The highlight of a recent event staged by “outstream” video advertising specialist Teads was a panel debate that put a couple of old, established schools of journalism up against one of the bright upstarts, highlighting some interesting differences in attitude in the process. (Outstream means the video ad appears within editorial text content, as opposed to pre-roll video ad appearing before a piece of video content.)
Jeff Perkins, commercial director EMEA at Reuters, laid out the issues the traditional publisher faces when he explained Reuters was set up as an editorially driven business. When he’s pitching new ideas for how it can make money, he told delegates, he has to accept that there are a bunch of journalists who really couldn’t care less, though tellingly, he added: “I have recently started to see the journalists being a bit more interested in what I’m doing.”
Primarily because they realise their future employment largely depends on it.
By contrast, he said, he imagined his co-panelist’s business had been set up as a commercial-first affair. That panelist was Liam Harrington, CEO of Unilad, one the new breed of mobile- and social-first publishers dealing in short, bite-size, easily digestible articles, turned out in vast quantities at great speed.
Harrington concurred, but also admitted to some feelings of envy that Unilad doesn’t have the buzz of an old-school newsroom, like Reuters or the Telegraph, which was also represented on the panel.
“For us, it’s churnalism rather than journalism,” he said. “Let’s see what’s [trending] on the Internet and do that. Speed is so important for us.”
The debate about the relationship between editorial and commercial had been triggered by a question about ad tech, with Perkins responding by complaining about the queue of vendors beating a path to his door.
“We get approached every single day with the next new thing,” he said. “But we’re not looking for more tech. When we do let one of them into the building, we want to know how long it will take to implement and when it will start earning us money. When you start asking those questions, the vendors tend to become a bit less confident.”
Harrington’s approach to ad tech, on the other hand, is much more welcoming. “Ad tech is everything to us,” he said. “In 2017, we will be looking more to the creative side of things, working closer with the ad tech companies to create an engaging experience.”
Another cultural divide was evident when the discussion turned to social media. In particular, Facebook Instant Articles, Apple News, and Google AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages). It was clear Perkins and the third panellist, Paul de la Nougerede, commercial product director at the Telegraph, felt almost as if they no choice but to get involved with these social projects.
“Facebook Instant Articles and Apple News are good places to distribute content, but we are not seeing much money,” Perkins said.
De la Nougerede added: “You do need to be on these platforms, but the monetisation challenge is the bit we all need to crack. We produce fantastic content that Facebook does not have, and they wanted that content on their platform. The commercial terms were pretty rubbish at the start. They have gotten better, but they are still nowhere near good enough.”
By contrast, Harrington said, Unilad’s approach and attitude to these platforms is completely different. “We are a product of social media, so it’s quite natural for us,” he said. “Facebook and Google are the front pages of the Internet; it’s where we go to get our content.”
Which of the two schools — old or new — is in the best position to thrive and prosper in this brave new digital world is a moot point. But it was illuminating to hear first-hand the challenges and opportunities each feels it presents, and also to hear the admiration each had for the other. Not just the old for the new, agile, nimble breed of publisher, but equally the new for the old.
Perhaps the best thing both can do is learn and appropriate from each other. Big, established publishers clearly need to be able to move fast (or faster), try things, and accept failure as an essential part of the process.
Equally, it was reassuring to hear Harrington wrap up his contribution with a final piece of advice: “Look after your audience, keep feeding them with good content, and be honest.”
Which sounds nothing if not positively old school.