U.S. publishers test sharing paywalled content with The Matchup

By Grzegorz Piechota

INMA

Oxford, United Kingdom

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When the season of the National Football League in the United States started on September 10, visitors to a local news site in Illinois could, for the first time, access stories from the paywalled sites in Massachusetts or Florida for free.

It’s a live test of The Matchup, a new initiative by the Local Media Consortium, an alliance of nearly 90 newspapers, broadcasters, and digital media. The initiative is sponsored by Google. 

Effectively, it’s a content sharing programme — a sports fan who subscribes to any member publication gains access to articles published by other members without additional charge.

Members of the LMC believe this initiative will help them compete with the nationwide outlets, such as ESPN or The Athletic, for subscribers and for advertising. This fight requires scale — more content to convert and engage subscribers, and more reach and inventory for advertisers.

“It’s critical for the survival of local news publishers to face the challenges together,” said Mike Orren, chief product officer at The Dallas Morning News, in the interview with INMA.

The math is simple:

  • Members of the LMC produce more than 90% of local sports journalism in the United States.
  • They also have a combined audience of 78 million unique visitors, the third largest behind ESPN and Yahoo.

How The Matchup works 

A user journey that has been tested last weekend looked like this: 

  • A sports fan of Chicago Bears visited its local site, e.g., Shaw Media’s ShawLocal.com.
  • When reading an article about the weekend game, she could see a Matchup-branded widget with a selection of news about other teams, e.g., New England Patriots from Boston.
  • When she clicked on a link, an article from The Boston Herald would pop up in a light box — technically, a Google AMP page — without further authentication to the Herald site, nor a need to subscribe. 

The publishers involved in this exchange agreed to share the value generated by the sports fan visit, as follows:

  • Shaw Local owns the relationship with the reader, the first-party data, and keeps all advertising revenue from its own page.
  • LMC can run extra ads in The Matchup widget; this money helps to fund the initiative.
  • The Boston Herald earns all ad revenue from the AMP page displayed in the light box pop up. 

According to Orren, it took the LMC members two years to think through and negotiate this deal.

How the Matchup is born 

“In my career, I saw many collaboration ideas fail. The key reason was publishers seeking unique terms,” Orren said. Other common obstacles include over-complicating, the search for a “perfect model,” and the focus on a new initiative’s profit rather on benefits to member participants. 

Hence, the Matchup is simple to join and low-cost to run. The set-up utilises existing and standard technology from Google, members’ combined reach and original content produced any way. The LMC ownership guarantees the focus on delivering benefits to the members. Last but not least, the Matchup starts small with the live tests and plans to learn fast.

In the next phase, sometime in 2021, the LMC plans to launch a national sports news aggregation site at TheMatchup.com as an extra benefit for local subscribers and a funding source for the initiative. 

Interested in how local news publishers can compete with national or global brands? Read the summary of the INMA meet-up with Mike Orren, Pal Nedregotten of Amedia, and Tony Haile of Scroll. Or watch the recording.

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