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Niches, newsletters and existential threats: Everything we learned on day 2 of Mx3 Innovation in Media, Barcelona

Mx3 Barcelona, a gathering of high-profile media-curious delegates, was an off-the-record event on 12 and 13 March. This format allows media leaders to share industry insider information and secrets without being identified and quoted directly. The trends on day two represent industry insights shared by speakers in podium conversations and attendees. 

Tech companies are an ongoing threat to the media

Companies like Google and Meta have cast a long shadow over the media. In good times, agreements between tech and the media yielded mutually beneficial partnerships. 

Attitudes have, however, changed, several speakers noted. Companies have to negotiate an industry-wide shift on cookies and determine whether collaboration or confrontation is the best approach to AI initiatives like ChatGPT.

Tech companies will turn on the media, one speaker warned. They said Mark Zuckerberg, whose Meta has been accused of reneging on deals with the media in Australia, doesn’t understand the media and sees it as an impediment to his business’s progress. They also referred to Elon Musk, suggesting he bought Twitter to counter the way traditional media covers him. The tech company mantra, they said, seems to be, “if you can’t join them or own them, then beat them into submission!”

Media companies can develop closer ties with the creator community

In many parts of the world, the mainstream media and the creator community have little contact. Several presenters stressed that this is a missed chance, noting that the creator community offered media companies significant opportunities. The media companies, however, have to make the first move.

Creators across the globe face similar challenges but they don’t always get good advice on overcoming these obstacles as they don’t converse. Media companies can act as a conduit and harness the energy and creativity of lone creators.

Investors still love events companies

Representatives of the investment and mergers and acquisitions community pinpointed hot focus areas for media companies. Concerns about ongoing advertising revenue mean that companies with a subscription base appeal to investors and buyers.

But, overwhelmingly, media companies with profitable events offerings can command the highest premiums. Despite the Covid interregnum, events are seen as potentially valuable. Companies that have the ability to scale them are especially attractive.

Sometimes it is smart to look at challenging niches

Speaker after speaker emphasised the importance of niches. Perspectives ranged from smaller, independent publishers who primarily focus on one niche to national news publications broadening their reach by delving deeper into interest and community media.

For the smaller companies, a gut feeling about a niche is often their only barometer as they don’t have the resources for extensive research and due diligence.

Two speakers shared their experiences of niches deemed highly challenging by investors due to the incumbents’ strength. Both said they took a different approach, focusing on high-quality content and remaining steadfastly independent, to deliver successful businesses. For both, those hunches proved correct.

Not everyone thinks AI will reshape journalism

Is generative AI a fad? Can publishers ignore the innovations created by OpenAi and its rivals, and focus on the job at hand? Some attendees and speakers supported this notion, saying AI’s core benefit to publishers was not in creating content, but in areas such as research and data management. 

Especially interesting was the buzz around a company that created an AI-driven chatbot to answer subscriber queries by accessing its content catalogue and other primary sources. The system has been widely hailed as a key example of AI innovation. One speaker noted that the admiration for the chatbot stemmed from its rarity, and that publishers haven’t had the drive, technical know-how or culture to deliver similar innovations.

Publishers must avoid over-reliance on newsletters

With the demise of social media, many publishers are investing more time and energy in nurturing communities through email newsletters.

This can be a risky strategy. There was reference to the dopamine hit publishers can get from high open rates and subsequent traffic to their websites. 

Speakers noted the temptation to launch more newsletters, warning publishers should think carefully about this approach. “If you feel you might be spamming your audience, then you probably are,” one industry insider said. Finding the right balance is key, as is maintaining high engagement levels.

To achieve this, delegate after delegate said, you need high-quality content.