Startups within media companies – the way forward for innovation?

Huffington Post Labs, the innovation hub of the media organisation, launched its first project on August 29th, TechCrunch reports. The project, dubbed Highlights, is a user-generated web page displaying the most popular sentences from articles and blogs of Huffington Post. Readers give prominence to a sentence either by highlighting it with a new button that now appears on Huffington Post, or by copying the snippet.

To avoid the front-page content getting more highlights just because it is more easily accessible, and therefore getting more traffic in turn, the innovators made sure the sentences are also weighed by the ratio of highlights to page views, which should help stories from deeper in the website surface and not get overlooked. The idea came from the wish to solve the problem of too-much content being produced by Huffington Post, and a lot of it neglected by users as a result, stated Labs co-founder Conor White Sullivan for TechCrunch. The innovation team is now working at adding Highlights to other publications, TechCrunch being one of them.

However interesting this innovation is, it is the trend behind it that media innovation researchers should pay attention to. HuffPo Labs is only one of many media organisations which are developing their own innovation hubs, such as The New York Times Company Research & Development Lab, The Globe Lab of the Boston Globe, WaPo Labs of the Washington Post. Are news publishers becoming tech companies?, TechCrunch asks.

Started by two people who came from outside HuffPo, both previously having worked at startups, and then joined by a third member, they made The HuffPo Lab function like a startup within the company. Their way of operating is “doing projects quickly in eight week sprints and seeing if they work”, Sullivan said for TechCrunch, stressing that the Lab has the advantage of working for the HuffPo ecosystem with millions of page views where it is easy to see if an idea works or not, but also that the Lab can work without the pressure of corporate bureaucracy.

 Client down the Hall

The Irish Times launched it Digital Challenge in 2012, CNN reports, to revive its digital efforts which lost the momentum since the launch of the website in 1994. Young companies at early stage of development spend eight weeks at the Times developing their pitch with the goal to prove to the Times that their project has the largest revenue potential and offers the best advancement for the user experience in order to get a prize worth 50.000 EURO from a venture capital fund.

BBC Worldwide Labs, another “intercompany startup incubator”, as CNN dubs these new forms of injecting fresh ideas into media companies, often perceived as slow and cumbersome operations, does not offer a financial award as such, but an opportunity for startups to work with BBC as the first customer and therefore commercialize their projects with excellent visibility. With the complexity of BBC being perplexing to outside collaborators, the project should ease the way to the startups into understanding the company.  

Common to the two examples is that startups are embedded in the companies, although they work independently, and the innovators are close to those who will be or are implementing their innovations. This type of communication is designed to avoid the usual “noise” that occurs in the old-way cooperation between a large media company and an outside startup, CNN reports. Also, both companies hope to develop a relationship with the startups they incubate into scalable, larger future partnerships.

The practice of internal startups has already been adopted by non-media industries, such as PepsiCo10, a business mediator which acts as a matchmaker between startups and various Pepsi Company brands, which is close to its third year.

 Outside of Beaten Tracks

 Some of the conclusions from the above examples are the following:

  • In the fierce competition pushing them towards constant digital innovation, media companies need thinking outside of the box, which is hard to find among the company employees, already set in their old ways. Fresh minds, with a new direction of thinking, often people outside of the media companies, whether organised in Labs or incubator startups, get out of the beaten tracks and are able to provide the needed innovation.
  • Young stratups have the advantage of eagerness to prove themselves, which is conducive to fresh ideas and positive rapport with the client.
  • Being embedded in the company, the Labs and incubator startups have all the proximity to the client and the communication with the client they need, without the usual communication ‘noise’ when big companies work with outside innovation service providers.
  • As distinct operational units they keep their independence are not oppressed by corporate bureaucracy.
  • Working with the company resources from the start of a project, such as the large numbers of users the companies have and their digital platforms, the innovators in Labs and startups can test their ideas more efficiently than if they operated outside of the company.  

 Whether the innovation labs and startups are the future of media innovation is yet to be seen, but they have certainly become the present, worth careful monitoring. 

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Researchers release prototype of ‘smart’ newspaper that plays audio

Interactive Newsprint

A print version of the Lancashire Evening Post has been created with a button to allow readers to press the newspaper and play audio.

The “smart” newspaper is the latest prototype from an 18-month research project led by the University of Central Lancashire.

Called Interactive Newsprint, the project aims to find a way of connecting a print newspaper to the internet, which researchers believe could offer news organisations new ways of discovering exactly which articles and adverts readers are interested, much in the same way as they gather audience data from content viewed online

Paul Egglestone, digital coordinator at the School of Journalism at UCLan and lead on the Interactive Newsprint project, told that the prototype just released will allow the team to carry out further research.

Egglestone and his team released earlier prototypes to demonstrate to the tester communities “what the technology was capable of”.

The new version will be demoed at the London Design Festival next week. “People can interact with it and we may do some live research,” Egglestone said.

The video below demonstrates how readers can click the paper to play audio. The footage shows users listening through wireless headphones as the quality is “better than straight from the paper”, Egglestone explained.

The newspaper sends a signal to a server to play the audio and gathers data on how many people have clicked to listen.

The latest prototype created by the researchers marks a “step forward in that it is taking an analogue interaction and creating a digital interaction”.

The project, which is funded until the end of December, will now look at how people use the latest prototype. Researchers hope to discover whether people “press, tap or scratch a button”, Egglestone said. “We’ll be getting data on how people interact and can then refine the product before going into the final stage of the project.”

Egglestone said the final product may not look very different to the one in the above video but will be refined based on this research.

The Interactive Newsprint project is working with citizen press agencyCitizenside ”to develop a platform with them”, Egglestone revealed. The team is also working with community newspaper Blog Preston.

Egglestone also hopes that there may be a sustainable business to be built around developing the analytics.

The team is keen to take the ideas forward beyond the end of the current project. They would like to explore the opportunities for interactions with user-generated content and the possibility of readers being able to submit stories via a print product.



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The familiar future face of newspapers

Every newsroom should have its own seer. Not to predict the next breaking news story (that’s half the fun of being a journalist, surely?) but to foresee how the newspaper model will change and adapt in the future. Keeping a news title abreast of the latest technological and economic challenges is part and parcel of an editor’s role, and is a task that has been rendered all the more urgent over the past two decades as technological advances and a difficult economic climate.

Even without the services of an in-house sibyl, editors have long been second-guessing how content production, publication and delivery will evolve – sometimes with alarming success. The Kaiser memo, written in 1992 by then-editor of The Washington Post,Bill Kaiser, is startlingly accurate in many of its predictions. After being told of an impending digital revolution by leading lights in the world of technology, who spoke with certainty of a time when “the PC will be a virtual supercomputer, and the easy transmission and storage of large quantities of text, moving and still pictures, graphics,” Kaiser recommended that the Post get ahead of its competitors by designing “the world’s first electronic newspaper… with a series of ‘front pages’ and other devices that would guide readers the way our traditional cues do — headlines, captions, story placement, etc.”

Twenty years later, Chuck Moozakis, Editor-in-Chief of News&Tech, has cast his mind forward to 2020 and what the coming decade holds for newspapers. Moozakis’s predictions are all the more credible for being based on trends that are already beginning to emerge in the present day. Looking at some of his suggestions, Moozakis’s future does not look that far away…

Digital domination

It will come as no surprise to hear that digital platforms will still be central to news outlets’ business strategies. As mobile devices such as smart phones and tablets become lighter, quicker and cheaper, Moozakis maintains that their penetration levels will eventually soar to 90 percent in the U.S. (where smartphones have at present reached 50 percent of households).

Already we are seeing a dramatic upsurge in the number of people consuming news and information via iPhones and Androids. The Pew Research Centre’s 2012 State of the News Media report revealed that 34 percent of those who access the news from a laptop also get their news from smartphones, 17 percent of laptop users also consume the news through tablet devices and 5 percent get their news from computer, smartphone and tablets.

The Reynolds Journalism Institute published its Media News Consumption Survey, which suggested that the iPad and similar tablet devices are fast becoming the new printing presses; Roger Fidler, Program Director for Digital Publishing at the Institute is adamant that “a newspaper displayed on a tablet remains a newspaper.”

There’s still a place for print 

Reassuringly, this digital pre-eminence is unlikely to spell the end for print. Entry number 6 on News&Tech’s list of ’20 trends for 2020’predicts that “the printed newspaper survives, but not in every American city and not every day of the week.” It’s an assertion that has its basis in present day reality: The Times-Picayune is just one of several American news titles that has scaled back its print edition in order to prioritise online content. Moreover, recentanecdotal evidence would suggest that younger audiences are less concerned by the disappearance of daily newspapers – meaning tri- or bi-weekly titles could soon become the accepted norm.

Newspaper = news brand

Even today, referring to The New York Times or The Guardian as “newspapers” seems woefully inaccurate, as the two titles – along with the majority of formerly print-focused news outlets – are diversifying their product across multimedia platforms. The situation will only become more common as time progresses and news organisations aim to address an ever-growing audience by exploiting the opportunities offered by developing technologies.

‘News that is you and you alone’

The perpetually increasing amount of information collected by data companies about our interests, online activities and social networks, combined with the increasing consumption of the news via personal devices will inevitably lead to a media landscape in which each article, Google search or newsfeed will be tailor-made for every individual. Twitter’s announcement this Thursday that it is to allow advertisers to target tweets based on people’s interests is an early indication of the direction hyper-targeted information will take. In the not-too-distant future news media organisations will have the ability to target articles to specific readers according to each reader’s particular interests.

News&Tech’s vision of the future of newspapers offers elements of realistic hope to the industry at a time of great turbulence. It does however depend on publishers having the foresight to invest in their news titles even (or especially) at times of great economic difficulty. Cutting jobs, print circulation and editorial budgets without laying foundations for the future could see some organisations pull the rug from under their own feet well before 2020.


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A Vision for the Future of Newspapers – 20 Years Ago

A glance into the future – in the rear-view mirror. 20 years ago the managing editor of “The Washington Post”, Robert G. Kaiser visited John Scully, at this time CEO of Apple Computer Inc. They discussed the future of digital media. What they come up with was quite astonishing. From then on the whole industry changed …

At this time there was no WWW, just the beginning of some services like AOL or CompuServe. Slow, loud and horrible expensive. 

A glance into the past could give us an idea, what the future could be.
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A new dawn for the magazine industry?

The magazine industry. Non-news is good news: The threat of the internet has forced magazines to get smarter

  • Unlike newspapers, most magazines didn’t have large classified-ad sections to lose to the internet, and their material has a longer shelf-life.
  • Money comes in from subscriptions/ special editing for tablets.
  • Publishers are looking to make more not only from subscriptions but also from other sources. What else a magazine can do besides sell copies depends on its audience and subject matter.
  • The ability of magazines to inspire fierce loyalty among readers means there are also lots of small-time, quirky successes.

Read the whole article from the Economist here:

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The sound of change? Flipboard integrates audio

The mobile newsreader app Flipboard announced this week that it is partnering with SoundCloud, NPR and PRI in order to fully integrate audio content into its app. The new feature will allow Flipboard users to listen to music and radio content while flipping through articles. 

The BBC points out that Flipboard is the first mobile reading app of its kind to integrate audio in this way. Although other social readers such as Pulse and Zite may include some links to audio elements, Flipboard is the first to make audio content an integral part of its product.

As the company explains in its press release, the new feature allows users to explore audio content, select tracks and listen to them, then continue to flip through text stories. Audio tracks are sorted into sections, and the app will continue to play though all the tracks in the same category as users read articles. “With this latest addition, we’re giving our readers a personal soundtrack to their Flipboard,” says the company’s founder Mike McCue.

The BBC writes that Flipboard is hoping its new audio content will help boost ad revenue. “Adding audio is an attempt at reeling in users and keeping them around longer in a bid, ultimately, to attract brand advertising,” the article says.

But aside from these financial considerations, the new features also can be seen as a simple acknowledgement that, in the digital age, the boundaries between different kinds of media are increasingly blurred. ITV’s new website, which integrates video, text and social media content into a single stream, is one good example.

In this new environment, audio content can be an increasingly important feature for traditional print outlets. The Economist, which makes all its stories available in audio format and the Guardian, which has produced the most popular podcast on the UK iTunes store this week, are two examples of print publications using audio effectively.

For news organisations interested in integrating audio features into their multimedia stories, Poynter has published 10 tips about how this can be done.



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Google Search Goes Semantic

In his blog-post from May 16th, Amit Singhal — manager at Google — explains an important new feature for Google Search which just has been released for users in the United States.

With the Knowledge Graph, Google extends the capabilities of its search engine with semantic features and enables it for the first time to interpret search terms not only as strings but as concepts for things and relations.

The first few features exposed to the public such as slicing of results by different meanings of terms or aggregating information about topics is just the tip of the iceberg of things to come. With the advantage of being the leading search portal, Google’s Knowledge Graph is capable of tuning itself by the behaviour of its users.

With its initial database size of 500 million objects with about 3.5 billion relations this project is not to be considered as a small side-project but as a step in “moving from an information engine to become a knowledge engine” (Johanna Wright, Product Management Director at Google).

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Amanda Palmer Raises over $400k by Crowdfunding

In times where record companies complain about piracy and declining sales, Amanda Palmer – former member of the Dresden Dolls – shows how alternative business models in the music business actually can work.

Without the backing of any music label, she managed to raise more than $400.000,– within only 4 days on the crowdfunding-platform for the production of her new album on compact disk and vinly as well as an additional art-book and the prefinancing of her upcoming worldwide tour.

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Romanus Otte’s advice on media innovation: “Just do it!”

Although there was Barcelona playing Chelsea on Tuesday evening, about 100 guests attended a discussion organized on the occasion of the Spanish module of the Executive MA program “International Media Innovation Management”. In Alicante’s “Club Información”, auditorium of local newspaper “Diario Información”, three international experts shared their views on media innovation:

  • Romanus Otte, General Manager, “Die Welt” digital, Berlin
  • Mario Tascón,  Designer & Consultant, Prodigioso Volcán, Madrid
  • Andy Kaltenbrunner, Program Director “International Media Innovation Management”, Vienna
  • Moderator: José Alberto García Avilés, Universidad Miguel Hernández, Elche

Mario Tascón (taking a picture in the editorial office of Diario Información, left), who led two of the biggest Spanish online media El Mundo and El País, said that hardly any media company in his country invests in R&D or innovation departments. Media manager are just not used to change. That is something they have to learn, Andy Kaltenbrunner said: “As Lars Jespersen of Danish media group Nordjyske put it: We have to change fluently.” Kaltenbrunner referred to the Austrian daily “Der Standard”: In 2011 for the first time its online edition brought a higher profit than the newspaper edition. 

Evidence of how inflexible traditional media are was brought in by the protests in Madrid last summer. “Newspapers were slow in covering. Just like during the Arab spring, social media shaped the protests”, Tascón said. He thinks that journalists should create their own brand e. g. on Twitter (left to right: Tascón, Otte, Kaltenbrunner, García). “But we also expect our journalists to use their online credibility for their company”, Romanus Otte from German publishing house Axel Springer added. Otte criticised that German journalists still want to impress the branches they are covering: “Sports journalists write for the athletes. Political journalists write for the politicians.” Though the time would be ripe to listen to the audience, to users and customers. He advises especially managers to be passionate about innovation and change: “Just do it!”

The Executive Master’s program “International Media Innovation Management” (IMIM) is carried by Berlin University for Professional Studies and fjum_forum for journalism and media in Vienna. Since Sunday, April 22, the group of young working professionals out of TIME industries (telecommunication, IT/Internet, media, creative) has been studying in Elche — Universidad Miguel Hernández, see picture — and Madrid, Spain (workshops at public broadcaster RTVE and daily El País). The participants come from all over Europe and Egypt. During their studies, they learn how to initiate, coordinate and implement innovation projects for their companies in an interdisciplinary and international context. IMIM’s next module will take place in the US, visiting e. g. The New York Times, Columbia and Fordham University and Poynter Institute/Florida.

photos: Félix Arias 
text: Patricia Käfer

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The 2012 Digital Marketer: Benchmark and Trend Report

The Experian Marketing Services’ annual report provides a perspective on the digital landscape and how brands can influence more meaningful connections with customers. It contains trend information, predictive benchmark data and analytical insight necessary for business leaders to maximize digital marketing opportunities and return on investment.

Insights from the report:

  • 91% of today’s online adults use social media regularly
  • Revenue per email averages 2x higher for ‘Friends and Family’ campaigns
  • 28% of smartphone owners watch video on their phone in a typical month
  • Pinterest is now the 3rd most popular social networking site behind Facebook and Twitter

You can download the “The 2012 Digital Marketer: Benchmark and Trend Report here” (after having filled a form) here:

Best, Edith

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