I’ve worked with a varied bunch of media organisations over the last decade: The Times, The Sun, The Telegraph, All3Media and Bauer Media. I even built a Kate & Wills Royal Wedding companion app for HELLO! Magazine (what do you mean you missed it?). But I’ve seen more innovation and experimentation in the media industry over the last 18 months than the decade that came before.
The pandemic required TV, radio and news organisations to find new ways of remaking existing products or creating entirely new ones in the face of radically changed demand. It also accelerated changes already afoot.
Below I dig into some of these innovations and ask what happens next. I explore three interesting areas of rapid change: the leap forward in engaging in-home experiences, how organisations have been experimenting, and the explosion of niche and focussed content. I share a few examples of impressive media industry innovations and suggest ways technology leaders in media organisations can learn and benefit from them.
#1 Big leaps forward in engaging in-home experiences
With gig venues closed and everyone confined to their homes, the last 18 months saw rapid innovation in at-home experiences. Musicians streamed concerts low-fi on Facebook Live. They experimented with new formats. The most effective shows did more than point a camera at a piano, of course. Tim Minchin’s streamed album preview looked more like a Netflix doc than a record-at-home gig with six cameras and a rich production.
“I’ve been thinking a lot about how to make live entertainment in this no-live-entertainment world, and how to make a virtue of the restrictions placed on us as artists. We have a fantastic opportunity to make a new style of “live” concerts. I want to bring the audience into the room with us... to be completely inside the experience.” Tim Minchin
Rolling Stone magazine described Billie Eilish’s virtual concert as “the Rare Livestream Done Right”. The singer’s “Where Do We Go? The Livestream” show aired in October 2020 from a stage enhanced by moody, immersive visuals and XR effects that punched up the ambitions of pay-per-view music. It felt like a music video on steroids.
Our own work with KISS and Absolute Radio aimed to retain the excitement and social elements of live events when streamed through their apps and websites. We lent on native mobile features to create interactive concepts: shake your phone to share love with the performer; or send the host an audio voice note.
Keeping it going
- These new immersive formats demonstrate ingenuity and create an opportunity for incredible creativity. They extend reach and provide access to those who might not have it otherwise. How are you bringing these formats into your permanent proposition?
- Don’t replicate old concepts in new mediums; the most compelling experiences take advantage of HD, mobile and VR-native behaviours. How are you experimenting with new technologies?
#2 An explosion of niche and focussed offerings
Five years ago we used to say “there’s an app for that”, the new version is surely now “there’s a podcast for that”. Podcasts lent themselves to lockdown life. But behind this is a general trend towards content and formats which are tightly targeted at specific audiences.
Platforms like Patreon and Substack have made it possible for content-creators with passions for specific topics to find their crowd and make serious money from them. The top 10 authors on Substack collectively make over $20 million per year. Substack’s paid subscribers grew from 25,000 in October 2018 to over half a million by February this year. Business, culture and news-based newsletters have grown to hundreds of thousands of subscribers. Digital sports publication The Athletic has well over 1 million paying subscriptions.
We’re also seeing a rejuvenation of local news and industry-focussed news. In our work with the University of Exeter and a Government education body we’ve seen the rising importance of the higher education newsletter WonkHE.
Keeping it going
- There’s a clear shift from reach through breadth to reach through depth. Platforms that give newsletters, audio and video a global audience create new opportunities to monetise niche content. How are you enabling your creators to go deep on their passions?
- The rise of the ‘passion economy’ or ‘creator economy’ will make new winners and losers, putting a renewed focus on creative talent. Do your products support and foster creators and communities?
#3 Lean experimentation en-masse
With collapsing advertising revenues throughout the pandemic, media organisations were forced to innovate on the cheap. Organisations discovered ways to do things differently without huge outlays. The crisis emboldened managers to move faster and to try out new ideas and new approaches too.
Early in the pandemic, CNN launched its coronavirus podcast in just a few days – a process that might previously have required months of analysis and a long series of meetings. Confronted with a tremendous surge in misinformation in the wake of COVID-19, news organisations such as the BBC, The Financial Times and The Wall Street Journal partnered with fact-checkers to rapidly spin up an automated fact checking network to debunk ‘fake news’ on a massive scale.
Loomery client Bauer Media has been doing their own tinkering with models and formats: launching their first premium ad-free product, where you pay to hear songs in place of ads, and launching 'multi-stream' radio, where listeners can pick from 10 different music streams but hear the same radio host and conversation in between songs.
Buoyed by the runaway success of subscription service Disney Plus, Disney has been experimenting with NFTs, joining the crypto craze by releasing digital collectibles of their most popular characters. Whilst this is clearly a promotional activity for now, could we see this experiment lead to tokenised Disney-verse?
Keeping it going
- Forcing yourself to go low-fi and move quickly can actually be a helpful constraint for focussing innovation. What proposition is stuck at the idea stage?
- Get your team set up to pivot fast. Being responsive and reactive is fundamental in a period of uncertainty and rapid change. What’s a version of your idea you could ship next month?
Loomery is a faster path to product progress. We deliver trusted teams, when you need them. Our community of expert makers, remote teaming approach and flexible partnership model mean we can demonstrate progress on your priorities next week, not next year.