Need for speed drives consumer relationship with digital content

By Michael Beach

Seven West Media WA

Perth, Australia


Mark Zuckerberg was only 2 years old when Tom Cruise predicted the future 30 years ago.

Back then, Tim Berners-Lee was still three years away from inventing the World Wide Web.

And Rupert Murdoch was in the thick of revolutionising the United Kingdom’s printing business at Wapping.

In that typical swaggering way before his Oprah couch-jumping days, Cruise foresaw the inevitable point where Facebook, the Web, and media companies would meet.

“I feel the need … the need for speed!” Cruise said in the 1986 blockbuster movie Top Gun.

I thought about Cruise’s famous scene while reading the excellent INMA report from Gregorz “Greg” Piechota.

Piechota could do with a Hollywood scriptwriter to sharpen up the title of his reports. “Evaluating Distributed Content in the News Media Ecosystem” sure ain’t as catchy as Top Gun.

But don’t judge a book by its cover because there is much to dive into within its pages. (And keep reading for my absolute favourite paragraph in his report.)

Before I get into some of Piechota’s observations, bear with me for a few more Cruise-inspired analogies about Top Gun and the modern media business.

Firstly, then 23-year-old Cruise had already figured out the elusive business concept that a single person or brand was capable of reaching and connecting a global audience. Zuckerberg took that idea to a whole new level.

Also, Top Gun was built around the brute power and flexibility of a single platform or ecosystem, just like Facebook.

In the movie, that platform was the USS Enterprise — an enormous beast of an aircraft carrier launching swarms of hornets to conquer enemies while sending a clear message to the world about who was in charge.

But, as Cruise wisely observed, you need both a fantastic platform and speed. And they need to work together seamlessly.

For me, speed is a critical issue that drives so much modern digital consumer behaviour. Media Web sites are, as a general rule, appallingly slow in a world where busy readers want everything instantly.

News Web sites are often clunky and chock full of slow-loading bits and pieces. So who could blame a reader for moving onto something faster?

Here’s how Greg saw the issue in his report:

“Web site performance matters, and in mobile, every second counts,” he writes.

“Gomez, a Web performance company, analysed page-abandonment data across more than 150 Web sites and 150 million pageviews. It found that the average user expects pages to load in two seconds or less. After three seconds, up to 40% of users abandon the site.”

Hands up: Does anyone have a Web site that loads in two seconds?

“Part of the problem may be the bad experiences that many users have when accessing mobile news sites,’’ Greg continues.

“When The New York Times measured the mobile home pages of the top 50 news Web sites in the United States, it found that more than half of all data came from ads and other content filtered by adblockers.

“The slowest home page in the study was, averaging 39 seconds to load on a very fast 4G connection, including 31 seconds just to load ads. The fastest mobile Web site, USA Today, loaded in less than three seconds, including less than a second for ads.”

That’s quite an ask for people on a mobile device looking for a quick news fix.

It’s no wonder, with the exponential rise of mobile use and video consumption, that most people are being drawn to apps that load fast.

We all know the figures about people having 20-odd apps on their phone but spending 80% of their time on just few.

And the big daddy of apps, of course, is Facebook.

Facebook, along with Google and others, have been courting media companies for some time now because their users want news content and they need to keep them happy. I’ve written in the past about this awkward courtship that is now in full swing via slick initiatives such as Instant Articles.

So far, Facebook is still holding most of the cards, cash, and data. Its revenue was US$5.38 billion in the first quarter of 2016, but media companies are yet to see a dramatic revenue shift matching their increasing audiences and engagement on the Facebook platform.

Piechota argues strongly that publishers need to figure out their end game with the platforms. Easier said than done, obviously, because the ground is constantly shifting.

He agrees there is no one-size-fits-all strategy, but suggests companies focus on one or a mix of the following three strategies:

  • An omni-channel presence that prioritises growth and pursues a distributed content strategy.

  • An exclusive relationship that prioritises control over growth and engages platforms for content marketing.

  • A digital laboratory that prioritises learning through experimentation, with little impact on the company’s main business model and strategy.

I thoroughly recommend you pulling apart Piechota’s report to take the bits you need. It has been compiled with care and a sharp eye for detail.

And my favourite paragraph? Definitely this one:

“In Poland, we have a proverb: When someone tells you that you’re drunk, she might be wrong. When three different people tell you, you’d better shut up and go to bed.”

And what the hell does that mean?

I’ll let Piechota wrap it up with his explanation of this Polish drinking logic:

“Can we stop discussing in our newsrooms whether every reporter should be on Facebook or Twitter, and move the debate on social media to the boardroom?

“Digital platforms — social networks and messaging apps — can no longer be geeky novelties in media houses, the concern only of the newsroom, or just another promotional channel for our marketing department.

“For a growing part of the news audience, platforms have become the Internet. Social media strategy is becoming the digital strategy.

“And by the way, throwing news content on platforms without an end game — an idea of what we want to achieve and what the win looks like — is not a strategy.”

About Michael Beach

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