Traditional media companies do not often invest in technology creation directly. They use technology to conduct their business, but one would be hard-pressed to find a real deep-tech innovation lab within (or even close to) traditional newsrooms. Even media companies that have bought into tech startups and companies, often do this in holding company fashion, avoiding introducing code builders straight into the media heart of the operation.
This needs to change. Yahoo!’s purchase of the Summly app shows traditional media the way.
Yahoo!’s Marissa Mayer (she’s now been CEO for about eight months), startled the tech world recently by authorising the purchase of a mobile app called Summly from a 17-year-old UK schoolboy. (Plus, in reality, some true heavyweight early investors.) An interesting aside to the story is that the app was removed immediately from the App Store, as Yahoo! aims to use its auto-summarise technology in its own branded apps.
A search-orientated internet company (Yahoo!) thus bought a new mobile media tech company that essentially aggregates and distills information (news), from multiple online sources, into a personalised and shortened newsfeed. This is one example of how media now works. Imagine if a news organisation (a traditional media company) had the foresight to beat Yahoo! to a purchase such as this. Assuming the media company would know what to do with the app’s technology, it could have embraced the new tech world of media in a real way.
But the Summly app purchase moves Yahoo! forward and removes an opportunity for traditional media.
Traditional advertising thinking
What prevents media companies from acting like technology companies is a traditional advertising sales mindset. Even though traditional advertising is shifting from display into various disparate digital forms, for the time being traditional media companies are continuing to direct attention to protecting this profitable revenue stream. (But see Mary Meeker’s slide for a glimpse into where things are going in advertising.)
If media companies were not so stuck in traditional models, they would have realised they need to transform into tech firms. Not invest in tech firms and act like a holding company, but actually organically transform into a technology company. In turn the client companies traditional media are relying upon for old-style massive profits via advertising spend, are themselves now turning into media companies.
UI and UX
If there is one thing to learn from the Summly example, it’s that insight into user experience is key. Technology and creative design together form the basis of what media companies need to become. Imagine a media company being as good as Apple (or, gasp, Microsoft) at user interface and experience design.
Alas, design in traditional media companies is divorced from technological development.
Today, flat user interface design is starting on mobile media devices first (think elegant smart phone and tablet app interface design), then moving to desktop and elsewhere afterwards.
It will be magnificent if the next real technological media breakthrough comes from traditional media understanding a true insight into people’s information needs. Playing in the tech space and grasping how to move the new connected media world forward. That’s where the real new future (and money) is for traditional media companies. Perhaps the next transaction like the Summly app purchase comes from a traditional media company. How cool will that be?
Louis Eksteen is MD of Twisted Toast.