The Rundown: Media resolutions for 2018

This is the last Rundown for the year, and we’re trying something different. We’re featuring our own resolutions for the media industry in 2018. We’re looking forward to seeing you next year when we take the wraps off a new Digiday+ site experience and welcome our new managing director for Digiday+.

Stop blaming the duopoly.
Yes, Google and Facebook are taking most of the growth in digital advertising. (I’m bracing for the “Yo @bmorrissey” tweet from DCN chief and duopoly fighter Jason Kint.) Bryan Goldberg, Bustle’s CEO, joined the Digiday Podcast to talk about how publishers need to get over this. The same message came from Washington Post CRO Jed Hartman at our Digiday Publishing Summit Europe in Berlin this fall. The duopoly isn’t going anywhere; it’s time publishers adapt — and learn to play offense, as Bloomberg Media CEO Justin Smith said this week. — Brian Morrissey

Pivot to loyalty.
Nieman Lab has a great series of dozens of 2018 predictions from industry leaders. One of the best comes from Sarah Marshall, head of audience growth at Vogue International, who urges “loyalty as the key performance indicator.” For all the talks of pivots and paywalls, media has not fundamentally changed. Success comes down to differentiation that attracts a loyal audience — and then a business model that makes money a bunch of different ways. — Brian Morrissey

Don’t treat ‘video’ as a strategy.
Video is hard. Video is expensive. And it’s time most companies realize that they do not belong in the video business. It’s one thing to use Facebook and Instagram as engagement or branding tools — and doing short-form news-feed clips makes sense in this context — but real success in video requires a real investment in dollars, manpower and other resources. Often, this means being part of a bigger video business — Awesomeness and Comcast/NBCUniversal or Bleacher Report and Turner, for instance — to really make video work. Otherwise, publishers should treat video as one of many revenue-generating products, or avoid it entirely. — Sahil Patel

Stand up to platforms.
Yes, Facebook holds disproportionate power. But as Smith points out, this is not an inevitability that will continue in perpetuity. Publishers can’t ignore platforms, but it doesn’t mean they need to jump at every new platform initiative. 2017 was the year Facebook’s always shifting priorities consistently burned publishers. In 2018, it would serve media well to sit some out and use platforms only when they can further publishers’ own strategies. Too often, publishers have given over their strategies to platforms. — Brian Morrissey

Seek reader support.
2018 will be the year of paid content. Publishers got hammered in 2017, as Facebook and Google sucked up most of the digital ad growth, and video ad dollars didn’t move fast enough to match publishers’ pivot-to-video ambitions. Publishers that staked their futures on a digital ad model have now found religion, that being the diversified revenue model, which will lead to a lot of reader-paid products. A lot of these will likely fail. There is too much editorial content out there that is undifferentiated, unmemorable and unessential to convince people to pay. Consider The New York Times — it’s one of the most successful examples of a reader-driven publisher, and only around 2 percent of its readers pay. Publishers will need specialized skills as Time Inc. and Condé Nast have done and a more humble approach if they’re going to be successful in converting people to pay. — Lucia Moses

If you’re going to make shows, make real shows.
Just because Facebook wants shows doesn’t mean you can build up a X-person entertainment team that can successfully make good — and the key word here is “good” — shows. Most of it is going to be crap, forgettable unscripted formats. If you’re really serious about your entertainment ambitions, then make something others want to write reviews and articles about the next day. In conversations with many entertainment studios in Los Angeles in recent months, they said they’re focused on making hit shows, not ad revenue they could earn by making a food and travel show starring X Instagram influencer. (It’s also the format they mock the most.) — Sahil Patel

Look beyond ads.
Everyone wants to diversify — and by diversify, they mean be less dependent on ad revenue. Rooster Teeth — an Austin,Texas-based digital studio that many people in media don’t know about but employs well over 300 people and is profitable — is a great model for this. Advertising accounts for only 31 percent of its revenue; other revenue streams include live events (8 percent), licensed studio production (14 percent), merch (20 percent) and subscriptions/content royalties (25 percent). That looks like a brand that people care about. — Sahil Patel

Don’t repeat the mistakes of video pivots.
There’s also going to be a rush to e-commerce revenue. But as with video, there will be publishers chasing commerce dollars by slapping up deals-based posts and thinking that will have a transformative effect on the business. The companies that have done this well, like the former Gawker Media sites, Ziff Davis and Wirecutter, have well-honed editorial approaches that foster reader trust and editorial starting points that give them license with readers to make product recommendations. Those aren’t things any given lifestyle publication can easily replicate. — Lucia Moses

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