How the media industry is creating an ‘Offer You Can’t Refuse’

The media industry has been under a lot of pressure the past few years, especially the more traditional players like newspapers, radio and broadcast TV. Competition comes from pretty much every direction: company media like blogs and podcasts, influencers, social media, aggregators, streaming services and many more. Add to that the changing needs of the consumers, especially the younger generations addicted to personalization and instant gratification, and it’s clear that this is an industry that needs to build an ‘Offer You Can’t Refuse’ according to the three pillars that I describe in my new book:

  • Transactional Convenience
  • Emotional Convenience
  • Saving the World

Transactional Convenience

Though there are of course many digital endeavors that media industry players have already made to ensure that the ‘audience journey’ becomes smoother and more frictionless, I see two extremely important trends surfacing that will disrupt the more traditional players if they do not get on board: extreme personalization and centralization.

Especially for you

When we think of personalization in the media, the extremely addictive algorithms of China’s platform company ByteDance’s newsapp Toutiao come to mind: not only is Toutiao incredibly fast when it comes to the publication of new content (for instance using bots to report on sports game), its AI filter is one of the best at personalizing. No wonder that Toutiao is the most addictive digital platform in the world, with each user spending 74 minutes per day there (while Facebook users ‘only’ spend 50 minutes). But of course, Bytedance excels at this kind of addictive content. Just think of its other company TikTok that constantly observes and learns from its users behavior to suggest new content.

Though China is absolutely the leader in this type of personalized media, the US has some pretty great examples here too. Netflix, for instance, is always offering great personalized suggestions. Spotify is even taking the listeners’ decisions out of the equation, by making lists for them and thus leading what they listen to. Or if you want a more local example: the VRT – the national public-service broadcaster for the Flemish Community of Belgium – is performing a pilot study for its news app ‘VRT MYNWS’ which aims to personalize news in a transparent way without pushing users into a closed-off filter bubble.

Everything at once

One huge part for making the experience for media users faster and a lot easier, is by centralizing it as much as possible in one easy interface. What players like Netflix and Spotify are doing, has also been adopted for more traditional channels like newspapers and magazines or even books. But the uptake and popularity is nothing compared to the former two mentioned, of course. Take Dutch aggregating news platform Blendle, for instance, which was founded in 2013 and kept growing steadily until it became clear that it was not profitable and has been purchased by French news kiosk Cafeyn a few weeks ago in the hope that subscriptions will rise again. A bigger success story seems to be Readly, a Swedish tech company that has digitized magazines since its launch in 2013 and which has rapidly grown into one of the European category leaders in digital magazine subscriptions. But even there, the popularity and scale of the offer pales in comparison to streaming giants Netflix and Spotify. I still believe that streaming is the future way to go for a lot of media, but there always remains the fact that most written media, for instance happen in the local language which makes the offer a lot more fragmented and thus more difficult to stream in a manner that is beneficial for the medium ànd the streaming platform.

Another fantastic way of centralizing media content of course happens with aggregators like Amazon Fire (Hulu, Netflix, and YouTube) and Roku (Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, Netflix, Sling TV, and Twitch) or, often in the case of the more traditional media, large ecosystems like DPG Media. The latter offers unlimited articles from all its newspapers if customers are subscribed to one of them through its ‘Topics’ service.

Emotional Convenience

Another important area where media players need to make their mark is the life journey of their audience. How can they solve their frustrations? What gives them energy? What are their hopes and dreams. Offering the ultimate convenience and saving the customer’s time no longer suffices for brands that want to stand out or even survive in the long run.

15 minutes of fame

In 1968, Andy Warhol claimed that “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes” and that’s a perfect illustration of human nature’s thirst for fame an recognition. Basically, we all want to be loved and adored. And, though it’s just as difficult as before for someone to “break through”, what has changed is that the platforms and the tools to broadcast yourself – how unknown and however little budget you have – are now readily available.

Especially youngsters of today are no longer content with being ‘fed’ content. They want to make it themselves and platforms like Instagram, Youtube and TikTok are the absolute perfect place for that. In fact, what makes the latter so successful is the fact that it offers such a huge number of possibilities for creators, so much more than for instance Instagram or Youtube. And though I’m not saying that the Wall Street Journal should let TikTok teens take over its editorial offices, I think that traditional media has a lot to learn from the interaction with the audience rather than just broadcasting information in one direction.

Crossing industry lines

A big part of being able to offer emotional convenience to consumers, lies in departing from the core offering and solve the whole problem of your users, instead of ‘just the part that you’re good at because you have always done it’. A beautiful example of that is how media players – traditional ànd new ones alike – are entering the education industry. Sven Mastbooms wrote a very relevant piece for De Tijd about that with some interesting examples. British state broadcaster BBC, for instance, offers youngsters a broad assortment of lessons with its Bitesize platform: a free online study support resource designed to aid pupils in the United Kingdom with schoolwork and exams. And Netflix, has a broad array of educational shows and documentaries, many of which it allowed teachers to screen in their classrooms. And when this was no longer possible with schools closing, it made a selection of its documentary features and series available on the Netflix US YouTube channel. It even offers a Chrome extension – Language Learning with Netflix – that allows to study languages with films and series more effectively and enjoyably. Google takes this even a step further, like it usually does. Now, I’m sure that some of you may not call Google a media company, but it is: it may not create content (neither do Blendle or Netflix, well in its early days), but scrapes it from the Internet and sells advertising around it. Whatever the case, Google recently announced the “Google Career Certificates”: a collection of courses designed to help participants get qualifications in high-paying, high-growth job fields without attending university. The courses should take about six months to complete, and will cost a fraction of a traditional college education.

Education and lifelong learning are crucial parts of the lives of consumers who want to make and keep themselves relevant in the job market. So when the media take over some of the functions of the very slow (ànd often expensive) educational industry, this has immense potential for adding real value to the lives of their audiences.

Saving the world

Last but not least, if media companies want to keep themselves upright, they will also need to take their responsibility and add value to society and the environment, instead of extracting it (what most of them still do). Though the media industry may not be the best known when it comes to corporate social responsibility, consumers do expect that they will help create a better world (and not just report on it).

Fighting COVID-19

In COVID-19 times, health is obviously a very important issue and many media companies stepped up to inform the public, as well as help them entertain themselves when they had to stay at home. Many publications, like the Financial Times, Wired or The Los Angeles Times, offered all COVID-19 related news for free, disactivating the paywall for that type of content. The industry also stepped in to offer financial support to those impacted: Netflix’s had a $100 million fund for laid-off production workers and NBCUniversal a $150 million fund for employees and production staff. Verizon Media donated millions of dollars in ad inventory to help top national and international mental health organizations raise awareness and mobilize resources as demand rose during the pandemic. It also ensured that its 900 million users had access to trusted education, news and resources about COVID and its impact. Amazon’s online streaming audio-library Audible, offered free audiobooks for kids during the lockdown. Apple Books offered a ‘stay at home’ collection of free read-alongs for kids, mysteries, and audiobooks. Comcast opened up some of its premium content and some on-demand offerings for free to customers to help them deal with being stuck at home during the coronavirus outbreak. Amazon Prime Video streamed kids’ movies and TV for free, no Prime membership required. Many media companies stepped in to help make the world a better place during the pandemic.

Fighting misinformation

One of the most burning issues in the world of today, however, is the ‘infodemic’: the ‘virus’ of fake news, deepfakes and all the other types of misinformation that are increasing mistrust and polarization. Educating the public about bias and fact-checking is a big part of the solution. The Local Media Association, Google and the Poynter Institute of Stanford University have for instance launched a program called MediaWise for younger readers to improve their digital media literacy. The VRT also launched several eduboxes for young people about for instance AI or fake news. US-based firstdraftnews.org, then, wants to “empower people with knowledge and tools to build resilience against harmful, false, and misleading information”.

Another approach could make use of blockchain to allow users to verify content and to control the integrity and origin of any piece of content, no matter its dimension or extension. That could contribute to enhancing the users’ experience with and restoring the public’s trust in news media.

News aggregator platforms like Yahoo News, too, have been on the look out to fight the spread of fake news on their platforms. Their editors are for instance reviewing all coronavirus and covid-19 related news coverage closely. The Associated Press is joining the fight, too, focussing on verifying validity rather than being the first to report something. Through their “NOT REAL NEWS” initiative, the AP publishes weekly roundups debunking false news stories, presenting them as “A look at what didn’t happen this week”. Faktisk in Norway, then, is a new collaboration between Norwegian news organisations Dagbladet, VG, TV2 and the country’s public broadcaster NRK to focus on Fact Checking.

New forms of highly ethical newsrooms are surfacing too. There’s for instance The Markup which focuses on data-driven journalism and covers the ethics and impact of technology on society. Or ProPublica, a nonprofit newsroom that aims to produce investigative journalism in the public interest. Media companies have been working hard at gaining the trust from the public back.

If you want to know more about building an Offer You Can’t Refuse (OYCR), check out my brand new book! And if you’re part of the B2B, financial service, telco or travel industry, keep an eye on this blog where I will be posting about OYCR strategies in those sectors.