Publishers Confront Mobile Mess

We are now fully ensconced in the Mobile Era. Publishers are scrambling to figure out not only how to present content on portable devices but also how to close the revenue gap between desktop and mobile.

Every publisher has its own hurdles to jump, but one thing is clear when it comes to mobile: The days of kicking the mobile can down the road are over, and publishers need to make sure they’re ready for the mobile storm. Digiday recently spoke with several publishers seeking to find out: What is your biggest challenge in mobile?

Michael Bayle, svp and general manager of ESPN Mobile
The biggest challenge we face in mobile remains ubiquity. We have the leading sports mobile website that accounts for the majority of our fan visits, but we want to build native experiences for our core pillars of content. Developing apps across iOS, Android, Windows and RIM has the largest impact on our resources, and it’s something we are constantly evaluating on how to improve in order to get to a point of simultaneous launches, like we recently did with ESPN College Football across iOS and Android handset and tablets.

Julie Hansen, president & COO, Business Insider:
Harnessing the resources to pursue all the ideas we have for mobile may be the biggest challenge of all. Development is chaotic, with new devices and sizes proliferating. And, obviously, monetization is not mature yet, so it’s difficult to finance all the projects we have in mind. But that also means there are exciting new native ad formats to experiment with. And we see advertiser interest growing fast, in both apps and mobile Web. Ultimately, finding the right resource allocation among Web, app and mobile Web development is the challenge.

Beth Jacobs, general manager of mobile, Washington Post:
A big challenge in mobile is differentiation — building distinct user experiences for each, individual mobile platform (Web, smart phones and tablet apps) that are informative and engaging. We offer vastly unique multi-dimensional experiences, ranging from our WP Politics iPad App, which allows users to consume content in an interactive manner through rich images, motion graphics, maps, polls, bundled with social media, to our flagship products on Android, iPhone and iPad. Whether we are producing browser-based mobile experiences or client apps, we are focused on presenting news content in a more visual, consumable format. Mobile products, particularly tablet apps, have become one of the key legs in media multitasking. This means that tablet apps have become complementary products to reading a newspaper or watching TV, so our challenge is to focus on how we augment the total media experience to create richness and engagement and not redundancy as people are often doing both at the same time. We want our products to add more dimension to the content.

Erin Pettigrew, executive director or business development, Gawker
Mobile adoption far exceeds mobile monetization. Average revenue per user on quickly gaining mobile devices is still magnitudes lower than ARPU on the desktop. But as mobile monetization broadens beyond just display advertising, mobile revenue for publishers will improve. (Consider mobile gaming, which sees significant success with payments). Mobile will be the first publishing platform to see native ads, commerce, gaming, subscription and other revenue streams displace display ads. Why? Shrinking a banner to a tiny screen doesn’t maintain its effectiveness. But the other products can be ported to mobile without diminished impact. We’re thinking less about banner sell-through on specific device platforms and thinking more about how each adds scale, reach and engagement to our platform-agnostic monetization plan: branded content and commerce. It’s business-wide responsive design that applies not just to UI but to acquiring and monetizing audience.

Matt de Ganon, vp, mobile product and operations at Gannett Digital
The biggest challenge and opportunity in mobile is for us as an industry to start putting all of the pieces together for users and our advertisers. Mobile has a beauty and a complexity that we haven’t seen before in digital media. It presents an opportunity to address a user in multiple ways, depending on the context in which they’re using a device. This holds true for advertising and advertisers, as well. Our job, frankly, is to be smarter than we have been about how we design, publish to and develop apps, and how we talk to and present mobile utility to our users. Mobile (inclusive of tablets) isn’t the Web on a smaller screen; it’s a complete revolution in how we live our digital lives.

David Tokheim, svp of media solutions, Say Media
The biggest challenge we face is striking an appropriate balance between providing utility, experience and escape within the mobile frame. Simply expecting an online campaign to extend pragmatically to mobile can not only lead to poor performance but also discourage budget holders to make safer, less optimized choices. As brand marketers, advertising partners and technologists, we have to challenge ourselves, our peers and this industry to prescribe the right choices for mobile, and that must often begin with a mobile-first approach.

Walter Knapp, evp of platform revenue and operations, Federated Media Publishing
The challenge many midsize and independent publishers face with mobile is: how to optimize the presentation layer of the website but still retain the economics of a standard Web experience. Many wrestle with the advantages of a mobile-optimized presentation layer because of the tradeoff with more limited monetization options in the still nascent world of mobile advertisements and targeting. Tablets lessen the presentation-layer burden somewhat. The majority of tablet traffic we see comes from iPad and Safari, which has its own limits on effective targeting. It’s an opportunity we are actively working on with publishers and mobile product experts to solve.

Image via Shutterstock