Financial Sustainability A moving target in the U.S. Media Market

The Big Picture

  • Soaring ‘20s - ‘optimistic but realistic’ forecast.
  • Conversion from ‘content manufacturer’ to ‘service provider’
  • Emerging audience - forward revenue models

Local TV stations:

  1. Retrans Money - steady growth (above 40 percent)
  2. Advertising - flat (until March)
  3. Adding other sources (education, events, etc)

Print & Digital News Media:

  1. Subscriptions/membership (up to 80 percent)
  2. Advertising - steady decline
  3. Events, eCommerce, etc.
LINK: COVID-19 Tracker - Media Layoffs, Furloughs and Pay Cuts, Forbes
  • Changing paywall algorithms
  • Continuing to encourage subscriptions, even if the gates are open
  • Using in-article calls-to-action.

LINK: Anchorage Daily News - more than 80 percent of 400 new digital subscriptions came from non-metered articles

Changing paywall algorithms

  • Partially open paywall: Creating a division in COVID-19 coverage — with articles essential for public health outside the paywall and articles on the economic implications of the virus gated, for example. Publishers as varied as TechCrunch, The Daily Beast, The Economist, and The Local are making these distinctions on an article-by-article basis. One approach: continue to count COVID-19 articles toward meter expiration.
  • Open paywall while promoting subscriptions or donations: The Philadelphia Inquirer is embedding messages in COVID-19 stories such as this one. Same for Gannett, Chicago Sun-Times, SME, National Post, and Cafe.com.
  • Replace paywall with Regwall: The New York Times has kept its regwall in place for pandemic coverage. Other variations of soft registration: provide email to access content beyond first 3 articles; or to remove the paywall completely and rely on newsletter signups — sign up to access all content (often by promoting a COVID-19 specific newsletter) to develop deeper connections with your readers.
  • Keep the paywall up: Publishers with significant amounts of COVID-19 coverage gated — are seeing meaningful increases in digital subscriptions. This approach is most appropriate for sites that primarily cover topics outside of general news (the Wall Street Journal, etc).
Canadian food chain paid for free access @ 16 newspapers.

Getting creative to keep advertisers

  • Most advertisers scaled back by at least 30-50 percent
  • Sponsorship: selling sponsored access.

Examples: The Atlantic proposed the federal government buy massive amounts of advertising focused on public health to keep news organizations afloat. The Southeast Missourian is providing stories for free with the support of local medical sponsors.

  • Keeping the relationships alive & planting seeds for the future: offering discounts, credit, web, social media content, web support services, etc.
  • Refocusing ads on 3 simple messages: We are open, but here's what you need to know to access our services; We can't wait to be back; We can't provide our services but here's what we are doing for our community (donations in-kind or otherwise, volunteerism, or what they are doing for their employees)
LINK: Creative advertising ideas from Best Ads on TV

Turning live events into virtual ones

  • Converting existing events, adding new ones: book clubs, happy hours, etc.

Making the most of the email newsletters

  • Getting as many emails as possible
  • Boosting on-boarding strategies
  • Encouraging habit
  • Humanizing
  • Making the ask

The Media in the Mirror

  • How are we doing? Taking a hard look in the mirror
  • Changing revenue models
  • Re-targeting and reshaping value propositions
“We’re 100 percent remote,” says Mike Klingensmith, publisher of the Star Tribune. “Nobody is in our office. I don’t know how we are doing it. Everyone may figure out we don’t need an office after all.”
  • Potential near-term scenarios: Best, worst, mid-case
  • What’s the scope of possible activity for each scenario (expense controls and revenue leverages)
  • What steps can we take now?
  • Reshaping value propositions: “Audience-first” org structure. The connection between journalists and the audience has never been stronger.
  • Working to update overall organizational culture and structure.
  • Strategic Planning and Consulting Focus Areas: Audience and product analysis; Technology and UX analysis; Org chart and workflow development; Company culture and change coaching; Membership/Subscription practices and development; Marketing and fundraising strategy; Branding and persona consulting.

Pivoting toward crowd-funding support

Building new Strategy

  • Struggling to avoid brain-drain in product, business and tech. ‘Kill the newspapers, save the journalists’ (The NYT opinion example)
  • Maximizing staff efficiency, job descriptions and staff training
  • Sufficient volume of unique, differentiated content is the way to win (The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The Guardian, The Atlantic, The Boston Globe attest to this)
  • Optimizing mid-funnel, focusing on content distribution, on-boarding, web push notifications
  • Recirculation strategy
  • Social amplification
  • Content repurposing; launching online and newsletter courses
  • Adding a personal touch (editorial notes to newsletters);
  • Audience surveys; A/B testing new content strategies

CTA optimization

  • Make it easy: Do not make users click to another page to sign up. Enable autocomplete for the form.
  • Make it prominent: Position the prompt so that it’s discoverable on both desktop and mobile and give it a design that brings visual attention to CTA. Put it high on the page and use strong colors (red, orange). Sticky modules are more intrusive but perform well.
  • Make it clear: The language and design must be crystal clear. Add how often the newsletter will come, but you may do it in the secondary page.
  • Make it Compelling: Images drive more engagement. Google’s research shows that images to the left of the links/text is the most effective layout for clicks. Feature your most compelling stories.
  • Give options: Aim for three links in and around the article.
  • Look and Feel: Focus on personalizing the prompt messaging
  • Display Frequency: Prompt shouldn’t appear too soon in the session. Prioritize acquisition on article view or 2nd impression.
  • Implementation: Might be tricky, your own or 3rd party solutions.

Demonstrating your value to the community

  • Creating resources for the audience + local businesses: Charlotte Agenda launched a virtual jar for service workers; Berkleyside lists fundraisers for local businesses; NOLA.com is encouraging local restaurants to share menu specials and curbside pickup; VTDigger, the nonprofit newsroom in VT, pledged to donate masks to local hospitals for every new subscriber.

Focusing on COVID-19 Content

  • "You Asked, We Answered”: Trusted Service that gets answers for the audience & the advertisers (streaming early to encourage questions, IG stories streams with live questions, etc)
  • Serving the core needs of the moment: People want information; People want to feel less alone; People want to feel useful; People want to process, to feel and to be witnessed feeling; People want material help.

Designing for now, but Playing the Long Game

  • Failing faster and cheaper, and moving forward.
  • The Dallas Morning News had been preparing to launch Experience Dallas after an initial pilot when coronavirus arrived in the U.S. The program offers reduced renewal rates to existing subscribers on a Dallas Morning News subscription (up to 97 percent off) in exchange for user reviews of local food and entertainment venues. Quickly adapted the program by accepting receipts for donations to local charities, as well as takeout, delivery, and gift cards to any locally owned bars, restaurants, coffee shops, or performance venues.
  • The Boston Globe’s BostonHelps effort, connects those who need help with those who are offering help
  • The Devil Strip in Akron, Ohio, turned the front page of its quarterly print edition into a coloring page with the message “Akron Together.” Encouraged those who grabbed a copy to put it up in one of their street-facing windows.


  • Case Study 1: The Paywall Optimization Strategy that led to increased engagement, subscriptions, and revenue for the world’s largest online business news site, Business Insider
  • Case Study 2: Membership has its perks: How CAFE Insider reached
  • more than 15,000 members during its first 90 days.
Created By
Olga Kyle