Cory Bergman
A bunch of misfits, that’s what they called us. A bunch of nobodies. Inexperienced. Ain’t never been there. Well, you see what misfits get you.
Seahawks defensive end Red Bryant after winning the Super Bowl.

Speaking at the Mobile World Congress, Financial Times’ CTO John O’Donovan said the term mobile first has become meaningless. “Focusing too much on one thing can lead to being obsessed with the things mobile can do” instead of seeing the bigger picture, he warned.  The FT uses a “universal publishing” approach.

Similarly, others have argued that the best, most holistic strategy is “platform appropriate,” optimizing for each screen.  “Who are we to say what screen is first?” said Meredith Artley, managing editor of CNN Digital.

From a consumer standpoint, they’re right.  We should be doing everything.  But for the vast majority of newsrooms with limited resources and tightly-bound cultures, mobile first is a rallying cry to aggressively turn the Titanic before it’s too late.

In news, culture is everything.  Over a decade ago, the industry saw the internet as just another distribution channel — another screen — instead of a disruptive new way of doing business.  Without the urgency, changes were made too slowly, too tentatively, and the rest is history.

If it’s just another thing, you won’t change fast enough.

Today, Facebook, Google and Twitter are dominating the mobile news and information space by making it their top priority — accelerating cultural changes, making bold new bets ($9 billion!?) and generating real revenue — while news organizations argue over which screen is more appropriate.

"We come to mobile like this is just another platform, we’ve seen radio go to television, we’ve seen print go to Web," explains Michael Zimbalist, SVP of ad products and R&D at NY Times. “I would sort of challenge everyone to think of mobile as a platform shift of a different order, because we’ve never seen a platform shift that’s invaded people’s lives in such a profound way.”

Mobile first isn’t about abandoning the desktop, it’s about accelerating culture change to adapt to the fastest shift in consumer behavior in the history of journalism. It doesn’t matter what you believe, it matters what you can do.  Mobile first is an urgent call to rethink our priorities, invest in new capabilities, relentlessly experiment and redefine success metrics to succeed in a radically new marketplace.

If “mobile first” forces news organizations to focus too much on mobile, so be it.  Because the alternative is a second wave of disruption and decline.

We come to mobile like this is just another platform, we’ve seen radio go to television, we’ve seen print go to Web. I would sort of challenge everyone to think of mobile as a platform shift of a different order, because we’ve never seen a platform shift that’s invaded people’s lives in such a profound way.
Michael Zimbalist, senior vice president of ad products and research and development at The New York Times, in this article.

Journalists like to talk about mobile web vs. apps like it’s a cage match. Which is better? Where should we place our bets? Which will win?

The answer is both. Prioritize both.

News organizations like to hope that the web will win.  That’s because the web is familiar, and apps are extremely costly. 

But the cruel truth is apps are dominating the mobile web in time spent by a 85% to 15% margin (Comscore).  Apps are even projected to eclipse the desktop web by the end of the year (Comscore).  And news apps are under-performing as a category, growing a third as fast as the average app (Flurry).

Oh, so people don’t like news apps, right?

No.  It’s because most news apps are built for pennies, and they suck when compared to snazzy aggregators like Flipboard and social experiences like Facebook.  The lack of investment is a self-fulfilling prophesy.

Well, maybe news orgs should just focus on the web, because Flipboard and Facebook send us traffic, and that should be our mobile strategy?

No. If you punt on apps, you’ve just disrupted yourself.  Remember the argument about Google back in the day?  That it became the entry point of the web and monetized on top of everyone else’s content?  Apps are the mobile entry point.

But HTML 5 will come on strong and take market share from apps, right?

That’s not how it’s trending right now, and besides, are you willing to bet your news organization’s future on that assumption?

Let’s stop making excuses as an industry.  Poynter should stop writing about it.  We should stop asking the question in journalism conferences.

It’s no more web “vs.” apps.  It’s both.

I was introduced to “Seattle nice” when I moved here from California (gasp!) in the late 90s. I was driving downtown, and the Range Rover in front of me stopped cold in the middle of the street to ask a parking enforcement officer a question.

I honked. Several times.

The officer promptly marched right up to my car, and I preemptively asked, “What did *I* do wrong?”

She proclaimed, “You’re NOT BEING NICE!”

So why is a city so obsessed with being nice in love with Seahawks trash-talker Richard Sherman?  Even as much — or more — than one of the nicest quarterbacks on the planet, Russell Wilson?

image

Let’s start with Seattle’s dismal sports history. Only one of our pro sports teams has ever won a national championship: the Seattle Sonics, which were stolen away to Oklahoma. The Mariners set league records in 2001, only to succumb to the Yankees in the playoffs. The Seahawks made it to the Super Bowl once in 2006, but were overcome by the Steelers and the refs.

This history becomes only more painful when the national media piled on the disrespect. When the Hawks first went to the Super Bowl, one analyst cracked that Seattle is in “southeastern Alaska.”  The national media coverage focused entirely on the Steelers — I remember vividly, because I covered the Super Bowl for KING TV — and the tradition continued for years to come.

Microsoft is mocked.  Amazon is in “Silicon Valley.”  The Gates Foundation, which is saving millions of lives, gets less press than Twitter.

For Richard Sherman, it got under his skin. “I think we’ll enter next season as we did this season: As a bunch of nobodies, a bunch of no-name players,” Richard Sherman said a year ago. “I think we’re gonna end up being one of those teams that, once again, flies under the radar because we’re in Seattle.”

But as the season began, Seattle started to get respect. Sherman’s trash-talking on national TV — challenging the East Coast in his own bizarre way to give us the respect we deserve — seemingly began to work.  Sure, the Seahawks are an incredible team this year, but we’ve seen incredible teams in our city before.  This time was different, and Sherman was at the megaphone.

That’s why Seattle loves it when Sherman loses it. The city enjoys being the underdog, but not an outcast.  And now everyone can hear us.

The second disruption for news organizations is taking shape quickly, according to new data that illustrates the poor performance of news apps in 2013.  A new study by Flurry (above) discovered that news and magazine apps were among the slowest to grow (+31% in user sessions) compared to the app average (+115%) and dreadfully behind the explosion of social media apps (+203%).
Separately, a Pew study released in November illustrated a growing population of users who get their news from social media.  For example, 30% of Americans get news on Facebook, and 78% of Facebook’s daily active users are visiting from their mobile devices — nearly all of those from the Facebook app.

Apps continue to overwhelm the mobile web and are poised to surpass the desktop, too.  Analyst Ian Maude tweeted a graph (above) — using Comscore data — that projects that time spent in mobile apps is “set to overtake desktop usage by year end.”
We’re in the throes of the fastest shift in news consumption in history.  For news organizations desperate for distribution, under-performing on the fastest-growing and soon to be dominate distribution platform is not an option.  However, a new report from Forrester Research found that many media companies and retailers are under-spending when it comes to investing in mobile: half are spending under $1 million a year.
Mobile apps are difficult and costly, and they demand investment and reinvention across the entire organization. The landscape will only grow more competitive with personalization and precisely-targeted advertising leading the way. For media companies hoping for a magical, inexpensive, third-party solution to save the day — or the sudden collapse of mobile apps — there’s a rude awakening right around the corner.
"Like a hanging, mobile focuses the mind," writes Lewis Dvorkan, chief product officer of Forbes Media. “I often say the $2 to $3 CPMs publishers frequently get for smartphone ads will crush all traditional newsrooms built for the era of $50 print CPMs — and most of them still are, whether they admit it or not.”
(I work at Breaking News, a mobile startup owned by NBC News).

The second disruption for news organizations is taking shape quickly, according to new data that illustrates the poor performance of news apps in 2013.  A new study by Flurry (above) discovered that news and magazine apps were among the slowest to grow (+31% in user sessions) compared to the app average (+115%) and dreadfully behind the explosion of social media apps (+203%).

Separately, a Pew study released in November illustrated a growing population of users who get their news from social media.  For example, 30% of Americans get news on Facebook, and 78% of Facebook’s daily active users are visiting from their mobile devices — nearly all of those from the Facebook app.

Apps continue to overwhelm the mobile web and are poised to surpass the desktop, too.  Analyst Ian Maude tweeted a graph (above) — using Comscore data — that projects that time spent in mobile apps is “set to overtake desktop usage by year end.”

We’re in the throes of the fastest shift in news consumption in history.  For news organizations desperate for distribution, under-performing on the fastest-growing and soon to be dominate distribution platform is not an option.  However, a new report from Forrester Research found that many media companies and retailers are under-spending when it comes to investing in mobile: half are spending under $1 million a year.

Mobile apps are difficult and costly, and they demand investment and reinvention across the entire organization. The landscape will only grow more competitive with personalization and precisely-targeted advertising leading the way. For media companies hoping for a magical, inexpensive, third-party solution to save the day — or the sudden collapse of mobile apps — there’s a rude awakening right around the corner.

"Like a hanging, mobile focuses the mind," writes Lewis Dvorkan, chief product officer of Forbes Media. “I often say the $2 to $3 CPMs publishers frequently get for smartphone ads will crush all traditional newsrooms built for the era of $50 print CPMs — and most of them still are, whether they admit it or not.”

(I work at Breaking News, a mobile startup owned by NBC News).

One of the things I keep hearing in media circles is that mobile is purely additive and doesn’t come at the expense of the core digital business. However, two new reports illustrate how mobile is eating the desktop in both traffic and revenue, fueling a new disruption for media companies that have yet to figure out how to monetize their mobile audiences.

The first report is a year-end traffic analysis by Nielsen. It reveals that all of the top 10 web brands in the US experienced declines in PC web visits: Google is down 6%, Yahoo dropped 9% and Facebook fell 16% — all in a single year.

These declines have more implications than just the numbers themselves: they’re sources of referrals for media companies. As the referrals shift more mobile — for example, 78% of Facebook’s visits are now mobile — the fewer social and search referrals will be sent to the desktop. The effect will only accelerate desktop’s decline.

Why does this matter if overall traffic is soaring, thanks to the mobile explosion? That’s where the second report comes into play. Mobile ad revenue is expected to finish the year with 120% growth, compared to just 1.69% for the desktop, finds eMarketer. Next year, the desktop is virtually flat, slumping into a decline in 2015 and beyond. By 2017, mobile ad revenue is forecast to surpass the desktop altogether.

"Mobile advertising continues to grow faster than expected, largely at the expense of desktop ad spending, which is flattening or declining more rapidly than previous predicted," explains eMarketer, which keeps revising its forecasts to try to keep up with mobile’s astonishing growth.

For media companies that monetize mobile audiences at a fraction of the desktop — often with CPMs in the pennies — this is an immediate threat. As both advertisers and audiences shift away from the desktop simultaneously, overall ad revenue will decline. There is a boatload of mobile ad revenue, but it’s headed to companies like Facebook, Google and Twitter that can deliver on a high ROI with smartly-targeted ads.

This is why media companies must ramp up mobile investment more than ever, beefing up product teams that span content, UX, data and revenue — pivoting their cultures to adapt to the mobile-first reality. Video and sponsorships show particular promise, according to the eMarketer report, in addition to the skyrocketing growth of native advertising.

In the end, being platform-appropriate is not enough when you’re about to get clobbered by the biggest platform of them all. And if you need a little motivation, just start tracking your desktop decline.

(I work at Breaking News, a mobile-first company owned by NBC News).

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