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News industry revolution must begin with evolution

15 May 2013 · By Otto Sjöberg

Just as plants and animals (and gold prospectors) adapted to the extreme environment of Death Valley, the news industry must now evolve so it can live and thrive in a world dominated by Silicon Valley. Video might be the place to start.

Our business and every business has to walk through the valley of death in order to succeed.

As I reflect on the recent INMA World Congress and try to get some perspective on the state of the news media industry, the words of New York Times chairman and publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. echo in my head.

The quote, however, is from a keynote Sulzberger delivered at a conference in 1999!

If you ever have visited Death Valley, you know he was talking about a rough route. Located near the border of California and Nevada, it is the hottest and driest place in North America, where the hottest air temperature on earth has been recorded (134 degrees Fahrenheit/57 degeees Celsius).

Death Valley got its name in 1849 during the Gold Rush by prospectors who had to cross the area in their pursuit of the golden dream. Some of them died there.

In one of the world’s most extreme environments, where most traditional species perish, a new breed of desert dwellers rose to supremacy. Much like in the digital landscape.

Some 14 years later, Sulzberger’s words seem almost prophetic. But just as animals and plants appear to do everything in their power to survive the extreme conditions of Death Valley, traditional media companies also adapt to the extreme conditions of a world ruled by Silicon Valley.

As Earl Wilkinson, executive director and CEO of INMA, put it in his closing presentation of the 2013 World Congress: “The mood of the news industry is different than four years ago, when media leaders felt desperate and ready to hit rock bottom. Today, they’re anxious and hungry.”

This was manifest by a breeze of fresh air and opportunity from the North, when Anna Rastner, editor of digital content at Expressen in Sweden, and Espen Egil Hansen, executive editor of Verdens Gang (VG) in Norway, took the stage.

The two major Scandinavian dailies each presented a strong case of how video is being integrated as a core element of their news organisations. Rightfully so.

Video — online and mobile — is growing exponentially. In 2011, video exceeded half (51%) of the global consumer Internet traffic for the first time. Just one year later, by the end of 2012, mobile video reached 51% of mobile traffic.

You could say that it took roughly 15 years (from the mid-’90s) for online video to become the major part of Internet traffic. Whereas it took a mere five years A.i. (Anno iPhone) for mobile video to exceed 50%.

By 2017, two-thirds of mobile data traffic will be video, a 16-fold increase between 2012 and 2017. In a couple of years, 1.2 million minutes of video content will cross the network — every second!

“We come from a tradition where we write articles, but this is changing now,” Espen Egil Hansen said.

He stressed the importance of using video to develop stronger storytelling.

“Text and video, together, is more effective than text or video,” he concluded.

Anna Rastner, during her presentation, advocated to go all out: “Train all your newspaper reporters and photographers to do video,” she said.

Bottom line — and I would say the most important takeaway from the INMA World Congress — is a new, aggressive approach. We live in disruptive times, so let’s be disruptive — to someone else.

Traditional broadcasters — news, in particular — are next in line to be hit by the “digital tornado,” as Dan Schulman of American Express calls it.

“It lands on your industry. It sucks everything up, it spits it out, and redefines the landscape,” Schulman said. “New players come in, new business models come in.”

If traditional newspapers can take a chunk out of traditional broadcasting revenues going mobile, it will certainly be beneficial to the bottom line. Mark Challinor, newly elected vice president of INMA, put it this way: “Video on mobile will be our biggest revenue opportunity in the next few years.”

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As news increasingly goes mobile, this blog’s mission is to be the worldwide reference guide to growing and engaging news audiences via mobile devices and tablets; attracting mobile revenue via advertising, sponsorship, and subscriptions; and owning the market for mobile news.

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