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by J. Max Robins
"The future of media is visual," said Mark Thompson, The New York Times CEO, while presenting the blue-chip news organization's slate of video series at the NewFronts, obviously banking that ramping up expansion of the Gray Lady's digital offerings would eventually offset tumbling print revenues.
But as the "products made for TV" commercials always promise: Wait – there's more. Thompson and company touted some virtual reality series that will debut in the fall, including one called "The Creators," putting the spotlight on various artists at work. The other, called "Secret Cities," with a travel/fashion focus helmed by marquee directors, is slated to coincide with Fashion Week.
The day after the Times presentation, at DLD NYC 2016, the Big Apple iteration of the technology and ideas forum that meets in various places around the world. Bloomberg Media CEO Justin Smith, who turned around Atlantic Media and has been attempting to do likewise at Bloomberg, was on stage being interviewed by the newly minted Times op-ed editor James Bennet. The duo had worked together for years in the trenches at The Atlantic. The forum was fittingly called "Building Brands: The Changing Media Industry and Platform Integration."
Bennet quizzed Smith about video, and the Bloomberg Media boss didn't seem convinced that it would be the secret sauce to cure all the woes of legacy media companies – or cutting-edge ones, for that matter. Still, it's regarded as an essential part of a multiplatform approach to profitability. If you're a relatively new player, like a BuzzFeed or Vox, you have to push big into video to keep your investors happy and hold on to "your bubbly valuation."
And yes, Smith believes we are in a news "big bubble" that started when Silicon Valley got dewy-eyed about investing in millennial-focused media organizations. Those same investors are beginning to get restless about those funds and relentlessly pushing media outlets to achieve scale.
Smith said "general news" outfits and those providing broad-based entertainment news were going to have a hard time moving forward. That "giant sucking sound" we might be hearing, he suggested, was the probability of a free-fall for a lot of broad-based news organizations in the same boat as the Times.
However, Smith did allow that, given the strength of the Times brand, it might be one of the few exceptions to the rule. Naturally, he offered his Bloomberg blueprint, which might spell success, provided you had global reach, strength in business niches and were strong across platforms from mobile to the Web to TV. Key to all of it, Smith said, was to push for top notch quality across those platforms. And he did allow that long-form video – well executed and part of such a multiplatform strategy – would be "a huge business."
Smith wasn't simply trying to assuage the fears of Bennett, his former The Atlantic colleague, and was sincere about his evaluation of the Times prospects in a turbulent landscape.
You can't blame Thompson and his Times video pals for trying. It was Joe Strummer of the Clash who wrote, "The future is unwritten." As Strummer himself knew, video can also be a profitable way to tell the future's story.
© 2016 MediaPost Communications
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An academic study conducted by researchers from the Arthur W. Page Center of Pennsylvania State University has found that native advertising may create negative perceptions of media outlets. The research, presented at a conference this spring, will be published in the American Behavioral Scientist.
The study examined the question: Are there consequences when companies and news outlets go native?
The researchers noted that native advertising, often known as sponsored content or promoted posts, is showing up all over the Internet. Readers expect to find native advertising on sites like Facebook and BuzzFeed. A discussion has emerged as to whether the practice impacts the credibility of the companies that pay for it and the news outlets that run it.
Overall, the research team found that when content was identified as native advertising, readers held a lower opinion of the media outlet it was published in. However, the reputation of the company being promoted was not affected. The idea for the project emerged while Penn State graduate students were shown a news article — but was it? "We looked at it. It didn't look like an advertisement," said Mu Wu, PhD student in Penn State's College of Communications and an author of the study. "It looked like an everyday editorial, but we were wrong." It was a native advertisement.
The research finds that news outlets from BuzzFeed to The New York Times participate in some form of native advertising, and they claim to see no ethical issues with the practice. One previous study found that between 7% and 18% of readers can tell the difference between a real news story and a native advertisement. Wu said those numbers sparked the team's interest in identifying potential consequences.
To get an understanding of how perceptions may change, the research team conducted an experiment with 500 participants, which included a group of readers who were primed (the concept was explained to them) about native advertising and another that was not. The team used identical content on "the best vacation spots" and placed it in both high-credibility (The New York Times) and low-credibility (BuzzFeed) news outlets. Lastly, they used a high-profile brand (Marriott) and what the researchers deemed as "non-credible" (Super 8) corporation as the content sponsor. Pretest data helped the research team decide the credibility of the organizations.
Those who were primed about native advertising found the content to be less credible overall.
"We all have the idea that the news media should be objective and neutral. That's how it works," Wu said. "But people may see the media and companies working together to deceive us, so they change their perception toward the media more dramatically. On the other hand, people see that the company is just doing what it's supposed to, promoting itself."
Wu added that it's possible for readers to hold onto that distrust when reading real news stories. This hurts the credibility and respect they may have for the publications overall. A few other significant results emerged that caught the researchers' attention.
"What I found especially interesting was the effect the media source and corporate source had on the content," Wu said. "It was completely changed by the process of priming, which essentially made users more aware of the persuasive nature of native advertising."
The study found that the readers who were not primed for native advertising evaluated the content and media outlet more positively when the article was sponsored by a high-credibility company and was also published in a high-credibility media outlet. However, for those who were primed, the results were the opposite. The combinations of a high-credibility company and a low-credibility media outlet or a low-credibility company and a high-credibility media outlet are more likely to elicit positive evaluations toward the content and media outlet. The content was exactly the same.
"It's a mismatch," Wu said. "When you are aware of that persuasive nature, you expect to see Marriott in media like The New York Times. However, when there is a mismatch like seeing The New York Times feature something from Super 8, it seems kind of counterintuitive to the reader."
"Unprimed readers may think, 'Super 8 sponsored content is in The New York Times? Well, it must be because the content is really good,'" said Wu.
© 2016 MediaPost Communications
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