News media companies stared down an “existential crisis without compare” and resiliently passed a “great stress test” during the pandemic to accelerate needed changes to compete in a fast-evolving market, INMA’s two top leaders told the opening of the association’s 91st-Annual World Congress of News Media on Thursday.
INMA President Damian Eales, global head of transformation for News Corp, praised media executives for their work during COVID where subscription models accelerated, trust in media rose, community outreach worked, data and product mindsets advanced, business models diversified, and cultures changed.
Eales suggested the pandemic has helped news media companies “turn the page on some old debates.” Specifically, he spotlighted “moving unabated toward a direct-to-consumer business model supported by data-fueled advertising.”
“Even in our relationship with Big Tech, where there still is a myriad of challenges ahead, the terms of our relationship have turned a corner,” Eales said. “There is much more to do to rebalance the power between content creators and content distributors. But we are hopeful.”
The INMA World Congress is the non-profit association’s signature annual conference and is being held virtually through May 27. Some 340+ delegates from 44 countries registered for the World Congress, featuring modules on strategy, data, advertising, subscriptions, product, and audience development.
In framing the seven-module, 20-hour World Congress of News Media, INMA Executive Director and CEO Earl J. Wilkinson stressed the need to see the “full chess board” for news media. “All is not well in a world where subscriptions solve everything,” said Wilkinson, saying direct-to-consumer revenue is part of a bigger board.
Instead, while media companies have performed better than their worst fears 14 months ago, the business of media remains “tremendously challenged,” Wilkinson said.
Revenues at many news media companies are down by one-third. Many advertisers didn’t survive. Subscription volume is up, but many “subscription-mature” media companies are generating lower ARPU as trial strategies lock in. Employees are under tremendous personal and professional strain. Cost cuts and restructurings are under way. Transformations accelerated, yet cultural traps remain.
Media companies have been resilient under pandemic circumstances and given a “management opportunity of a generation” to accelerate changes, Wilkinson said. Journalism has met “the moment” by confronting agents of misinformation, delivering reliable information in the pandemic, embracing communities in new ways, building trust, and resetting the relationship with readers.
The INMA World Congress will look at the emergence of smart data and empowering workforces to fully use it, the direct-to-consumer subscription revolution, enhancing great journalism with brilliant user experiences, implementing measurable marketing solutions beyond advertising, and the next steps in the relationships with Big Tech platforms.
The remaining six modules of the INMA World Congress will focus on this key question, Wilkinson said: Are media strategies in line with the new environment ahead?
Today’s INMA World Congress module — supported by the Google News Initiative — looked at big trends in news media and featured:
- Karim Lakhani, co-author of Competing In the Age of AI, and Charles Edward Wilson professor of business administration at Harvard Business School, who talked about the implications of digital transformation at the organisational level and where data-centricity and AI fit in. For media, transformation has evolved from the digitisation of products to the digitisation of operating models and how artificial intelligence is a key driver for growth.
- Barbara Kahn, executive director of the Marketing Science Institute and the Patty and Jay H. Baker professor of marketing at the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School, discussed what consumer behaviour changes mean in a post-pandemic world. She covered the importance of context, the convergence of traditional and digital companies, and experiential retail.
- Sam Guzik, contributing author for the Future Today Institute Tech Trends Report, looked strategically at the broader subscription economy and how to create value from personalisation. Combining the two, Guzik asked media executives what an “always-on, contextually relevant news subscription” might look like.
- Ben Monnie, director, global partnerships for Google, provided an overview of the Google News Initiative and the breadth of support for the news industry internationally – notably elevating quality journalism, evolving business models, empowering newsrooms through technological innovation, and engaging the global news community.
The INMA World Congress continues on Tuesday, May 11, with a focus on deploying data to extract opportunities at media companies. Registration remains open, and participants gain access to the livestreams, session recordings, and presentations.