Trends & Insights

10 dinner table topics for media industry leaders

May 5, 2016


What kind of conversation occurs when a diverse group of media industry leaders wind up around a dinner table? A memorable one, rich with varied perspectives. Wibbitz hosted journalists, business executives, and editorial leaders for dinner and table talk about the thrilling—and sometimes terrifying—changes bubbling up in our industry. The media dinner was held in New York and brought together millennial audience gurus from companies including Mic, Vice News, Mashable, Spotify, Quartz, Digiday, Bustle, Perform GroupAdweek, Tasting Table, YouNow, and AdExchanger.

While a good portion of the evening was spent delving into the complexities of today’s digital audience, the discussion brushed a wide range of topics and revealed the many different ways that media is evolving. So what’s top of mind for industry leaders when left to open banter? These 10 topics of discussion left the biggest imprint in our minds:

1. Millennials are impossible to define, but essential to understand.

Millennials. The word is wrapped with an almost infinite number of meanings. And bringing together some of the brightest minds in the biz may have expanded that number rather than narrowed it down. Millennials encompass the consumers who have originated a massive change in content consumption. They’re the first of the social media aficionados, the cord cutters, and the mobile addicts. Defined by attributes ranging from their age group to the platforms they use most, millennials have become a critical component of media and publishing strategies. The pressing need to understand this audience was apparent in the fervor behind suggested definitions like, “an audience who wants their voice to be heard,” or “consumers whose highest value is choice.” By the end of the evening we could only come to one consensus on the topic—the invaluable millennial is simply undefinable.

2. Platforms are inspiring new video formats.

This is a topic we can speak to firsthand. But experts in video from Vice News, Digiday, YouNow and more confirmed that they’re seeing this trend in video content creation. The increasingly important role that video plays in social media has made it equally important for publishers. New video formats are being born from Facebook’s autoplay setting, Snapchat’s vertical layout, and YouNow’s live broadcast. The ways in which video is delivered and consumed on these platforms has cultivated best practices to achieve best performance, leading to a sort of ‘formatization’ of video. Whether it be the the large text overlays on Facebook videos or the vertical selfie captures on Snapchat Discover, media industry leaders agree that these new formats are being integrated into their content strategy.

3. A successful content strategy is both sustainable and cuts through the noise.

It’s a careful balance in publishing between producing enough content and still establishing a clear brand voice. Everyone at the table shared this conundrum, from the journalists who create content to the executives who measure its overall success. The content beast must be fed to maintain credibility as a news source and anchor your place in the daily news cycle. But it’s the ‘it factor’ that will ultimately determine your ability to secure a loyal audience. Even publications with a more narrow focus like AdExchanger encourage their team to cover stories that are outside their norm, adding unique perspectives to the brand’s content. The challenge of this content strategy balance? Resources. Time, staff, and budget limitations make it difficult to stay afloat while standing out. We know of some handy tools to help in the video department, but it’s still a struggle that publications of all sizes face.

4. Media consumers are lazy.

Despite the endless opportunity to choose, leaders from global media giants like Spotify insist that consumers still enjoy programmed content. We all tend to avoid decision making. Something about sitting down in front of your TV (or computer) and just ‘putting something on’, is appealing. This is why media companies like Vice News and Tasting Table are investing in more traditional programming for broadcast channels and Apple TV. While content continues to disperse from TV to digital platforms, consumers will still seek out opportunities NOT to choose from time to time. Spotify offers users the ability to choose their own music, but it also creates smartly curated playlists they can listen to when feeling lazy (Discover Weekly is a personal favorite – if you’re not familiar, you should be). The conversation took a philosophical turn when landing on this topic, but it was a valuable reminder that human behavior remains the biggest influencer in media.

5. VR is an important medium, it just still needs time.

Media people often have mixed reactions when VR is brought up. Some love it, some see it as a waste of time, but it continues to be a topic of discussion. The biggest obstacle for VR’s widespread adoption is accessibility. It’s difficult to understand without actually experiencing it, and at this point many people don’t have that option. The lack of audience also means that there’s a lack of content, which further stunts growth. A diverse list of different use cases was suggested during our conversation: police training, virtual classrooms, visiting distant family members, and of course media content. VR is on the radar for media industry leaders, it just still has some progress to make.

6. Younger audiences are more forgiving of f*$% ups.

While an editor-in-chief may still want to murder at the sight of a typo, younger consumers will let it slide. Several of our guests shared painful stories of finding an error in newsletters or headlines, but were surprised by their audience’s response (or lack thereof). Millennials and the generations that follow are growing up in a world with an abundance of content, and much of that content is coming from themselves. User generated content (UGC) floods through social media feeds and is even popping up on publishers’ websites. This raw, unedited material is familiar and often relatable for a younger audience, so an occasional missing word or typo won’t ruin your reputation with them. This seemed to be a difficult thought to grasp for many in the room, and is probably even more so for legacy publishers like The New York Time. But as audiences change, so do expectations and standards for media providers. Remember that (and be grateful) next time your team has a slip up.

7. Education is not a forgotten responsibility for journalists.

All trends, challenges, and predictions aside—journalism is about informing the public. Media providers have a hefty responsibility to provide accurate and valuable information to educate consumers. This concept was pointedly brought up by one of the executives at the table to see if it was still something that the journalists in attendance kept in mind. Their answer? A resounding, ‘yes’. You don’t have to cover international crises or financial markets to feel this responsibility. Journalists covering B2B and trade topics actively think about how to best educate their audience with rich and valuable information. Women’s lifestyle content is no different, and Bustle’s editor explained how seriously their team takes the task of producing the right content in the right way about sex, health, and beauty. It was a refreshing step back to look at this fundamental pillar of media, and to know that it’s still top of mind for today’s leaders.

8. Interacting with your viewers may be the key to success.

In a world where ‘social’ dominates, media companies are realizing the need to actively participate in the conversation. Now that most publishers have caught up with their audience on social media, some are taking it one step further. This year Quartz launched a new app that delivers news via text conversation. Speckled with emojis, gifs, and their wonderfully sharp tone, the app provides a truly interactive news consumption experience. Publishers are starting to form strategies for chat apps, and Facebook recently announced at its F8 conference that it has opened its messenger app for publishers to create interactive chat bots. Our guest from YouNow attested to the level of engagement they observe on their own platform and its direct correlation with broadcasters’ success. Consumers, especially younger generations, want to feel like they have a voice, and the best way for publishers to enable that is through interaction.

9. TV is just another part of the platform mix.

While TV may not be dead as many have proclaimed, it has certainly experienced a shift in the media landscape. This shift made way for online properties, digital video hubs, and a multitude of mobile apps. But as Viceland and Tasting Table’s Apple TV app exemplify, even digital-bred media companies are throwing TV into their mix of publishing platforms. It no longer hold precedent over the media industry as it once did, but TV is still very much a viable revenue stream and exciting medium for content producers. With more publishers looking to OTT and streaming services, leaders in the space agree that it will be interesting to see how TV changes as a platform now that it has company.

10. It’s only the beginning for innovation in digital video.

Video seemed to make its way into every topic we touched on throughout the night. It was a clear focal point for our guests and their organizations, but also clearly full of change. From monetization to technology, platforms, and formats, digital video still has exciting ground to cover. This past year has laid the foundation for a world of possibilities for digital video content and what it means for both publishers and consumers. Innovation in digital video has only just begun, and media industry leaders seem to be more than ready for the ride. The Wibbitz team is already on board.