When the new normal becomes normal
The right debate is happening now, only in the absolutely worst possible way: What will a return to “normal” look like?
Politics aside, the business leaders I speak to are not only moving beyond triage to look-forward mode, but they’re also contemplating what will emerge from this searing experience that has upended nearly everyone’s lives and the global economy. While there is a camp clinging to the notion that things will spring back to as they were, there is also the more revolutionary side that sees a wholesale reshaping of industries and the social compact. Most pragmatists fall somewhere in the middle. Here’s what I’m hearing are the likely lasting impacts to the media industry.
Advertising as the preferred business model of media is over.
The first trend to accelerate in media is the flight from advertising as the preferred business model. Publishers have found themselves in the position of begging advertisers to run their ads on coronavirus-related content, subject to stringent keyword blocking. Some advertisers, like Bank of America, back up their words about “purpose” with action, but most have not. Integral Ad Science, a leading brand safety provider, has even tried to nudge brands into reconsidering. It published research this week showing that people don’t think less of brands whose ads appear on coronavirus stories. Everyone seems to agree on this except, yes, advertisers.
Advertising will continue to play an important role in publishing, but that role has started to recede — and will recede further. This week, Mark Campbell, CMO at Tribune Publishing, laid out how the newspaper chain that’s home to The Baltimore Sun, Daily News and Orlando Sentinel, is seeing not just a boost in subscriptions but in digital subscription revenue. This will alter their strategy when this crisis eventually recedes. “It will reignite the age-old tension between volume [of audience] and revenue.” In other words, direct revenue will win over theoretical ad dollars tied to scale. And the news industry will be healthier for it.
Subscription models will evolve.
More publishers are finding success with driving subscriptions even as they make most of their coronavirus content freely available. How can that be? Mostly by messaging to readers that support is needed. This is a tricky balance. Passing around the collections basket is a dubious business model, and the current crisis has clearly brought out a feeling of solidarity throughout societies. But as The Guardian’s U.S. and Australia CEO Evelyn Webster told me this week, the approach can support large, ambitious news organizations. Of note: Americans respond better to messages asking for support. She chalks it up to a more charitable nature to Americans, although I still suspect it’s because we rely on private contributions to cover up a patchy welfare safety net.
Companies will rethink their office spaces.
Executives are looking ahead to when they return to their offices. At Hearst, executives have formed a working group to mull over how they will return to the Hearst Tower. Kate Lewis, chief content officer at Hearst …read more