Media Briefing: What to expect at the Digiday Publishing Summit, March 2024 edition

This article is part of Digiday’s coverage of its Digiday Publishing Summit. More from the series →

DPS preview

Another Digiday Publishing Summit is upon us, but before hundreds of media leaders ascend the snow-capped mountains to Vail, Co., we caught up with a few of the speakers from Axios, Hearst, Semafor, The New York Times and many more, to learn what was on their minds as Q1 comes to a close.  

To no one’s surprise, audience engagement, advertising and generative AI were three standout topics, which will all be discussed at length between March 25-27 during fireside chats before attendees hit the slopes. 

Next week there will be more in-depth recaps of what was said during those on-stage discussions, as well as an overheard from the summit in our next Media Briefing. But for now, here’s a look at some of the topics that will be discussed at this spring’s DPS.

Passion for proactivity

Building a client roster from scratch during a volatile ad market has not been easy, but for Semafor’s CRO Rachel Oppenheim, championing an almost completely outbound versus inbound sales strategy, has made that task possible.

“We’ve been able to really be much more successful from a conversion rate and campaign perspective because we’re actually not on the RFP hamster wheel at all. The lion’s share of our business is playing offense instead of playing defense,” said Oppenheim. 

A sales team that does its homework and knows when a client’s campaign goals work within Semafor’s offerings makes the outbound hustle easier, but Oppenheim attributes the company’s current advertising success to putting in a ton of effort. “As a salesperson or a sales leader, if you receive an RFP you did not know was coming, you already lost it. You’ve got to be so far ahead of those conversations and really understand where things are coming from upstream,” she said.

During her session at DPS, Oppenheim will deep dive into Semafor’s sales strategy and how the company was able to turn two profitable months in its first year.

Audience acquisition sans social and search referrals 

Many publishers are reallocating resources and developing new audience development strategies, in light of platforms like Facebook and X increasingly deprioritizing efforts that used to send notable referral traffic to publishers’ sites in the past few years. Lifestyle publisher Bustle Digital Group is adapting by focusing on “quality over quantity” when it comes to content production, publishing fewer but higher quality content, according to Wes Bonner, BDG’s svp of marketing and audience development.

“We used to post 100 to 150 articles a day. We don’t need that many articles on the internet,” Bonner said. The company is also investing in its events business to create more in-person opportunities to engage audiences and increase sponsorship revenue.

Meanwhile, Future plc is focusing on the niche audiences drawn to its category-specific titles to grow its audience. For example, Future is using a combination of broadcast events — which have grown in viewers and revenue year over year — and data like audience signals to develop content programming to engage the gamer community, according to Matt Trotta, svp of U.S. commercial. This also helps sell sponsorship packages and offerings to advertisers, he added. – Sara Guaglione

Putting commerce to the test

A year and a half ago, Sheel Shah, svp of growth, enthusiast and wellness at Hearst Magazines, joined Digiday on stage at DPS to talk about the company’s ambitions for building out a new commerce marketplace. The idea was to create a cohesive shopping platform made up of 20 individual online branded shops, one for nearly all of the media brands in the Hearst portfolio. 

In the time since, experimenting with the marketplace model has primarily been a focus for the brands in Hearst’s enthusiast and wellness group, with shops created for Men’s Health and Oprah Daily thus far. Not only that, but the marketplace has expanded to incorporate more than 20 third-party brands that Hearst is now selling the product of, in addition to its own direct-to-consumer products  

Next week, Shah will take to the stage once again to share how those plans came together, how well the marketplace has converted Hearst’s audience into shoppers and plans for future expansion. 

Standing out in the podcast bubble

The podcast landscape has become more and more competitive as publishers and networks try to grow listenership and tackle the challenge of discovery on listening platforms. But The New York Times, which runs one of the most successful daily news podcast shows, invested even further into the podcast space by launching a dedicated, subscriber-only audio app last year.

Nina Lassam, The New York Times’ vp of business and head of audience growth, audio, said the key to developing successful podcast programming is partnerships — such as its deal with “This American Life” — as well as creating unique visual assets for both audio and video platforms. At next week’s summit, Lassam will share how The Times has been able to get more people to discover its shows on audio platforms like Spotify. – Sara Guaglione

AI applications

Time’s chief information officer, Sharon Milz is tasked with assessing the applications of generative AI within the legacy publishers’ business. And although a licensing deal has not yet been struck between Time and an AI tech company, Milz said that the monetary payoff for publishers isn’t the only benefit to allowing companies like OpenAI to train their large language models on their editorial content. 

“The partnership between AI companies and publishers has to be one of the major focuses for this industry this year [in order] to be able to truly fight misinformation [and] hallucinations,” said Milz. 

During a fireside chat with Milz, we’ll discuss the role of generative AI in the media industry and why Time has drawn a line in using AI for editorial purposes but is exploring the applications for this tech in streamlining the sales process and other business-side endeavors. 

Mixed media

Digital publishers have been looking to video for some time now as a way to grow their audience and revenue opportunities. But Axios has made a greater investment into forming an entire entertainment division dedicated to creating original shows to sell to streamers and TV networks.

In an on-stage sit down, Erica Winograd, head of original programming at Axios, will discuss how involved the publisher is in developing and producing a show, including a new Amazon Prime Video program that’s set to debut later this year, as well as how her team ultimately plans to bring production in-house.

The pitch to political advertisers

For news publishers struggling with advertisers’ unrelenting news avoidance, an election year can be a welcome reprieve. That’s because if there’s one type of advertiser that wants to show up next to news content, it’s a political one. 

The Independent’s svp of the U.S., Blair Tapper is joining the DPS stage to discuss how The Independent is pursuing political ad dollars this year, but more importantly, how the team is vetting political ads and sponsored content before the deal is done.

What we’ve heard

“When you think about the marketplace, I wouldn’t say that it’s deviated away from the in-quarter [ad deals]. I would say it’s more incumbent upon us to provide the value to signing on for something that’s in Q3 and that is why we are so focused on talent, tentpoles and franchises.”

Geoff Schiller, CRO of Vox Media on the latest episode of the Digiday Podcast.

Digital publishers await political ad dollars

The 2023-2024 election cycle is expected to hit record political ad spend. But will publishers get a larger slice of this bigger pie?

Projections by political ad tracking platform AdImpact show ad spend will total $10.2 billion across broadcast, cable, radio, satellite, digital and CTV – a 13% increase from the 2020 election cycle. GroupM projected political ad spend to hit a record $15.9 billion, up more than 30% from the 2020 election cycle. GroupM includes digital out-of-home billboard signs as well as ad spend from political action committees and advocacy groups.

So far this election cycle, campaign spending overall seems to be trending similar to four years ago, according to Darius Derakshan, associate director of advertising, political, advocacy and podcasts at the Los Angeles Times.

A spokesperson at a large digital media publisher said that their largest political advertisers were “prioritizing Q3 and Q4 for their budgets.” Digiday reported last week that news podcasts weren’t seeing a boost yet either, with year-to-date ad revenue either down or flat compared to previous election years.

But one big change this year? The types of ads political campaigns are buying, Derakshan said. It’s all about digital video this time around, and as a result the LA Times is growing its video output, he said. 

“We launched several new digital video ad units just in time for this cycle and saw almost half the campaigns that were advertising with us utilize them, which exceeded our expectations,” he said.

Both Megan Clasen, partner at Gambit Strategies, a digital ad agency for Democratic candidates, and Andrew Mullins, advertising strategist at Republican digital agency IMGE, said they were focused on digital video ad buys too. However, news publishers don’t offer as much scale as connected TV or YouTube, Mullins said, so display ads and website takeovers often make up the bulk of their digital news ad buys.

Mullins said time will tell how this election year pans out. “It always looks like it’s going to be a down year and then we hit June [and August] and it just explodes. And then September and October it’s off to the races.” – Sara Guaglione

Numbers to know

5: The number of staffers laid off from The Wall Street Journal’s standards and ethics team.

€5.99: The new price for the monthly no-ads subscription fee that Meta is charging for a single account of its Facebook and Instagram platforms in Europe, down from €9.99 per month. 

~$270 million: The amount of money that Google was fined by the France competition authority, alleging that the tech company breached some of its commitments to negotiate fair licensing deals with several news publishers in the country.

What we’ve covered

How Fortune is expanding its European footprint:

  • As U.K.-based publishers look towards the U.S. advertising market, U.S.-based Fortune is turning its attention in the opposite direction. 
  • Eyeing an opportunity to extend its Fortune 500 lists, events franchises, digital reach and magazine to an audience of business executives and advertisers in Europe, the business publication is ready to plant deeper roots on the continent with Fortune Europe.

See how Fortune is growing its global content and advertising strategy here.

How LinkedIn has quietly become the talk of the content creator community:

  • LinkedIn is having a moment, drawing interest from bespoke agencies and creators alike. 
  • However, this transformation has been quietly unfolding over the years, establishing LinkedIn as a haven for content creators.

Read more about LinkedIn’s strategy for wooing creators here.

Vox Media offloads Outsports to Q.Digital:

  • LGBTQ+ publisher Q.Digital has acquired Outsports from Vox Media. 
  • The deal was an all-stock equity transaction in which the co-founders of Outsports, which covers LGBTQ-related issues and athletes in sports, will get equity in Q.Digital.

Learn more about the Outsports acquisition here.

News podcasts and ad buyers have yet to see a presidential election year ad spend bump:

  • In previous presidential election years, news publishers have often benefited from an increase in digital ad revenue. 
  • But some news podcasts aren’t seeing that same bump yet, with year-to-date ad revenue either down or flat compared to previous election years.

Read more about the state of ad spend on political podcasts here.

What we’re reading

Minute Media wins Sports Illustrated’s publishing rights: 

After Arena Group’s publishing rights for Sports Illustrated was terminated by SI’s owner Authentic Brands Group, ABG signed a new 10-year-long licensing agreement with Minute Media to continue publishing the seven-decades-old magazine, according to The Wall Street Journal. 

Two newspaper publishers are rolling back deals with The Associated Press:

Gannett and McClatchy announced they’re taking a step back from the AP, according to The New York Times. Gannett will no longer be using the AP’s articles, photos or videos but will still rely on the AP for election data and its style guide. McClatchy will also no longer publish AP content after this month, but will continue using its election results data. 

After laying off 200 employees, LA Times is investing in office space: 

Just two months after the Los Angeles Times’s mass layoffs, the publisher is breaking ground on a new construction project to expand its campus in El Segundo, Calif., according to The Wrap. The new office space will include a gallery which is aimed at hosting exhibits and events for the public. 

The Baltimore Banner charts expansion:

The nonprofit, local news outlet The Baltimore Banner is planning to expand its content to cover more of Maryland beyond the borders of the state’s largest city, according to a report by Axios. This expansion is happening while the publication’s biggest rival, The Baltimore Sun, is at odds with its new ownership over editorial independence. 

Vox Media’s ad inventory will now be sold by PMC in Canada: 

Following Penske Media Corp’s $100 million investment into Vox Media last year, the publisher of The Hollywood Reporter and Rolling Stone will now sell direct-sold ads in Vox Media’s portfolio to Canadian advertisers, according to Adweek. Vox Media will still oversee its programmatic and branded content sales in the market, however.

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