DMA: Into the sandpit and making money in the process

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Digital Media Asia brought facts and figures, bots from billionaires, machine learning and monetization to its opening day in Singapore.

Late joiner to the programme Reuters came mob-handed with global head of product Sue Brooks joined by Rasmus Neilsen and Francis Lee for a discussion of the new Reuters Institute Digital News Report, while WAN-Ifra chief operating officer Thomas Jacob presented local elements from the organiser's World Press Trends report.

Neilsen, who is research director of the Reuters Institute for Study of Journalism at Oxford University, and Lee, who is director of the School of Journalism and Communications at Hong Kong's Chinese University, later discussed some of the industry's inescapable truths, among them that print advertising is declining faster than it is being replaced by digital revenue.

Jacob described this as the time of 'stories as a service', with the audience at the centre and the use of AI and analytics to understand it.

Global advertising revenue peaked at US$68 billion in 2013 and has declined substantially since, while digital revenue is growing at 5.4 percent. The duopoly of Facebook and Google is creaming off 64 per cent of all revenue and 89 per cent of advertising, and Jacob reviewed strategies to counteract this including programmatic collaborations, boosting reader conversion rates to form bigger communities of "loyal readers" and above all, focussing on innovation.

A relatively new finding is that younger readers will pay for news if they trust its source, although young people showed the least trust.

Sue Brooks's message was to "get into the sandpit", claiming that it has never been easier to experiment to meet emerging realities. Live-streaming and voice- activated technologies are among the opportunities with Brooks quoting a forecast that 60 per cent of all interactions will be voice by 2020 and citing Condé Nast's move into the medium with 'Talk to Vogue'.

"Creating once and publishing everywhere no longer works, you have to be adaptable at creating for each platform and start experimenting with pay models - get into the sandpit as quickly as you can," she said.

And with Asia slow to get the "paying culture", Francis Lee urged early work on strategies, with national conditions in each country affecting consumer trust: "It is an ongoing dynamic, and affected by the media's reaction to dealing with fake news," he said.

A highlight of the morning was contributions from two people who work for millionaire publishers, Gary Liu who joined Jack Ma's South China Morning Post as chief executive of at the start of this year, and Shailesh Prakash, chief information officer of Amazon boss Jeff Bezos' Washington Post (see story here).

Later consultant Steffen Damborg and DB Digital's Gyan Gupta discussed the dynamics of what readers would pay for, with Damborg outlining client JP's Premium product, and Gupta explaining how Indian publisher DB used cookie-based technology to personalize content for site users who were reluctant to register.

And a final panel session contrasted four styles including Japan's Asahi Shimbun, the Jakarta Post, a new site launched by blogger and freelance Kirsten Han, and Scroll, an upcoming aggregator which has the backing of Axel Springer and offers newspapers $3.50 of the $4.99 it plans to charge members who sign up for access to a network of (non-premium) publisher sites.

No comparison with activist Han's nonprofit New Naratif site, where supporters pay from $52-552 a year for membership, and promise her "you're never paying for food while we're around".

Digital Media Asia continues tomorrow (Thursday) at Singapore's Orchard Hotel.

Pictured: Gilles Demptos, Sue Brooks, Rasmus Neilsen, Francis Lee and Thomas Jacob

On our homepage: Kirsten Han

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