Citizen-centric media and the future of news

If they’re to survive total digital disruption over the next decades, incumbent media brands need to put power in the hands of the people, writes Susi Banks. But will an industry that’s long considered itself exempt from commercial forces embrace a customer-centric strategy?


Twenty years ago if you didn’t own a television you were an artsy, trendy, lefty wearing a black turtle neck. Now if you don’t own a TV, there’s nothing unusual about it. More and more young adults consume TV content solely on laptops, tablets and smartphones. And older adults are catching on too.

Compared to the glory days of publishing, things are grim for news organisations around the world in terms of jobs for journalists and easy advertising revenue. But the paradox is that the public’s appetite for news is more voracious than ever. When Princess Diana died on a Saturday night in Paris in 1997 – Sunday morning in Australia – many people didn’t know until they watched the TV news on Sunday night, and some people didn’t know until they went to work on the Monday. This would be unheard of in 2013.

Anybody who wasn’t in a coma or shipwrecked on a desert island could know within the hour.


No news is bad news

Heading up innovation at the ABC, Angela Clark believes the change coming centres on the concept of ‘citizen-centric media’, which basically means putting news back into the hands of the people. Clark cites the example of pre-media when people got their information from each other. This was centred on the things important to them, in terms of their family, their village and their means of making a living.

With the invention of the printing press, the world changed forever. News-gathering and dissemination were taken from the hands of the people in villages, towns and farms, and given over to the hands of the newspaper proprietors, and eventually the TV networks. And now, the internet has put it back.

Clark says we’re seeing seismic shifts in the way companies do business, from banks, insurance companies and even manufacturers. And news media is slowly learning to do the same. Although all companies will undergo digital disruption, none will be affected more than the media sector, which is facing 100 percent digital disruption by the year 2050, according to Clark.

“If traditional media giants [in which Clark includes the ABC] are going to survive in the age of digital disruption, they need to put power in the hands of the people,” Clark says.

Clark says ABC Innovation has been conducting open research across the country, in places like Mount Gambier, Canberra, Geelong, Newcastle and Launceston, engaging with people and going into their homes to see how media and technology played out in their lives, investigating the relevance of ‘local information’ in the choices they made. “What we found was that people have to work hard to get the mix of news and information that is relevant for them. Not one media company had an offering that reflected their needs,” she says.

“We also learned that while people don’t want ‘local information’ on its own. People find context in local relevance. It provides meaning about ‘who they were in the world’ and not just as a function of where they lived but of the stories and context that was both useful and had meaning for them,” she says.

Not only did the internet break business models, non-media and non-content people started building businesses that no one had seen before. These social networks and online communities used technology and the networking capability of the internet to bring to life human behaviours that have existed for centuries. “It fulfilled our desire for connection, gave us the thrill of sharing information and the ability to join communities of interest – thinking about what people need first rather than last,” Clark says. “And media companies are now also embracing this approach. But I think this is often within the prism of an existing ‘media model’, much in the same way that most traditional retailers do when they execute an ecommerce offering.”


All brands are media brands

Clark posits that traditional media organisations ‘tweaking’ their business model may never really work when they’re still thinking like printed newspapers and television stations. And some non-media companies that are a product of the digital age are doing a better job at being media companies than the traditional ones. Clark cites the example of clothing company Asos, which ships four jumbo jets worth of clothes to Australia each week. Its investor page describes the company as: a unique multi-channel shopping experience where twenty-something fashion lovers can network, share ideas, create their own style and, of course, shop.

Asos places ‘shopping’ last on this list, and says it ships trends, not clothes.

Asos, which distributes to 237 countries, will send a free fashion magazine to your tech devices every month, and allows you to use its marketplace to trade pre-owned, new and vintage fashion, even buy from other boutiques. It shares news, blogs and video, and publishes the pictures people take of themselves or their friends and shows you how to recreate their look. In 2012-2013 Asos was the most visited fashion website in the world for 18- to 34-year-olds. Its traffic, content and engagement could also rank it as a media company.

“So if a retailer can build a successful model by turning what it is to be a ‘retailer’ on its head, what might happen if a media company was citizen-centric, and turned itself on its head? Could a media company say, ‘We’re creating a unique multi-channel media experience where citizens can engage, share ideas, create their own stories and, of course, access content. Visited by millions every day, we ship stories to citizens everywhere’,” wonders Clark.


Customer-centric broadcasting

Garry Jacques, creative director and founding co-partner of post-production house Heckler, says the greatest challenge is the change we are experiencing at an unprecedented pace. “Pictures and online video are the social currency of our times, with an average of 12.5 million Australians now streaming video content each month,” he says. “Technology will continue to shape the way in which we communicate, but one underlying theme remains: the need to tell a good story.

“Where we once gathered together at the neighbour’s place to see a man land on the moon through the magic of television, we now simply pull out a screen from our pockets and watch Red Bull drop a man back to Earth.

“The greatest change is accessibility. Today, not only do billions of people have access to news and content anytime and anywhere, but the ability to create that content has been democratised. A teenager with a $20 webcam can now broadcast to millions of people worldwide,” Jacques says.

“When people now have the option to tune out, skip, fast forward and forgo our messages altogether, we must make sure that not only do we not interrupt what people are interested in, we must be what people are interested in. We need to move people with our stories, and visually powerful content, across multiple channels, remains the best way to do this in 2014 and beyond,” Jacques says.

Jamie Crick, client services director at Boom Video, the first official YouTube Partner Network in Australia, says that YouTube video bloggers are a prime example of citizen-centric media.

“Firstly, it’s important to realise that these ‘vloggers’ tend to start out creating video blogs at home and uploading their content to YouTube. Through a totally organic process, they have attracted fans and built their audience, often into the hundreds of thousands or millions of subscribers,” says Crick. “Using a number of social platforms, these vloggers and YouTube content creators directly engage with their audiences – connecting across Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook or Instagram.

“Because they’ve built their fan bases through social sharing and word of mouth, they tend to be very responsive to their audiences, answering comments and eliciting feedback. It’s very much a dialogue, with the vloggers frequently creating their own content on topics their fans have directly asked for. This makes it incredibly current and relevant to the lives of their audiences, creating a really authentic connection both with the creator and the content.”

Crick gives these examples of YouTube video bloggers, whose content is driven by fan requests. Troye Sivan, one of Australia’s top vloggers (and in the top 10 Aussie YouTube channels), builds a comedy video around fan questions. Louna Maroun, vlogger, musician and beauty tipster answers fans’ questions and shares favourite rock music.

“Many others are driven by topicality, [such as] the Xbox One midnight launch covered by Australia’s biggest gaming news channel, ChampChong. Gadget review channel TotalTechWar pits the latest devices against each other to help fans make purchase decisions,” he says.

“In one month, Australians spend six hours and 49 minutes watching online videos. YouTube is especially popular among younger demographics.”

Crick says these content creators show how social video is enabling viewers to dictate and influence their entertainment content – and build a real relationship with the content creators. It’s a much more personal connection than with traditional media stars – and in many ways could represent the future for media in a social and connected world.


Social saves broadcast, TV saves social?

In terms of how TV broadcast advertising and sponsorship are now being shaken up by digital and social media, CJ Hudson, co-creator and founder of Stencil, a digital research, communications and media buying company, gives the example of a research project his company did for Harvey Norman during the Australian Open tennis tournament.

“The project was to measure the opportunity of Facebook for business during peak television times,” Hudson explains. “Facebook invited Harvey Norman, historically a traditional advertiser and known sponsor of key Australian sporting codes, to invest in promoting Facebook posts during the Australian Open. Facebook ran a consumer poll to Australian users who saw the Harvey Norman content to assess whether advertising would have an impact on consumers’ perception of which brands were associated with the Australian Open Tournament.

“The results placed Harvey Norman as the third- most associated brand with the tournament, second to Mount Franklin, which is an official sponsor, and Optus, which is an official partner of the tournament,” says Hudson.

Insights gleaned from the study included the finding that delivering relevant messaging, aimed at people who are interested in that content, to mobile during peak television viewing times has both a complementary experience to the show being watched, and is beneficial to the advertiser in terms of association with that TV content.

In an article in July 2013, titled, ‘Can Twitter save TV? (And can TV save Twitter?)’, Forbes spoke of the micro-messaging service’s radical plan for nabbing the ad dollars it needed to survive: helping TV networks survive the digital media revolution.

In the article, Twitter CEO Dick Costolo said that as the company has grown, it had become clear that the characteristics that make up Twitter – public, real-time and conversational – make it a perfect complement to television.

Costolo argues that broadcasters have come to understand that Twitter is a force multiplier for the media they’ve created. According to the Forbes article, a force multiplier is exactly what Twitter itself needs. The average price of an ad has been sliding, and user acquisition has almost stalled, with only a two percent gain in the most recent quarter.

One of the points made in the Forbes piece was that with Twitter, people were watching TV and having real-time chats, as opposed to having

to wait until the next day to have the watercooler chat at work. In terms of marketing and profit, this is something that can be used by both traditional television and social media to leverage profits and sales, and it’s something Twitter is bringing to Australia in 2014, with its Twitter Amplify product being tested by the likes of Samsung, L’Oréal and Southern Cross Austereo to extend the on-air content even further into the digital space.

Hands up all those who miss the original water-cooler chat?


BY Susi Banks ON 9 April 2014