As one of the first sectors to experience serious digital disruption, media publishers around the world have had to reimagine ways to remain relevant. Yet no one has come close to finding a flawless business model as publishers continue to wrestle with profit and sustainability, personalisation, and compromising journalistic ethics.
The Native Truth
A key revenue source for online publishers is native advertising, for which a company, product, or person pays for an editorial mention in a publication.
Executed incorrectly, native ads can threaten the ethics of independent journalism. Online publishers such as The Guardian Australia, which launched in 2013, have experimented with different formats and achieved triple-digit growth in native revenues since launch.
Ian McClelland, Guardian Australia’s managing director, said any revenue source has to be implemented strategically into the business. “Native advertising, like any type of advertising or communication, only works in the context of a broader strategy,” he explained. “You have to know why you are doing it and how it relates to all the other things you’re doing.”
Times Internet, the Times of India Group’s digital venture, is among the fastest-growing web/mobile-based networks in India; it has spawned websites such as The Economic Times, Navbharat Times, and Maharashtra Times.
Native advertising, said Puneet Gupt, Times Internet’s COO of digital news, is more than advertisers connecting meaningfully with audiences: It also creates a less intrusive experience for readers than traditional ads.
“For our users, native advertising allows for a less disruptive reading experience across platforms, especially on mobile ones where screens are small,” he said.
Times Internet has experienced high engagement rates for native content across languages, brands, and platforms, which Gupt attributed to the ad-tech platform’s ability to deliver highly personalised native content.
Say What You Mean
Staying competitive as an online publisher relies, to some extent, on how well you describe your content.
“We’re making our language even clearer, so we say ‘paid for by’ and always give an explainer,” McClellan said.
Similarly, Gupt said every piece of native advertising or sponsored content Times Internet engages with is clearly labelled.
“The success of native advertising does not lie in passing off ads as content but in creating meaningful value to a brand’s objective through immersive experiences across text, audio, and video, and delivering it to the user who is most likely to be interested in interacting with the brand or solution at that point in time,” he said.
Online publishers also need to factor in the power of mobile platforms when thinking through content distribution, McClelland added. “It’s always been about, even before mobiles were invented, using the right tools and the right medium to convey a particular message to a particular audience,” he said.
Mobile accounted for 60% of Time Internet’s audience in 2015. The company has discovered some interesting insights about its mobile audience along the way. “Mobile users are different in terms of what they want to read, when, and for how long and are geared to take care of these needs,” Gupt said. “Operationally, it means building and managing [news content] for multiple platforms.”
Rewarding Ethical News
Creating immersive and engaging content that’s distributed correctly across devices is not a challenge pertaining only to online publishers. Marketers across the region are similarly looking to overcome these challenges to remain digitally competitive.
One publisher cited for doing it right: Manoramaonline.com, the digital arm of Indian regional daily Malayala Manorama, which has emerged as a fast and flexible content provider.
“Manorama Online has emerged as the convergence hub of Malayala Manorama and all its wings in the digital age, offering a slew of products for PCs, tablets, and mobile,” according to a statement from WAN-IFRA, which recently honored it with a World Digital Media Award for Best News Website of 2016.