HuffPo Exec: Where Digital Publishing Is Headed In 2016

Digital has “drastically” changed the publishing business, said Spencer Sloe, VP and head of ad product and monetization at The Huffington Post, during his presentation at the Mobile FirstLook conference, in New York City Wednesday afternoon. 

According to Sloe, three key trends are shaping the industry. The first is that discovery mechanisms have changed.

“Back in the old days, people used to type in a URL to go to a Web site, but that’s not how it works anymore,” Sloe said. “Google changed the way people found information on the Web, with search being the primary referrer for many publishers. Today social is the largest source of traffic for media sites.”

Another big trend shaping the publishing world is mobile consumption. At HuffPo, 65% of Web traffic comes from mobile. Sloe said publishers that see such high mobile traffic must optimize their content for those readers. For example, for mobile HuffPo tightens its headlines, at times uses different pictures than what’s on desktop, shortens desktop articles, and develops mobile-only content.

“We’ve also optimized page design to enhance engagement,” Sloe said. “Since anything that is mobile is inherently more social, we tailor content on our mobile experience in a way that integrates users within the social network experience as well. This includes things like atomized content sharing and responsive social referrals.”

The third trend helping shape the publisher experience in the digital age is the rise in consumption of video content. Year-over-year video consumption grew 40%, and Americans spend 76 minutes on average watching digital video per day, Slie said. HuffPo planted a big stake in video when it set out to target younger readers two years ago. Seventy-nine percent of Millennials watch video daily, Sloe said.

Today, HuffPo has a three-tier video strategy, which focuses on premium licensed video content, original content, and user-generated content. 

Sloe made a couple of predictions for where the digital publishing business is headed in 2016. The first, he said, is a bigger focus on apps than on the mobile Web.

“We’ve created a lot of scale [with our mobile apps], and we are seeing the numbers go down on mobile Wweb because of distributed content,” he said. “Apps are immune to ad blocking. You can unlock notifications, and apps are superior in speed and performance.”

Sloe also predicted that more publishers will invest in distributed content. The ROI HuffPo is seeing is quite high: a 10x in CTR and a 15x increase in CPM.

“Don’t go all in on distributed content, but do find partners to do this with,” he advised. “There are also some interesting monetization opportunities.”

He also predicted that more publications will think about podcasting. Stats show 18% growth annually and podcast growth will only accelerate.

“Think about podcasting because you’ll be seeing a lot of companies formulating plans around podcasts,” Sloe said. “I was also just at CES and heard a lot about virtual reality, but I don’t think we are there yet. I’m not bashing it, but it’s not quite mainstream. On the other hand, 360 video is really mainstream, and it’s a really great experience. Publishers can bring it to the living room with new devices like Apple TV.” 

Read related article, “Aim For ‘Transformational’ Mobile App Experiences: Google Exec

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