Two news media companies shared their initiates using Artificial Intelligence to drive reader revenue opportunities at the European News Media Conference in Amsterdam on Thursday.

At Switzerland’s Ringier, an AI-powered ecosystem gives the company a better understanding of its customers’ interests. Ringier’s competition is not other news media companies in the country, said Isabelle Kovacsovics, the company’s project manager for chief technology and data office. Rather, the company’s competition is other major media players on a global scale, like Alphabet, Facebook, and Comcast.

Isabelle Kovacsovics explained how Ringier uses Artificial Intelligence for content profiling.
Isabelle Kovacsovics explained how Ringier uses Artificial Intelligence for content profiling.

“What they all have in common: They’re all building ecosystems, and they all have a platform approach,” Kovacsovics said. 

Ringier realised it was impossible to ignore them, compete with them, or give up, she said, so the logical next step was for the company to build its own ecosystem: “To bring it all together, we need to build a technology and data platform and take back control of our data.” 

This ecosystem would connect its content and marketplace businesses, as well as give the company control of its data. A layered approach to technology allows Ringier to focus on engagement, differentiation, and records. Differentiation is the category that links them together and offers the company the greatest opportunity to grow its audience and revenue.

By using AI to power content profiling, Ringier can analyse all content and reorganise it based on connections revealed in the process. The system also tracks, segments, and clusters readers based on interests. Kovacsovics said this facilitates personalisation on the same level as big media players: “Like Facebook and Google, they’re doing it all the way along. And our consumer is more demanding on personalisation, on recommendation.”

Micro-targeting of “look-alike” customers can also be applied to e-commerce products. For event ticket sales, Ringier can suggest potential events for people who have similar profiles to other buyers. The company has seen up to 40% uplifts on click-through rates, Kovacsovics said. “So then it’s not only about sales,” she said. “It’s also about efficiency.”

Where Ringier aims to improve its internal ecosystem with AI, Germany’s Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) is taking a more customer-facing approach. With funding from Google, the “F9” initiative at FAZ aims to foster brand loyalty by enhancing the customer experience with its products said Nico Wilfer, the company’s deputy chief digital officer.

The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung team is harnessing Artificial Intelligence to bolster personalisation, said Nico Wilfer.
The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung team is harnessing Artificial Intelligence to bolster personalisation, said Nico Wilfer.

By using machine learning to power personalisation, FAZ aims to address the predicted end to its current subscription model. Priced at €49 per month, it has one of the highest news subscription prices in Europe. Wilfer said personalisation can provide users  a clearer understanding of the brand’s value. It’s important individual users know in the digital space what the benefits are of our brand and content, he added.

Developing a personalisation strategy driven by AI gave FAZ a better understanding of its users as individuals. In the past, the company would make content recommendations based on the average user, often suggesting the most popular articles. “We couldn’t show content related to the individual users, and that goes with marketing and so on,” Wilfer said.

With its F9 project, FAZ uses Big Data and machine learning for automated analysis to create a personal experience. The faz.net app, launched in April 2018, is the first integration of content personalisation functionality.

So far, the results have been encouraging. FAZ saw a 77% uplift in registrations in the first three months, as well as a 119% increase in average time spent with content.

In the future, Wilfer said a goal for the initiative is to offer a pared down selection of content for users who may not have time to read all of the daily news, therefore increasing the brand’s value to a subscriber. The company’s offering is expensive, he said, and by becoming more useful to subscribers, FAZ can reduce churn.

The coming iterations will continue to explore the potential of personalisation, but this first phase proves the power AI holds in creating a better user experience, Wilber said: “We think after having the app in the market for five months now that integrating AI into journalistic products can increase relevance and user satisfaction.”