Sourcefabric representative Claudia Cruz attended the WAN-IFRA América Latina conferences that took place for the first time in Bogotá, Colombia on March 9th and 10th. Offering a summary of the key talking points, she also shares some fascinating insights into the Latin American market including mobile news delivery, cross-platform projects, and a new market of journalism-hungry consumers.
At WAN-IFRA, a commonly addressed topic was the imminent drop of readership in markets like the United States and Europe. However, in contrast, the Asian, African and Latin American markets seem to be entering a different phase of development. According to Christoph Riess, WAN-IFRA CEO, as a market Latin America should be optimistic since according to sources like IMF, Consensus Economics Latin Focus, and JP Morgan EIU we are a market in "full upswing" with GDPs reporting substantial growth (comparing 2009-2010). This means that people are still interested in "reading news". Our figures look good - even with circulation peaks - in the eyes of those who see their figures drop dramatically, but it's clear the market is changing fast.
Although our region ranks high in consuming information, what is changing is the way we consume it and the topics that are appealing to a critical mass. Radio is still king in the region. From 2005 to 2009, listeners from Latin America invested more than 3 hours a day listening to radio, while a bit less than 3 hours surfing the web, and just 2.6 watching TV, citing WAN-IFRA figures. In the same period, Latin America read newspapers and magazines for less than an hour per day. We are consuming content, just not so much in print. And the advertising expenditure shows a clear and consistent growth in favor of online media outlets, in this context, even on top of radio.
Nonetheless, far from kicking traditional print media out of the game, it puts them in the middle of a great opportunity. Mainstream media have most of what it takes to create a successful online project, both in an editorial and a commercial sense. Most of them have strong newsrooms, captive niches, an established editorial and commercial workflow and the possibility to develop really interesting cross-platform projects. Colombia's El Tiempo is a good example of that.
In terms of advertising, the winning combination or "the big three" (as Riess puts it) are TV-Internet-Newspapers. This trend is expected to continue until 2012 with the same patterns within the formula: TV standing by, internet going up and newspapers tending to drop.
However, online projects are not profitable yet. We are about to see if The New York Times's second bet for a paid model succeeds or fails one more time. Newspapers need to match their resources with the ongoing trends and two potential saviors have emerged: the mobiles and the tablets.
Go figure. Newspapers already had a paid model going on. We all were used to get the paper on the corner, at the store or by subscription. But with all the frenzy and experimentation about going online, media missed the opportunity to establish the ideal profit deal from the get go. Now, they are second in line. In many markets, telephone carriers are calling the shots these days. They are even hiring journalists to produce content to deliver to their massive user base. There isn't a single piece of content that, from day one, they have given the user for free. And the users paid with no hesitation, all over the world. What's the difference? Carriers understood better than media the proper timing, and when all this started, they held a unique commodity that many people needed and had an infrastructure to deliver it. Don't we need to know where the traffic jams are happening? Carriers went even farther creating us "content needs" for biblical quotes or horoscopes, just to mention two.
See the connection here? Carriers had the means and sought for an added value. Media have always had the added value but are not always looking for the proper means. The proper means in this climate equals a strong enough infrastructure to hold digital media operations, with the ability to escalate as needed and is dynamic and responsive to ongoing trends (or at the very least which is under constant experimentation, development and growth).
Today, according to the comScore report Media Metrix Dec 2009-Dec 2010, the universe of Internet users in Latin America has increased to 77.3 million, which is superior to France and the United Kingdom's populations, respectively. One more positive fact: 62% of the Latin American Internet audience is between 15 to 35 years old, which promises to mature into a content consuming audience with a strong dependency on mobiles.
Some media are digging into that direction. Two interesting cases were mentioned at the WAN-IFRA conference.
On the one hand, we heard about the Orbyt case. This is a project led by the Spanish newspaper El Mundo, which started as their in-house digital kiosk. This paper is one of the many - and growing - media outlets that is not happy about Steve Jobs' proposal to deliver news through the App Store. What mainstream media object to is not only the 30% fee charged by Apple, but the refusal to share with them data about the users and/or grant each user the right to decline to do so. Orbyt started serving El Mundo's publications and now is preparing to open its doors to media from all over the world interested in selling their tablet-oriented content through a paid model.
On the other hand, there is a Washington Post initiative. They measure, almost in real time, requests for every piece of content in its site, social media and mobile versions in order to evaluate the popular versus the important. This allows them to come up with a dynamic value proposition that is friendly and suits not only the necessities but also the wishes of their audience. The goal: brand differentiation and as a result, lots of web traffic. Beware this goes beyond the obvious, "we have Twitter and Facebook accounts." Still you need data to interpret and take informed decisions. In any case, even if you have that, as Raju Narisetti, Managing Editor at The Washington Post, put it - not only do you need the data, mostly you need clear goals.
Both initiatives share two common characteristics: they rely heavily in technology and they start acknowledging the value of their own content. When these two things come together , great things happen.