4 news media companies share personalisation best practices

By Marek Miller


Lodz, Poland


Personalisation might be the biggest buzzword in the industry this year. Many talk about it, many are attempting it, some have already achieved success, as industry leaders learned at the INMA European News Media Conference in Oslo.

Four innovative publishers —Axel Springer, De Persgroep, NZZ, and Financial Times — presented their personalised news product success stories at the event.

Panel on personalisation at INMA European News Media Conference: Jan-Eric Peters, deputy CEO/chief product officer and editor-in-chief of Axel Springer; Tamara De Bruecker, chief marketing officer of De Persgroep; Rouven Leuener, head of product development at NZZ; and James Webb, group product manager from Financial Times.
Panel on personalisation at INMA European News Media Conference: Jan-Eric Peters, deputy CEO/chief product officer and editor-in-chief of Axel Springer; Tamara De Bruecker, chief marketing officer of De Persgroep; Rouven Leuener, head of product development at NZZ; and James Webb, group product manager from Financial Times.

Upday aggregates and curates personalised news

Axel Springer’s Upday, a personalised mobile news app, is a unique combination of professional journalism and Artificial Intelligence (AI). It delivers “all the news you need to know,” curated by journalists in eight editorial hubs across Europe; and tells “every story you want to know,” based on user interests and chosen by algorithms, explained Jan-Eric Peters, deputy CEO/chief product officer and editor-in-chief of Axel Springer.

Upday also is a publisher’s platform that aggregates content from more than 3,500 media sources. Launched only 18 months ago exclusively for Samsung (it’s unavailable on other Android or iOS devices), Upday now reaches 15 million users in 16 European countries. They swipe more than three billion pages a month. 

Upday has become the biggest news app in Europe since its launch, Peters said. Upday is all about having all the news in one place — top news, breaking news, etc. — about 30 stories per day curated by real journalists employed at all eight hubs.

Since the news is all double-checked there is no space for fake news. Apart from the articles prepared by Upday journalists, it also includes “My News,” a section with more than 3,500 sources.

Here's why Upday is so special:

  • A journalistic approach. No other news aggregator is doing such work with a balanced combination of humans and machines.
  • It’s a publisher platform, directly linking to publisher sites and driving traffic there. Publishers get five million visits per day from Upday.
  • It’s easy to use.

The engagement is driven by push notifications and in-app messages. Upday also experiments with targeted pushes, according to preferences. Personalisation is accomplished with active filtering, blacklisting, feedback from users, and shares. Upday is growing rapidly, and the average user spends more than five minutes daily.

“Topics” packs more titles, relevance, and value into subscriptions

Tamara De Bruecker, chief marketing officer of De Persgroep, spoke about Topics, an innovative digital news concept for subscribers of their 13 news brands. Topics gives subscribers the access that allows them to search and follow favourite topics not only from their newspaper, but from the 12 others De Persgroep publishes, as well.

Launched in June 2016 to subscribers in Belgium and the Netherlands, Topics was created to engage subscribers and give them more value for their money, and, in the long term, to reduce churn.

Topics was born after analysing why readers pay for news and info. The main reasons De Bruecker offered are:

  • High quality.
  • Trusted guide.
  • Deep insight.
  • Endless inspiration.

De Persgroep’s audience can find all of these across its 13 brands, and in content prepared by its 2,000 journalists. So the publisher decided to re-package the group's offerings with Topics to create a new value proposition for subscribers, De Bruecker said.

This personalised news offering includes about 80,000 topics for its subscribers, selected by software and an algorithm that are updated daily. Readers also get a daily personalised newsletter with articles chosen and handcrafted by the editorial team.

One year after launch, 94% of Topics readers say it adds a real value to their subscription, De Bruecker said. They use it because it offers:

  1. Access. To more varied newspaper sources.
  2. Relevance. Since it only includes topics of interest.
  3. Convenience. Everything is available in one place.

NZZ embraces AI to improve user experience, attract new readers

Rouven Leuener, head of product development at NZZ, described a Google Digital News Initiative-funded project that helps readers find relevant news with less effort.

NZZ is working on an AI-based mobile application, NZZ Companion App, that can be used to contextualise and personalise news delivery. This app provides different newscasts at different times of each day and week. The companion app is a section of NZZ’s main app.

NZZ is combining editorial depth with an algorithm to deliver readers a stream of personalised content based on location, interest, and situation. The app also is being designed to include the “serendipity effect” readers enjoy when they are delighted to stumble on unexpected content they might not search for themselves, Leuener said. 

It’s algorithmic curation is based on:

  • Crowd score (most read, most liked, most shared).
  • User interest (usage history, time based, contextual).
  • Editorial score (listings, position, timing).

A lot of beta-testing was conducted, as the app is completely user-centered. Four hundred people tested it in over five months. At the start, it contained 25 articles from the past 48 hours (that two-day span is important in case somebody misses something) and eventually they added evening and weekend reading lists with between three and 10 articles very specific to the interests of the reader. These are offered either as an evening wrap-up or in longer forms on weekends.

MyFT customises and personalises daily content    

James Webb, group product manager from Financial Times, discussed the success of myFT, a subscriber-only service designed to save readers time in getting to the content that matters most, largely by improving the off­–site alerts experience. FT’s strategic focus is divided between customisation (70%) and personalisation (30%).

Usage of myFT has grown dramatically since its launch, Webb said. In 2016, myFT was used by only 2% of users. In 2017, it’s already risen to 28%. What readers get from myFT, according to Webb:

  • News they want.
  • Control over the way they receive it.
  • The ability to share it comfortably.

This service has been an answer to several problems and challenges Financial Times faced in 2015, including:

  • A vast number of legacy products needing change.
  • A need to simplify and amplify content.
  • Multiple e-mail vendors with variable data quality and performance visibility.
  • Many users saying they were overflooded with e-mails.

The myFT solution is fast, scalable, and very cheap — and it means readers get a consolidated topic digest daily. The daily digest is now sent to 300,000 users. Early indications of its success are very promising, with more articles being read on myFT than any other source Webb said. Off–site users read more with each visit than on–site users, and 80% of the value comes just from three sources:

  1. Daily digest.
  2. Instant alerts.
  3. Home page.

About Marek Miller

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