Publishers: Mobile-First Isn’t Enough

    by Michelle Manafy
    April 15, 2014
    Photo by zilverbat on Flickr and used here with Creative Commons license.

    The following is a guest post. See more information about MediaShift guest posts here.

    While many are waiting for “the year of mobile” to finally arrive, that very idea may have already become passé. As comScore revealed in its new research, “although smartphones have been in the hands of consumers for a long time, these devices, now along with tablets, have probably never had a more drastic impact on consumer behavior.” And they were talking about 2013. In fact, by the end of the year, a full 56 percent of digital media consumers constituted what comScore calls the “multi-platform majority.”

    "Mobile-first is inadequate; you need to be everywhere.” -John O’Donovan

    So yes, certainly, mobile is important. And perhaps a mobile-first strategy can help print-first thinkers get on the digital-is-essential-wagon (better late than never). However, at our recent Online Publishers Association Tech Day — a members-only event for education and information sharing — a recurring theme among presenters was that mobile-first won’t move media fast enough to keep pace with consumer behaviors and expectations.


    While mobile is the fastest area of growth, according to comScore (among others), they find only about 8 percent of users are mobile-only. Growth is an exciting thing to focus on, but media companies can’t afford to lose sight of the bigger cross-platform picture. With most consumers reachable across a variety of media platforms, marketers are looking for ways to reach them with the right message wherever they are. So media companies have to do more than simply stay current — they must be future ready.

    Tech Support for the Media Business

    Photo by AngryJulieMonday and used here with Creative Commons license.

    Photo by AngryJulieMonday and used here with Creative Commons license.

    This means integrating tech with editorial, business and ad strategies. VP of Technology Pablo Mercado said that when they were developing the content management system (CMS) for Vox Media, the most important factor was empowering editorial to “create stories the way they want to, to have the flexibility to experiment.” At Vox, contributors to a story include not only writers, editors and photographers, but also developers, designers, advertising directors, and even sysadmins. The CMS is designed to enable a highly iterative strategy going forward with the goal of “going from idea to production in 60 seconds.”


    Scott Boyarsky, CTO at CNBC, was among those echoing the importance of integrating technology into the content creation process, saying that his editors are looking for ways to support their work with data such as dynamic charts and graphs. However, as Boyarsky pointed out, “users expect the content they want to be available everywhere. So whatever we produce needs to be able to be transformed on to all of the different platforms.” At CNBC and NBC Universal, they have developed a “platform-agnostic Toolbelt” that stores content in a relational, normalized format so that it can be delivered on multiple platforms.

    Investing in the Future

    Many media companies, such as Cox and Univision, are investing in third party development to keep their products in line with the ever-changing mobile universe, while they also work hard to maintain digital development core-competencies inside their organizations. At Cox, the company has developed a unified digital platform to better leverage its content across as many delivery channels as possible.

    The FT, which acquired web and application development company Assanka to form FT Labs, has a similar mindset, leveraging one codebase to deliver via multiple platforms. And, while FT Labs started off as a mobile initiative, it has become broader in its scope and more future-focused, bringing to the FT a culture of constant experimentation with new platforms, technologies and channels.

    The FT continues to invest in staying ahead of the curve to meet customer expectations.

    The FT continues to invest in staying ahead of the curve to meet customer expectations.

    As John O’Donovan, CTO of the FT said, “Mobile-first is inadequate; you need to be everywhere.” Fellow panelist, Slate VP of Technology and Product Development Dan Check — who pointed out that for Slate “everywhere” is always digital — noted that responsive design has enabled them to maximize comparatively limited resources, driving record-setting traffic and digital innovation. Conversely, the Financial Times finds responsive design too limiting for its content-everywhere strategy. According to O’Donovan, “It seemed we would have had to sacrifice on one of the channels with responsive design. We couldn’t get it exactly right on all of them.”

    Later in the day, Bloomberg CTO and head of R&D Eric Schvimmer said, “You have to pay more than lip-service to mobile-first design.” He also emphasized the importance of creating processes that allow you to “make better-performing sites fast.” And in the event’s concluding session, which focused on transforming media companies into tech-centric companies, New York Times CIO Marc Frons emphasized, “Today, technology must be front and center in your organization. You can’t innovate unless your tech team is as good as the best team in your organization.”

    IDG CTO Aaron Jones may have summed it up best when he said, that “the ‘product’ is very different than it was in the print days. The readers dictate the medium.” His company has implemented a shared-source model and is implementing a more centralized development to facilitate multi-platform delivery. “You are always in beta,” said Jones. “You have to be thinking about the future the moment you roll out the latest thing.”

    Note: MediaShift helps produce the Online Publishers Association’s bi-weekly OPA Intelligence Report email newsletter.

    In her role as editorial director, Michelle is responsible for the Online Publishers Association’s content-related initiatives including our inContext site as well as evangelizing industry best-practices in a wide range of venues. She has two decades of publishing experience, more than half of which has been focused squarely on the business of digital content. Her career has included leadership roles at the Media Industry Newsletter (min), where she concentrated on digital strategies and revenue channels for the magazine media; UK-based digital publisher FreePint Limited, where she focused on the enterprise information industry; and Information Today, Inc.’s Enterprise Group, where she provided content direction on publications and events in the areas of content creation, management and delivery strategies and tools, enterprise search, and the business of content. Michelle also has extensive knowledge on millennials and “digital natives,” having co-written the book Dancing with Digital Natives: Staying in Step with the Generation That’s Transforming the Way Business Is Done. She is a lively and informative industry writer and speaker and holds a BA in journalism from San Francisco State University.

    Tagged: content delivery content management mobile multi-platform journalism multi-platform media

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