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By Thomas Baekdal - February 2023

How to think about AI for publishers, and the end of the million views

This is an archived version of a Baekdal Plus newsletter (it's free). It is sent out about once per week and features the latest articles as well as unique insights written specifically for the newsletter. If you want to get the next one, don't hesitate to add your email to the list.

Welcome back to the Baekdal Plus newsletter. Today, I have a mixed bag of things for you because this newsletter is all about some of the important trends we see right now.

A guide to using AI for publishers

Everyone is talking about AIs at the moment, and I have already written several articles about it. But, I keep seeing publishers make the same mistake over and over again and that is to use AI to lower the standard and quality of your journalism.

The thing that publishers often forget is that the more you focus on AI, the better your journalism needs to be for you to continue to be unique, valuable, and to stand out from the rest.

In my latest Plus article, I talk about this as well as the three main focus areas for AI, and how publishers should approach this trend. So take a look at: "A guide to using AI for publishers".

No longer a million views

About a week ago, the Danish Broadcasting Corporation (DR - our national version of the BBC) released their annual report about media use in Denmark. This is always an interesting report.

I'm not going into the details of everything, but I want to highlight one graph that illustrates a very important trend. And it's this one:

Keep in mind that Denmark is a very small country. When this study started in 1992, there were about 5.18 million people living in Denmark (5.9 million today).

One million viewers is about 1/5 of the total population, but look at what has happened over the years. In the 1990s, back when we only had two Danish TV stations, it was basically a rule that most shows would reach a million viewers. But then, as we got more TV channels, the number of shows with one million viewers dropped dramatically, and then when the internet arrived it just kept dropping.

So, this trend is not specifically about the internet. It's the result of giving more choices.

In the early days, it was the number of TV channels that changed this, when we went from two, to suddenly having many available to us.

Then when the internet came along, we suddenly had many more things to spend time with, and with streaming, we see the next step in this trend. As DR writes:

With streaming services, a new paradigm has also been introduced, where the viewers themselves choose what they want to watch. In practice, this means that viewers are not only able to choose between a handful of programs but viewers de facto can now choose between tens of thousands of programs that are available at any time.

This is a fundamental shift in how we think about the media. The shift from broadcasting to 'on-demand' fundamentally increases the available options at any given time by several orders of magnitude, and the result is that, in the future, we will no longer see single TV shows commanding a large percentage of the public attention.

But, this is not just about TV. This trend is also happening everywhere else. When we think of a magazine, think about how many other channels also provide that information. And so, the fundamental economics of what used to define a magazine are going away.

And, it's also happening with news, and in particular when we start to get on-demand news written by AIs. Think about how many ways you can suddenly get news with that. So expect the same trend to happen here as well.

A shift in measurement

Mind you, it's not all bad because there is another trend that defines this shift, and that is how we measure the success of something. The graph above is measuring viewers in the old way, which is to measure the viewers on the day the TV show was originally broadcast.

This made a lot of sense in the old days of linear TV, where a TV show was only live on a specific day at a specific time, and only much later features as a rerun. But think about Netflix. It makes no sense to measure how many views a Netflix show gets on the first day it was released on their site.

Instead, it makes much more sense to measure the success of a show as a running total. As in, how many people watch and even rewatch it over time?

And so, while you may no longer get a million views on the first day, you might get a million views over the first year of it being online... right?

But, here is the thing. This is also true for every other publisher. Think about newspapers. Today, the way we produce news is like broadcast TV. The lifetime of a news article is incredibly short. Most often, a news article stops getting traffic only a few hours after being published, simply because, by then, the newspaper will have published something else and removed the article from the front pages.

I want you to think about that for a second. If the future definition of success is defined by the lifetime accumulation of views, the way we write and post news today is really not that good. So, think about what you could do to change that.

If the future trend is that the first-day views are going to continue to drop, per show/article/etc., we need to change our approach so that we can get that traffic back "over time" instead.

This presents a fundamental shift in the way most news publishers and even many magazine publishers think about news.

So, this is a very important trend to be mindful of.

The podcast trend is still going strong

The third trend I want to talk about is podcasts. Over at NiemanLab, they wrote an article about how the number of podcasts has been falling quite dramatically. As they wrote:

The number of new podcasts launched fell by nearly 80% between 2020 and 2022 - and seems to keep dropping.
That's right: nearly 80 percent.
To put that into raw numbers (again, the source here is Listen Notes, a podcast search engine): In 2020, 1,109,000 new podcasts were launched. In 2021, that number dropped to 729,000. And in 2022, it cratered to just 219,000.

So, two things here.

First of all, we all knew this would happen. It was painfully obvious to all of us that the number of podcasts launched was just silly. There is no way that 1.1 million podcasts would be successful, nor that in the following years, another million podcasts would be successful, and then another, and another.

I mean, the whole thing is just bonkers.

And so, from a volume perspective, we knew that this would come tumbling down. There is no market for this kind of volume.

However, this doesn't mean that the trend of podcasting is in trouble. In fact, the podcasting trend is still growing. Sure, the total volume is down, but the number of podcast usage is still going up.

It's not a million new podcasts per year because that is just silly. Instead, it's about quality, value, and time well spent. If we look at those parameters instead, the podcasting market looks positive.

Read-rates vs percentage seen vs time spent

I got a question the other day from one of my subscribers asking which is more important: Read-rates, percentage seen, or time spent? ... or are none of them important?

This is a fascinating question, which I unfortunately cannot give a precise answer to, but I want to briefly talk about the concept of these.

We know, generally speaking, that the more regularly people use you, the stronger your bond is to them. In other words, it is about the habits that you form, and the quality of what goes into that habit. In comparison, someone who might read an article all the way to the end, but only does it very rarely, is probably not going to be a good subscriber.

And so, when it comes to defining what is best, the answer is actually all of the above + some more.

What you want to do is to look at:

You should then also look at the metrics that define this as a habit. Specifically:

What you should also do is to look at value metrics. One example of this is, do people choose to come to you when something important happens because they know you have the information for them?

So, look at the patterns that form after an important event. How did your audience paths change? Did people increasingly come to you directly during that time? Or did you just get more random traffic because of links from everywhere?

Another set of value metrics is to look at what people spend their time on. For newspapers, this is difficult, because almost always, the main source of traffic is coming to whatever articles are on the front page at any given moment. But, experiment with that and see if you can create a change in consumption pattern by giving people a different priority.

And so, as you can see, there is no one answer to this, nor a single metric that is better than others. The answer is in the mix. And some publishers might have different results than others based on who they are and what they are focusing on.

Again, the key is to create a pattern in your audience, where they choose to come back regularly, and where they consume the things they click on. If your data doesn't show this ... well ... then you have some work ahead of you :)

Want to know more?

If you want to know more about better defining the value you have to the public, take a look at:

Support this focus

Also, remember that while this newsletter is free for anyone to read, it's paid for by my subscribers to Baekdal Plus. So if you want to support this type of analysis and advice, subscribe to Baekdal Plus, which will also give you access to all my Plus reports (more than 300), and all the new ones (about 25 reports per year).

This is an archived version of a Baekdal Plus newsletter (it's free). It is sent out about once per week and features the latest articles as well as unique insights written specifically for the newsletter. If you want to get the next one, don't hesitate to add your email to the list.


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Thomas Baekdal

Founder, media analyst, author, and publisher. Follow on Twitter

"Thomas Baekdal is one of Scandinavia's most sought-after experts in the digitization of media companies. He has made ​​himself known for his analysis of how digitization has changed the way we consume media."
Swedish business magazine, Resumé


—   newsletter   —


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