hand that feeds you? Mark Thompson, chief executive of the New York Times has said that “judicious engagement with other platforms makes sense” and that the newspaper will have complete control over which of its content appears on Facebook.
He also told Stream-goers that the title makes most of its revenue from a relatively small number of the most engaged of its audience. Is the social audience just too flighty by nature to dwell long before its next juicy distraction? Or, like me, do many of us value poring over long-form content in the weekend papers as much as we do skim-reading industry updates on our commute?
Personally, I value news that appears in my social feeds. Increasingly, I link from Twitter and now Facebook as much as I go to news brands’ own sites. The enmeshing of ‘Old’ and ‘New’ moves the speed versus veracity debate on to a more realistic debate of authenticity and engagement on consumers’ terms.
I’ll be watching closely as the deal unfolds to see how it will be monetised fairly. Facebook claims that publishers will keep 100 per cent of any revenue from ads sold directly by them, while it will take a 30 per cent cut of remaining ad space sold via the social site. Clearly, there are rewards to reap in terms of reach and volume — but what then? Facebook may want to point users to news sites, but the move also positions it as the place where readers source and consume it too. If the deal was meant to counter publishers’ claims that the likes of Facebook and Google are undermining their own business, it marks an interesting power balance.
More positively, despite media trades telling a bleak tale of declining print circulations and ad revenues, digitalisation has really been more reinvigorating to the category than destructive. News brands have to reach people wherever and however they choose to consume content, encouraging creativity. We’re definitely going to see continuing innovation in the native space and beyond. A quick glance at the array of partnerships now driven by the dailymailonline is fascinating — snapchat, trufflepig, elite daily…
Challenger news brands like Vice have a headstart in being conceived as platform-agnostic from birth, while also being credible news sources. (Twitter may be an established source of breaking news, yet the recent CNN reportage of a misinterpreted Twitter-sourced image brought the credibility of crowd-sourced news rather embarrassingly to light.)
While our hunger for news shows no sign of abating, the rules of engagement are still adapting fast. ‘New’ news has an opportunity to reinvent news for a digital generation; established players need to catch up, fast. Shane Smith was warned early on that young people weren’t interested in news, a myth that he has debunked since launching the Vice News web channel last year.
I interpreted Smith’s advice: “You have to make mistakes to succeed. Mistakes are crucial” as a call for experimentation and brave new types of partnerships from all content creators and distributors. Our job as media agencies remains to help clients navigate new territory confidently to best mine its opportunities.
Lindsay has been described as a positive force of nature. As UK CEO she transformed the WPP-owned UK media agency Maxus, growing revenue, staff base and profit sevenfold in just over four years. Lindsay then expanded this drive across the rest of the Maxus network as global Chief Strategy Officer (CSO), looking after planning, effectiveness, product development and new business. In October 2014 Lindsay continued her growth within GroupM and was appointed CEO of Maxus Worldwide.