Two days out at the Digital Media Strategies conference (organized by The Media Briefing Team) was a breath of fresh air. For one thing Rory Brown and Neil Thackray, and their Editor, Patrick Smith, have now tuned the programme and its marketing to the point where they get 220 delegates in one place with a great sense of mission. Then again, this is a variegated audience – C-suite in places, but also real functional managers with something to learn and share – as I found out in the two Roundtables that I moderated. And in a vast hotel on a traffic island in Westminster, the fresh air of London in February at half-term braced your entrances and exits: drink cans and paper bags fly at head height on the South Bank’s bleakly resculptured walkways.

Inside nothing flew other than the odd insult, but the attendees found absorbing quality. Let me however check an initial prejudice in at the cloakroom. I did not attend the advertising-related streams, given that the advertising-related panels gave me a distinct feeling of doom. The title of this piece relates to the current conviction that a “viewable impression” occurs when up to 50% of an advertisement is viewed for a second. Here is the language of madness: if advertising is designed to bring buyer and seller together then what we are doing online is an endgame for screen space, simply stretching the print model to extinction because we adare not change it online. With rates falling catastrophically and inventory unsold, digital advertising will never be what its proponents want it to be, and I watched fascinated by the lemming-like intensity with which audiences concentrated on how to get things right and make the model work. I believe the answers lie in social media, and are now close at hand, but a lot more magazines have to go over the lemming leap before we get there.

But elsewhere there was sweetness and light, and it was Nick Gee, Mobile Director at Trader Media (AutoTrader) who really got me going. This is AaaS – Advertising as a Service – if I may coin a usage, and I was not surprized to hear that mobile has moved from 7 to 15% of all usage of the car-advertising service in a year without cannibalization. Or that people like Nissan and Toyota are now prepared to sponsor the iPad edition for month at a time. Here is advertising that readily goes social, and results in paid-for premium upgrades to get instant used vehicle histories. They have even developed on online magazine (Ignition) which also cross-references to the search capacity; easier to build the magazine once you have a paying audience for other services. This was a story of single platform and data – driven development – data integration lies at the heart of this success. And motor dealers can even get a smartphone app to do quick uploads! But there is the rub: as non-executive chairman of Fish4 years ago I competed with these guys and knew how brilliant they were at getting into dealerships, supplying inventory software and edging my newspaper clients out. However, now this market goes social – why does the seller need a dealer? Increasingly AutoTrader will experience the tensions between its old affiliation to the real world market structure and its new audience, who will expect to find their vehicle history online, a price check, a warranty from an insurer or a repair shop, and to be able to view images and video of the vehicle to complete online purchasing. Financing commissions on these deals may well be the future, but what do you do with those loyal dealers as they see the market peeling away from them, led by the service that they once enabled?

No such doubts assailed me as I listened to Emma Fulton, from audience measurement at News International. “We really strive to have direct relationships with users, not via intermediaries, and luckily the majority of our users come directly”. But there are only 300,000 of them, the churn remains undisclosed, and while 56% are direct, I would be worried by Apple owning 18% of them – and the rest being unresolved triallists. Nothing here which demonstrates the place of The Times or the Sun in the digital galaxy. As with Raju Narisetti, who runs digital for the Wall Street Journal and who spoke earlier in the day, there was a surprising absence of discussion beyond the old print format online. Just a word on personalization would have offered contradiction to the thought that the News Corp interests are heading for the great Digital Museum in the Clouds!

And yet there was much to be learned from Nick Blunden, not quite the Chief Digital Officer at the Economist but almost! First came the shock: people do read the words in the Economist and it is not just a business coffee table medium for selling Swiss watches and expensive cars. Print subs have risen to £1.5 m and there are 650k online readers. Unbundling has worked brilliantly in the US to get a premium price for print plus online, and 60% of users now opt for this. Then it was refreshing to hear talk of audio – a very neglected medium – and learn that Economist Radio handles 1.5 m monthly streams. But still I kept coming back to the idea that the Economist’s ability to fillet an issue and allow an online catch-up had a Wikipedia-like quality when found in an interrogation – type context. Clearly the Economist are a long way from using their content in this way – but if they attached their source references to the articles they would create a very considerable value.

Tomorrow I will tackle Day 2 of a very interesting mixed media conference.


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  1. P U B L I S H I N G » Blog Archive » Viewable Impressions I on February 22, 2013 16:53

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