The world is changing and will probably never be the same again due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Many will hear or read the (usually negative) headlines about how different industries are being impacted. 

Media companies are asking whether there will be a change in how consumers will want to interact during and after this pandemic. High quality, trusted and valued content is more important now than ever. 

This is the first of a four-part blog series, based on the BrightGen whitepaper, The New Rules of Advertising. The whitepaper was written before the outbreak of the pandemic, but the theme remains the same. Digitalisation is central to surviving - and thriving - as a publisher in the 2020s.  

People need trusted and relevant information

Martin Jönsson is the Head of Editorial Development at Sweden's leading quality daily, Dagens Nyheter (DN) - owned by Bonnier AB. Jönsson spoke to the World Association of News Publishers about how the pandemic has affected them. Approximately 90% of the publisher’s employees are working remotely during the COVID-19 crisis. He pointed out:

"We are seeing dramatic growth in traffic and digital subscriptions amid this crisis" 

The growth described by Jönsson: is it a one-off hit due to the pandemic, or is it symptomatic of a wider change in consumption and behaviour? It is certainly a trend that a lot of media companies are seeing increased traffic and interactions from users. Just look at this recent article from the NY Times; the statistics are quite incredible!  

The search for updates on the virus has pushed up views for local and established newspapers, in some cases by 150%. Is this down to fake news and that people in these troubled times want access to quality/trusted content?

According to the article, “Among the biggest beneficiaries are local news sites, with huge jumps in traffic as people try to learn how the pandemic is affecting their home towns”. This trend is global, with The Guardian reporting, “The coronavirus pandemic has led to a spike in traffic to news websites, with Guardian Australia experiencing the biggest surge in the Australian market”.

While print media will suffer during this period of no human contact, those news sites that were already digital will see a different story. People want news... The trick will be in how publishers can hold on to these new readers.

The supporter model

The supporter model is a funding model that was championed by The Guardian. It has proven to be successful in helping to revolutionise their finances. This model has now been taken up by many other publishers as they see increased traffic and interactions.

Consumers are realising that if they want the content they value, they need to support it, in one way or another. Becoming a supporter of what you value and use is now quite a normal occurrence and this is increasing as a business model for publishers with valued content. Subscriptions are also growing due to the same reason. If a consumer values and has reason to use something, the subscription model is now part of everyday life with the likes of Netflix, Disney+ etc.

Digital subscriptions

Digital advertising used to be a primary source of income for online media channels. But soon Facebook and Google overtook most of the investment in advertising. Media companies responded to this by increasing their reliance on digital subscriptions. 

Providing a valuable source of information is key to making consumers want to part with their money and purchase a subscription. “Fake news” is not valued and “clickbait” is worthless. What this will do to the world of low-end programmatic advertising remains to be seen, but advertising goes hand-in-hand with great content and loyal audiences. These are highly valued by businesses wishing to connect to their products. 

People are prepared to pay for something which provides them with a benefit or an advantage and, potentially increased by the pandemic, support local companies. 

This global pandemic might actually benefit small local publishers in their time of most need with exactly what they have been looking for so long: a new stream of income! What is essential is that this is identified and these publishers look to provide a great user experience and valued content. Otherwise those users will just drift away again when this is over.

Follow this blog series over the next month to find out more about how the world of advertising is changing for media companies. In the meantime, you can download our whitepaper, The New Rules of Advertising: Surviving - and Thriving as a Publisher in the 2020sor get in touch if you'd like to talk to us about managing these issues at your organisation.