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Strategic insights
The Five Behaviors That Define The News Business



Written by on May 14, 2015

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The digital world has changed so much about how we publish. And yet, if you look around you, we see almost no change in how things are done. The friction and habits that people have built up over many generations serves as an almost unbreakable wall. But it doesn't have to be that way. And part of the reason why nothing is changing is because most publishers don't realize they have more than one option for growth.

In this article, we will explore, in depth, the five major forms of media consumption that defines the digital world today. The break, the update, the lookup, the story and the passion, and the recline. And we will explore why media companies optimizing for one type of media behavior is entirely different from that of the others.

By the end of this article, you will learn why there is a future potential within each of these five paths, rather than what we see today where most newspapers only focus on optimizing traffic.

Note: while this article is primarily aimed at newspaper and magazine publishers, the overall concept of aligning your strategy with how people behave is true for brands as well.

Let's get started.

The lack of media innovation

In 1996, almost twenty years ago, the Wall Street Journal launched its newspaper on the web. And it came with all the bells and whistles.

The Wall Street Journal Interactive Edition provides continually updated news 24 hours a day, seven days a week, a personalized news report, updated stock and mutual-fund prices and in-depth background information.

To address the needs of busy readers, the Interactive Edition provides a feature called Personal Journal. This allows a reader to establish a profile of his or her interests and easily view the news that matches that profile.

Not only that, WSJ also planned to charge for access:

The Journal intends later this spring to begin charging for access to the Interactive Edition. The cost will be $29 a year for subscribers to the print Journal, $49 a year for non-print-Journal subscribers.

While many users of the Internet express reluctance to pay for information they obtain there [...] with the additional information and features of the Interactive Edition, we're confident readers will pay the modest subscription price we're charging.

Of course, as The New York Times commented:

There is no guarantee that Internet users will be willing to pay to use the Web site. Other papers that have used the same strategy have failed, generally because they did not have enough appeal to people who had no access to the print edition.

And, the web wasn't just a place to publish old print articles either. A team of 36 reporters would write stories explicitly for the new website:

A staff of 35 reporters and editors will generate original stories for the Web site, under the direction of Mr. Budde.

In fact, it would offer:

Continually updated news and information from the global Wall Street Journal and Dow Jones news staffs. The Interactive Edition has a news staff of more than 35 editors, graphics artists and others, working out of The Journal's New York newsroom and dedicated exclusively to producing content for the on-line edition. And, unlike the print newspaper, the Interactive Edition will be staffed and published on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays.

And how did this glorious new website look? Well, it looked like this. On the front page there would be a selection of stories with links to all their main topics. You know, the usual model of a little of bit of everything + sport:

Isn't this lovely?

In 1996, this was truly forward thinking. But you might notice that this is sounds awfully familiar. This is still what newspapers are saying in 2015.

Almost twenty years later, and the state of innovation in the newspaper industry hasn't changed at all. Newspapers today are still trying to innovate by doing exactly the same as WSJ in 1996. Their format is still the same. The new personalization feature is the same. The structure of the newspaper is the same. And the monetization challenges are the same.

Even the WSJ hasn't changed their strategy in the past 20 years. True, today's website looks a lot better, but it's 100% the same strategy and type of content. The only real difference is that they are no longer covering sport.

Mind you, WSJ has actually done quite well. Along with The New York Times, it has successfully convinced three-quarters of a million people to subscribe. And these numbers are from 2014, so it's surely even higher today. The New York Times, for instance, now has more than 900,000 subscribers, which is quite amazing.

So, yes, a few newspapers with already strong audiences and equally strong recognized brands have managed to make this (partially) work. But, it's not really been because they have been innovating.

Innovation in the newspaper industry practically started and stopped in the 1990s. Meanwhile the internet itself has transformed in so many different ways over the past 20 years. In 1996, people used the internet as a place they would go to look up information. It often required them to deliberately turn on their computers, which was located in a separate room.

It was a deliberate decision to read news online, just as it was a deliberate decision to sit down to read a print paper. And, in this kind of world, the old model that WSJ talked about in 1996 made a lot of sense. It was a package, mixed with the features of the internet of the time.

In 2015, however, the internet is an entirely different place.

We see this when we look at how people behave. The old model of what defined a newspaper doesn't really fit into any of the behavioral patterns that we now observe. We can no longer just design for one type of behavior. Instead, we see several different forms of behaviors linked to specific intent of our readers of that moment.

So, let's talk about the many different types of behavior we see in the digital world of news.

Generally, speaking we can categorize digital reading behavior in five different ways: The break, the update, the lookup, the story and the passion, and the recline.

The break

The break is a digital news behavior that we see hundreds of times each day. It's a result of how easily we can connect with things around us, and the immediacy of our mobile devices.

We all know how this is. We are doing something else, and suddenly we get the urge to check Twitter or Facebook. That's the break. It's a moment where we look at things online and primarily via our phones. A moment of distraction.

Think about this in relation to your editorial strategy and as a business model. What kind of content would fit well with that moment? And what mental state are people in?

Well, first of all, when people are in break-mode, they have no intent. They are not really looking for anything specifically. We also see that people on a break are not really looking at content at all. The behavior is instead based around looking for something to distract themselves with.

And finally, there is no commitment to time. It's not like people are saying, "I will now sit down for a 20 minute break, and read something online". That's the old model. The digital break is whenever there is a moment, for an undetermined period of time, but usually only a few minutes.

Obviously, if you can manage to distract people with something interesting within that time, you can get them to spend even more. But there is no upfront commitment to anything.

This behavior is truly the absence of making a decision.

As a traditional media company, this is a weird audience to design for. You are used to the idea that people decide to read your specific publication at a time they more or less planned. If you are a magazine publisher, you have always designed your magazine for when people sit down with a cup of tea. And newspapers during the morning breakfast.

But the break isn't anything like that. It's what people do when they are standing in line at the supermarket. While they are waiting for a meeting to start. While they are cooking dinner. While they are waiting for the coffee machine to finish, or while they are waiting for the bus.

It's also something people do a lot when they are bored, or feeling stressed out. We even have a name for this. It's called procrastination.

And the first challenge you will face when designing for this behavior is that people don't come to you. When people go on a break, they don't say "I know, I will read the Guardian". Instead, people automatically gravitate towards channels that can give them something fun, interesting, inspiring, personal, and potentially eye-opening. And the more convenient those channels are, the better.

Ten years ago, blogs were favored with that type of traffic, especially those with a lot of random posts that were inspiring to look at. In recent years, of course, it's now all about social.

So, Facebook (predominantly), Twitter, and Pinterest are all magnets for people on a break. And it will always be like that. People on a break will always seek out the places that gives them the best snack-like experience, in the most convenient way.

And this is where the second kind of behavior kicks on. Because, when people come to Facebook, they are not looking for anything in particular. They are not really following something, or seeking out a specific form of information. They have no intent.

This means it's entirely up to you to post something that can catch their attention.

So what is the best way to do that? Well, sadly it's to either post completely ridiculous stories about personal suffering, or hot juicy stories about sex, fashion and the likes.

I give you the Daily Mail Online.

It really can't get any worse than this... but it works. And on a slightly less outrageous manner, we have Buzzfeed:

Both the Daily Mail Online and Buzzfeed are optimized for the break, and are aiming for the same kind of shallow content. But Buzzfeed hasn't entirely given up on their ethics and integrity.

One step further up, we find the Independent's i100 and Gawker's network of sites, which looks like saints in comparison to the Mail Online.

They are also designed for the break. As in a type of content that carries no intent, no purpose, no real meaning, but it is perfect for sharing by people who are bored and just have a few seconds of attention.

We also see this on many YouTube channels.

We have hugely popular YouTubers who are just posting random crap. One example is Jenna Marbles, a YouTuber with 15 million subscribers.

Each one of her videos is just complete and total randomness, and mostly idiotic, for people with no intent, no purpose, and on a break.

What she is doing is exactly the same as the Mail Online, just for video.

It doesn't have to be as shallow as this, though. Look at Grant Thompson, who calls himself the King of Random.

Like Jenna, he posts random videos. But unlike Jenna, this is not trying to appeal to people at the lowest and stupidest level possible. It's still somewhat shallow, but Grant also tries to make it interesting from a creative point of view.

Take this video about how to make matchbox rockets. It's not exactly rocket science. But it is a creative and fun thing to do. And if you have boys, you just became the best parent in the whole world.

This is the break model, and it's unique to the digital world, because we couldn't do anything like this in the old print world. Print publishing is based on people deciding to pick up your publication, and then deciding when to read it. The break model is the opposite of that, designed for the world of smartphones and optimized for that moment of randomness that people have 10-50 times per day.

It's a model where people don't come to you directly, but are instead referred to you via one of the social channels, which means that the content has to be designed for catching people's attention, and then getting the click or the view.

The downside is that they only work at scale. Remember, people are on a break. They have no intent or goal, which from a marketing perspective is the worst time to reach someone. As a result, the ad rates on these channels are at the absolute bottom of the scale.

Just look at this comparison on the outcome per unique visitor:

Yes, Buzzfeed is incredible in terms of scale. But that's because it has to be since its audience is so disengaged. And we see the same on Facebook.

In the past, social channels were based on the promise that they could connect to the things that we cared about. It was a place for us to manage and nurture our connections. But because of how everyone has been optimized for the break, social media today is not that valuable.

Just look at Facebook's recommendation for video content:

With the launch of auto-play and the surge in mobile use, it's also important to focus on posting videos that grab people from the first frame of video. Shorter, timely video content tends to do well in News Feed. Keep in mind that auto-play videos play silently in News Feed until someone taps to hear sound, so videos that catch people's attention even without sound often find success.

This is not what you would define as valuable content. This is 100% about optimizing for people on a break. This is what you would post when you assume people have no intent, aren't really looking for anything, or have any loyalty to the people they follow.

And this is the problem.

There are so many amazing aspects of digital social interaction, of which 'the break' is the least interesting and the least valuable. But because 'the break' is so rich in traffic, that's what every social channel is optimizing for.

As a publisher, it's tempting to look at this and be amazed about these numbers, but most publishers don't understand what kind of content this is.

Let me give you a simple example. Here are Buzzfeed's latest videos...

...compared to the latest videos from Bloomberg.

You see the difference? (Hint: look at the view metrics)

Both publishers tried to publish short, snackable videos. But what Bloomberg hasn't realized is that it's not about the length or the format. It's about people's state of mind. And since people have no intent when on a break, Bloomberg's videos fail catastrophically, because they are all designed for people with an intent.

As a publisher myself, I absolutely despise this. I hate what the Mail Online, for instance, is doing with every single fiber in my body.

In many ways it is the same behavioral crap that we have experienced with in-app purchases in mobile games. Everyone hates it, but it keeps working.

The highly respected Andy Ihnatko from the Chicago Sun-Times and co-host of Macbreak Weekly put it best earlier this year:

It's a complicated issue and I have been looking at this and talking to a lot of behavioral psychologist about how this mechanism works. And a lot of these things just put a bad taste in my mouth. It's the same reason why you wonder why there are the spam emails that are just so ridiculous that wonder why "God, what's the point of sending out something this stupid?" And then you look into why this was put and how this was put out this way.

There are not looking to convince most people that this is legitimate thing, they are seeking out the four percent or the two percent that are that gullible, to identify those people so they can target them later. That's what I feel a lot of this in-app purchases thing is doing.

As part of these companies business plans, there is a powerpoint slide somewhere that says that statistically speaking four percent have addictive personality that we can find. It doesn't matter that we got 96 user out of 100 that can give us a dollar or two, it's just out there to find those four percent that can give us 75% of our revenue.

It's the same as content designed for the break? It's designed for people at the exact moment when they are not thinking or making decision about what they click on.

What's important to understand is that it's not actually what people want. Instead, it's the result of how social optimization has caused only this type of content to win.

And we see this very clearly when we look at channels that haven't been optimized and edited by social algorithms. Take Instagram.

It's entirely different. Instead of being based on a social algorithm trying to rank posts based on engagement, you see what you have chosen to follow. The result is staggering.

I give you National Geographics.

National Geographic's Instagram account is absolutely stunning. Not only are they posting these amazing pictures, often about very serious things, they also have 18 million followers, which have now accumulated over one billion likes.

But Instagram, as a platform, is still designed for the break. What makes them different is that it hasn't been optimized yet.

You see the different dynamics at play here?

This is so important to understand as a publisher. If you look at Buzzfeed and think, "Wow, those are amazing levels of sharing, we want to be just like that," you need to understand where that will take you.

It's not the format, the length or how you package your content. It's about the intent that people have at that moment, and whether the social channel that people come from has been algorithmically twisted towards only that form of content.

People don't think when they are on a break. That's the whole point of why they are taking the break in the first place. And if you then mix that with the type of engagement that Facebook has optimized their newsfeed for, you end up with only one type of content. The gullible snack that people can consume and laugh about.

And yes, this is a huge problem because 'the break' commands such a big part of people's daily behavior, and thus generates so much traffic. But, as a publisher, this is probably not the type of content you are making today, nor is it the type of content you want to be known for.

This is the break. It's content optimized for the exact moment when your audience is least likely to convert. And if this was the only type of media behavior we had to work with, the future of media would look really bad.

But, we have four more to choose from.

The update

The behavior that defines 'the update' is very similar to the behavior that we see with 'the break'. It's something people do throughout their day. It is not defined by a specific time, nor have they dedicated themselves to a duration of time which they are willing to spend.

But this is also where the similarities end. Because, when people are looking for an update, they come to you with a highly specific intent and with the expectation of a high degree of value in return.

This has nothing to do with snacking, but has everything with getting updated. It's a huge difference.

Of course, what people's intent is depends on a huge number of individual needs. Some people don't really know what it is that they are looking for, in which case they are looking for a more generic form of update. Like getting the big picture of what has happened since the last time they came by.

Others have a more defined scope, like, for instance, the millions of people in the UK who turned to newspapers to learn about the nuances of the election. While some people have very specific needs in mind, looking for new information about highly specific things that they have heard about or are following.

There are many ways this can be done, but one newspaper that is doing this quite brilliantly is The Guardian.

Remember when Jeremy Clarkson was fired from Top Gear, after having had a bad day, and decided to slap around one of the BBC's producers? This caused a massive boost in traffic from people who all wanted to know what was going on. All people with a specific intent, and a specific need.

For these people, The Guardian's topical page, just about Jeremy Clarkson was the go-to place. There really was no point in going anywhere else. It collected all the information in one easy place to get updated.

Of course, this isn't really something new, nor is The Guardian the only one doing it. In the blogging world, for instance, we call this tagging, and it has been going on almost since blogging started.

However, it's not enough just to aggregate articles with the same keywords or tags. Because, if people are not deeply familiar with what has progressed so far, having to read over so many individual articles is a very poor form content.

What you need is to take this to the next level and mix this need for a quick update with the big picture. Specifically, you need to answer this:

  • What happened?
  • What are the facts? And what is still unknown? (Preferably supported by trustworthy and verifiable sources)
  • How did it happen? (Again, based on facts)
  • Pictures and videos... Loads of them, because people don't just want to read the news, they want to see it for themselves.
  • How are important and relevant people reacting to this? The words 'important and relevant' being the keywords here. I'm not talking about eyewitnesses who don't have a clue, or outsiders with opinions... or worse, experts who have no more information than what they can read in the newspapers. I'm talking about stakeholders here.

And this is especially important for stories defined around a limited time, like a terror attack, natural disaster, an election, or coverage of certain events.

It's the same with live streaming, which also falls under this behavior of people looking for an update. And again, we are faced with the same challenges. A live stream is wonderful for giving people a way to feel part of an event and keeping people engaged as something happens. But, most people don't have the time to watch every single thing you post.

Instead, they are checking in when they have a moment, to get 'the update', but that's when the live stream starts to fall short. Seeing a constantly updating stream of posts, articles and images doesn't really make much sense if you don't know the context.

So, an extremely important part of building a live stream is to enhance it with an edited 'big picture' view of what has happened so far, the most important points, and the conclusions so far. An edited view that is constantly changing to always present people with the best view possible no matter when people arrive at your site.

Two years ago I illustrated this in relation to the train accident that had happened in Spain:

What you see here is the big picture update. You have an edited summary of what has happened. A fact box telling us exactly what we think we know so far. Pictures and videos. Links to confirmed official information as well as your own analysis and insight provided by your investigative reporters.

Mind you, I'm not saying this is the only thing you should do. I'm saying that when people behave in a way that indicates they are looking to get updated, you need this big picture as part of your topical pages and live streams.

This is what fulfills the intent that people have, and shows that you are capable of meeting their expectations.

The lookup

The next behavior is the lookup, which, again, has many similarities to the behavior of that came before it, which was the update. The behaviors that defines both the update and the break are based on people taking a break and filling that time with something. But the dominant factor is that it's just an undetermined moment before they will return to whatever they were doing.

The lookup is different in that it's something people choose to do. It's based on a conscious decision to stop whatever they are doing, to look up information about something you just need to know right now.

So, whereas the update has no commitment to time that people are willing to spend, the lookup is not just extremely targeted. People are also choosing to invest whatever time (within reason) it takes to get the information they need.

Think about it like this. The update is about getting people up-to-date about all the bits of what is happening, while the lookup is all about giving people real answers based on knowledge.

People coming to your site with the lookup behavior aren't looking for a live stream of an aggregated collection of articles. They want the story.

Think about it like dealing with your boss. If your boss enters your office and asks "What is this about?", you don't start listing all the articles you have written about it, or direct him to a live stream. That would be useless and would be wasting your boss' time. Instead, you would provide an edited, condensed brief, combined with an efficient evaluation based on your insight, perspective and analysis.

This is the incredible difference between what you would do if your newspaper was focused on the update. Think about what your editorial profile would be for an audience looking for the ongoing update compared to an audience looking up answers. The way you would approach this is like night and day.

Remember the comparison between Buzzfeed and Bloomberg before?

Now you see the reason why Bloomberg is failing. Bloomberg's audience isn't coming to them because they are on a break with no intent. Bloomberg's audience are dominantly illustrating the behavior of people looking up information.

And we see this so clearly when we start to look at the kind of video that actually works for Bloomberg. They are not the quick snackable bits for people with no intent. They are deep, insightful stories for people who want to know.

And look at these. That's hundred of thousands of views, on video that are both short and extremely long.

So, the behavior of your audience defines your editorial product. You can't be Buzzfeed unless you have a Buzzfeed type of audience, and you can't be Bloomberg unless you have a Bloomberg type of audience.

Bloomberg's value is based on the lookup behavior.

Again, let's compare this to the break behavior which Buzzfeed dominates.

Yes, Buzzfeed has a ton of views, but they have almost zero value and loyalty, while Bloomberg has a very good level of views, for videos that carry a very high level of value, insight and audience loyalty.

Or to put it another way. If you are the Editor in Chief of Bloomberg, which strategy would you choose? The strategy leading to 35 million views, but for an audience who really doesn't care about you. Or the strategy leading to one million views, by an audience who is there for a reason?

It's tempting to go for the traffic, because that's what everyone is talking about. But it's not the right strategy for Bloomberg's audience. It is the right strategy for Buzzfeed, though.

The Story and the Passion

This lead us to the behavior that defines the story and the passion. Like before, there are many similarities with this behavior and the lookup. They are both defined around giving people more in depth analysis, insight, and answers, and they are both defined by people willing to invest the time needed for what you have to offer. In other words, this is not an audience who is merely taking a quick break. But there is one big difference.

The lookup is defined by people looking for something. Meaning they have an intent and an expectation of a specific output. But, people looking for a story don't know what it is that they want. Instead, they rely on you to be the influencer and the guide as to what is worth spending time on.

In simple terms. The lookup is defined around people's intent, while the story and the passion is defined around people's interests.

That's a very important difference.

A great example of this is to look at the Atlantic, QZ, The New Yorker or The Economist.

Just look at this:

Each one isn't really a news sites that you would turn to if you had a specific intent, but they are a wonderful source of stories based around topics that either interest or concern people.

People turn to these sites because of their reputation and their influence, and their ability to use their expertise to turn that into inspiring, relevant and useful stories to enjoy.

Most magazines, for instance, are tailored for just this behavior, although this is not really because they have a real strategy. Instead it's just because this behavior is the type that closely mimics the old world of print.

The problem most legacy publishers have with this space, is growth. Most of them are not making a difference, because their stories are not relevant to people. The reason is three-fold.

First, legacy publishers simply do not understand their audiences because they are just being the bringers of news, which is often defined as a package of a little bit of everything. If you want to inspire people, a little bit of everything is absolutely the wrong focus.

Secondly, you do not have the right internal culture to inspire. Your journalists are so used to just quoting and interviewing others, that you have no human capital of your own. And to connect with your audience, you have to show that you know what you are doing. The old model of journalism simply being this invisible distributer just doesn't work.

And finally, you are just not good enough. You don't have the correct level of expertise, the necessary level of insight, or the correct level of depth when telling these stories. Nor do you express the passion for it.

Mind you, this is not because journalists are stupid. Journalists are usually very smart people, you just rarely allow yourself into a situation where you can express that. Instead, you put yourself into the background, switch off your own brain, and interview experts who aren't really that interesting.

So, if your audience is in this category of behavior and you are not growing or getting the kind of reach you need, it's not really because of your editorial traffic tactics. It's almost always because you are not delivering a story at a level of insight, expertise and inspiration that people need from you.

A simple example is TWiT.TV, which is a very popular media company for many different things. Take this clip from their MacBreak Weekly show:

The reason people love this show is not because they are the bringers of news. That's secondary. People love this because the people on this show truly know what they are talking about, have personal insight or experience to match, and can communicate these topics in ways that people can relate to.

Those are key elements. But most legacy publishers lack one or more of these characteristics, because they have put their own expertise in the background. That's the reason most publishers fail at doing this, and not because of some missing social tactic.

Another place where we see behaviors linked to 'the story and the passion' really comes to light, is from the YouTubers. True, there are a lot of YouTubers who, like Buzzfeed, are focusing on the break. But there is this other group of truly passionate and inspiring YouTubers who are focusing on telling these amazing stories within a specific area of interest.

Take Kirsten Dirksen, who has this absolutely wonderful YouTube channel about alternative small living spaces, houses and gardens. She is absolutely worth following.

One example is this video (with 17 million views):

Think about this. This video performs almost at the same level as Buzzfeed's snack videos, and yet it's far more substantial, far more valuable, and absolutely worth watching every second off.

And she is not alone. There are thousands of other YouTubers just like her, each focusing on their very small niche, making a big difference with their stories.

The challenge, of course, for these YouTubers is to build up enough momentum to make a living out of it, and to keep it going. But it illustrates just how powerful the behavior around the story and the passion really is, if you have what it takes.

But it requires a lot of focus, a lot of insight into what is worth making a story about, and also often a lot of expertise.

The recline

Finally, we have the last major behavior which we used to call the 'lean-back mode', but what I will now call 'the recline'.

The recline is when people choose to relax by consuming media. This is what print used to be like. People would buy a magazine, make themselves a nice cup of tea, and sit down for 20 minutes or more, just browsing through the pages.

But, of course, in the digital world, this no longer works because we now have so many other means of consumption based on the behaviors I have mentioned in this article.

Instead, the recline has become more polarized. Whereas in the past it defined all forms of media consumption, today it very much only defines the form of media where people can sit down and do nothing.

In other words, people choose to relax for extensive periods of time, but it's not based on a specific intent or a need, nor do people want to take actions while consuming it. In this regard, the recline is very much the same as the break in terms of how people behave. Except that the break is something you do whenever you have a moment. The recline is a deliberate decision to relax.

Short snack-like content doesn't really work here, because it involves too many decisions of what you want to click on, and too much time interacting with your devices.

How big is this? It's huge!

In today's world, people spend an average of 3 to 5 hours per day in recline mode. Granted, most of that goes to traditional TV. But, in terms of media consumption, no other form of media behavior is this big. You might think that people spend a lot of time on Facebook (the break), but it doesn't even come close to this.

What's even more exciting is that in the digital world we are seeing something I would call the super-recline behavior, in which people will spend hour after hour watching things, sometimes in real time. It's the polar opposite of what Buzzfeed is doing. And it's much much bigger than you think.

Let me give a few examples.

You have probably heard about NRK, the national broadcasting company of Norway (similar to the BBC in the UK), who is famous for their slow TV shows. There is this amazing TED talk by Thomas Hellum that explains what it's all about. If you haven't seen this yet, you should.

And the BBC (and others) have followed suit. Recently, the BBC did a show where you could watch the creation of a glass jug, in real time. It had a staggering 423,000 viewers.

But, I know what you are thinking. This is only for old people. What about the millennials? Surely, they don't sit down to watch a glass jug being made in real time?

Well, you are probably right about the glass jug. But what many traditional media people completely miss is that slow TV wasn't invented by NRK in Norway. It was invented by the digital native millennials more than 10 years ago. And today, it's one of the most dominant forms of media that they consume online.

I'm not kidding. If you think 400,000 watching slow TV is big... it's absolutely dwarfed by the slow TV being produced by and for young people.

I give you Twitch.

Twitch is a live streaming platform, on which millions of young people watch other people do things. Usually that means playing games, but it's actually also used for other things.

But think about what's going on here. This is 100% slow TV. It's young people spending hours and hours watching other young people play a game.

Note: The Twitch TV platform was sold to Amazon in 2014 for $970 million.

We see the same on YouTube with all the Let's Players over there. Take a guy like Paul Soares Jr. He has this popular channel with million of fans, where his main activity is the explorations of Pablo Punchwood. A character he has made up and which, through a series of different part storytelling and part role-playing scenarios has to survive the ordeals given to him.

Here is an example:

Again, this is slow TV. You are watching the continuing story of Pablo Punchwood through a never ending series of shows, each one 20-30 minutes long, but when combined allows people to watch hours after hours of content.

Another example is the absolutely brilliant TableTop, where people play board games. And again, we see the slow TV effect.

Take a look at this screenshot. The TableTop crew first published a 30 minute 'edited' show, which attracted almost 2 million views. Then a little later they decided to release an unedited full-length version of the same, this time being more than two hours long.

Look at the view numbers. The extended 2-hour show got half a million views. That's more than the BBC got with their slow TV.

And these are just a few of the thousands of similar channels that are happening every day. It's huge, and the millennials are absolutely dominating this type of media behavior. What the NRK and the BBC are doing is amazing. But it's nothing compared to what the millennials are doing every single day.

This is the recline behavior of media. And, of course, it's not just about gaming. It can be about any topic as long as you target people's interest and you have the right level of expertise, insight and influence to stand out from the crowd.

Here for instance, is one of Adam Savage's one day builds, which is another great example of slow TV.

Five types of media behavior, five business models of the media

These are the five major forms of media that we see today: The break, the update, the lookup, the story and the passion, and the recline. And what I hope you have learned from this are three things:

First, the model that defines Buzzfeed (and partly Facebook) is only one of the five ways people consume media. Granted, it's huge in terms of pure traffic numbers, but not in terms of value. But also how different they are. The behavior, the format, and the editorial strategy that you would define to capitalize for the break is entirely different from the strategies you would define for the lookup, which again is entirely different from the recline.

When publishers talk about partnering with Facebook, for instance, they are really only reaching people for the break.

Secondly, you have to choose. The main problem we see today is that legacy media is trying to design an editorial product that isn't defined by how people behave, but rather defined by the format or the content. This worked back in the days of print, where people only consumed media one way, but it doesn't work in the digital world.

You have to define what you want to be extremely good at, and optimize for that. Buzzfeed has chosen to be really good at the break, and they are. They are masters of that type of behavior. The Atlantic has chosen to be really good at the story, and they are winning at that too.

The media companies who are losing are the ones who try to be a little bit of all of them. Or who think they are one thing, but are really another.

Thirdly, each of these behavioral types are centered in entirely different types of markets, with unique business potentials and economics.

Because the world of media used to be monotonous, every media company has grown accustomed to comparing each other the same way. But this is completely ridiculous. The market, the business model for a media company optimizing the break is entirely different from one that is optimized for the lookup.

A media site like the Atlantic will never reach the same level of traffic as a site like the Mail Online. Nor is it likely to make the same amount of money, or have the same business model.

The break, for instance, is entirely defined by traffic and is thus monetized by advertising. Which means it only works at massive scale with little focus on each individual view. On the other hand, the story may work far better based on subscriptions where having 25,000 paying subscribers has a higher potential than trying to focus on reach.

Remember GigaOm? It failed because the investors thought they were in the break market, when everything they did was in either the update or the lookup markets. Thus the economic realities didn't match, and their strategies for growth conflicted with their activity.

You have to make a choice about what behavior you are designing your editorial product for, and you have to accept that each behavior comes with a unique potential and limit.

But if you make that choice, every single one of these behaviors can lead to something wonderful.

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Thomas Baekdal

Thomas Baekdal

Founder of Baekdal, author, writer, strategic consultant, and new media advocate.


Check out my book: THE SHIFT - from print to digital and beyond? Free for Baekdal Plus subscribers, $8.79 on Amazon.

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