“Innovation only happens if you are pissed off…it has to be driven by a passion for fixing something.”
That’s the view of David Payne, SVP and Chief Digital Officer at Gannett Company, explaining what spurred him to take on the risk of completely revamping USA Today’s digital presence.
Payne talked about that overhaul, as well as a range of issues facing the digital media industry, as a keynote speaker at the inaugural Chief Digital Officer Summit at Thomson Reuters World headquarters in New York City in February 2013.
A one-on-one conversation was moderated between Payne and Riley McDonough, former SVP/GM Americas, Consumer Publishing, Thomson Reuters.
What we did, Payne said, “was scary for a lot of people.” But after determining that the current business models for digital journalism were simply not sustainable, his approach was to “get serious about this and do something differently.”
So what precisely did Payne do?
The entire digital platform was completely overhauled. “Over the last 18 months,” Payne explained, “we moved all of Gannett from seven ad servers to one; moved USA Today and all of Gannett to one home-grown content management system; built one video production center in Atlanta; centralized video and leveraged the rights; and built one set of databases supporting the website.”
He played a video to demonstrate what the new USA Today site looks like, and the audience could see a user clicking and flipping through the newspaper’s section pages, from left to right. Each page displayed a large and compelling picture, along with rows of boxes of images and videos that could be selected and viewed. Native advertisements were presented directly on the same canvas of pages.
That strategy of embedding advertising as part of the content is a key reason “we are at the cutting edge,” said Payne.
In the past, he explained, the way digital media advertising worked was “We deliver a page, put a box on it, and ask people to click on it.” And the reader clicks “once, maybe twice” out of a thousand times. But now “1,000 out of 1,000” people see that advertisement “baked into the context.”
Furthermore, because readers don’t want to click on an ad and be taken somewhere else, the new platform allows the visitor to remain right within the content page.
Yet is it possible to measure the results of this huge initiative?
Yes. Over the last three months, Payne said, the effective CPM rate doubled.
McDonough wondered whether Gannett’s success could be replicated in smaller and medium-size media operations.
Payne acknowledged that Gannett was in a fortunate position. To pull this off, it had to find top developers, and have them available in-house.
Furthermore, although “everyone is a digital media company now, since companies like Staples, HBO, and GE are all building out sites, they have a problem— how to attract visitors?”
USA Today, Payne said, has millions of people coming to its site frequently throughout the day.
Payne also spoke about several broader issues facing the media industry: how newspapers can continue to serve local interests; the role of citizen journalism; and selling custom vs. traditional ads.
He also addressed the still-contentious matter of free as opposed to fee access.
“The calibration between free and fee,” Payne said, “has not yet gotten to the exact right place.” At present, Payne said, “It’s a mess.” The problem is that consumers don’t really understand the tradeoff. So, he added, we’re “looking for more creative solutions where the consumer makes a clear trade, saying, ‘I want that’ and ‘I’ll give that.’
“If we can do this in a transparent way,” Payne told the audience, “it will be really, really interesting. This is a work-in-progress!”
– by Robert Berkman, exclusively for the CDO Club
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The second annual Chief Digital Officer Summit will be held on April 22–23, 2014, at Time Warner’s Conference Center, located at One Time Warner Center in New York, N.Y.
Tickets to the next CDO Summit are available now. The 2013 Chief Digital Officer Summit SOLD OUT of tickets, weeks before the summit date, so be sure to reserve your place now.
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