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By Thomas Baekdal - May 2021

What if virtual events weren't events at all?

This is an archived version of a Baekdal Plus newsletter (it's free).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 newsletter. Today I have one big thing and several smaller topics for you.

What if virtual events were not an event?

The pandemic upended the event market, and we saw a big shift towards virtual events. This has been particularly pronounced in the media industry where, suddenly, we started to get invited to more virtual events than anyone could ever possibly attend.

However, the past year has also very clearly illustrated that virtual events are not the same as physical ones. What is seen as a feature for a physical event often becomes a limitation online.

In fact, when you start to break down the different components of an event, and you try to optimize them individually, a lot of the things we usually characterize as an event can be done differently in a much more valuable way.

In my latest Plus report, I'm doing just this. I'm outlining all the different components we usually associate with events, and trying to imagine a more optimal future for how to do this online.

So take a look at: "What if virtual events were not an event?"

How do we reach young people?

I have had a number of very good discussions with publishers over the past year, and there are a number of questions that keep coming up. One of them is, "how do we reach young people"?

This, of course, is not a new question. Publishers have been asking this for decades, but 'young people' is not an audience segment.

What I mean is that, just like old people are incredibly varied in their interests and needs, young people are even more so. So, there is no one market for 'young people'. There are hundreds of them.

However, there are a few key points that I want to mention.

There are generally three mistakes that almost all publishers make when they try to be relevant to young people.

If you do any of these three things, you have basically already failed.

Here is the thing. Young people are your most demanding audience. They have the highest requirement for focus, value, and the money they have to spend.

Secondly, young people care way more about the world they live in than older people, they are more future focused, and they worry constantly about what their life will be like. Old people usually don't do this as much because they have already settled in.

Young people also have low confidence that the current political establishment will be able to make the right choices, so they vote less because they don't see voting as a means to solving these things. They focus on other elements of society that do change.

This is vitally important for newspapers to understand, because if you approach every news story from a political perspective, you are making yourself much less important for young people.

Don't get me wrong, young people care a lot about politics too. They just don't care about how it works today. They want change. Not endless debates and political intrigues.

But the single most important thing to understand about young people is that they only spend money on media that they think provides them with something valuable in return.

You are not going to get a young person to "subscribe because journalism is important". You have to deliver actual results that directly impact your readers personally.

In other words, you need to be useful.

And this is the main challenge for publishers. I have seen many publishers lower their value to "what pizza do you like?" as a way to attract a younger audience, and that is just stupid.

Another thing that is also very interesting is how young people get news. Throughout most of the western world, young people say that they get news from Facebook. But this is not actually true. While they may see news more on Facebook, that's not because they want to read about news on Facebook, it's because you as a publisher haven't provided enough value to attract people directly.

The exception here is Norway. Norway is already amazing when it comes to media consumption, and that includes how it is attracting young readers. In Norway, they have managed to reverse this trend so that young people today say that they get their news mostly from the newspapers directly, while Facebook is less important.

So, don't think that you need to be on Facebook to attract young people. That's the wrong focus. Do what they do in Norway and increase your value and focus.

I actually wrote a much longer article about this back in 2018. It's called "How Publishers Can Focus on Young People".

Disconnecting the audience with politics

Speaking of newspapers covering politics, there is another topic we also need to talk about, and that is how the culture of the press often disconnects the public from its stories.

As a media analyst, I see this every day, but a few days ago, something happened here in Denmark that very clearly illustrates this problem.

A white man was recorded verbally attacking a non-white family, yelling racist remarks at them, telling them to 'go home', that they 'had no right to be here', and all the usual crap.

This, of course, is not an isolated example. Things like this happen all the time. What was different this time was that it was recorded and uploaded to Facebook where thousands of people saw it and reacted to it (most with disgust, but others supporting the racist's remarks).

As a result, the media also heard about it and started reporting it. But, as soon as they did that, they instantly focused on it politically.

The first thing they did was to reach out to a bunch of politicians from different parties to get a comment on what they thought about the video ... which they then reported.

Then they reached out to the Prime Minister to get her reaction, which they also reported.

Then the party currently controlling the government said "This is appalling, but we don't think racism is a general problem in Denmark", which they also reported.

And then they started reporting about people and experts reacting to the politicians' reactions.

You see the problem here?

The problem is that by focusing this entirely on the politicians, you have effectively deflected this whole discussion away from the public. Suddenly, the public is no longer involved in the story, instead it's a political problem and a political debate. It's something that now happens in parliament instead of within society as a whole.

The result is that the readers no longer feel that they have any part of this story. It has all been outsourced to the politicians. So white people in Denmark no longer feel that they have to do anything about this directly. Instead, their focus is now entirely on "what someone else will do about it".

This is a massive problem because you can't solve racism like that. Racism is a societal problem and a cultural problem. And to solve that you need to focus it on the public.

But by deflecting this debate to be purely about what the politicians are saying, you are making it harder to fix this problem. You are undermining real change by turning the debate into something that normal people don't feel they have to be personally involved in.

And, as I said, this is happening every day. Not just with specific cases such as this, but with almost every news story. Take climate change. In the press, we are doing the same thing. We are focusing on it politically thus making the public believe that they don't have to engage on their own. Or look at COVID where, throughout this pandemic, the focus on doing something to stop it has been very political.

Every decision became a political debate. Here is one political party saying you should wear a mask, and here is another party saying you shouldn't. Here are three politicians who disagree on lock-downs.

Every decision and every action was (in the press) 'outsourced to the politicians'. And because of that, dealing with the pandemic became so much harder, and so much more polarized.

Imagine how different this pandemic could have been if we had instead focused much more on the public's role, responsibility, and ability to stop it from spreading.

As a media analyst, I consider this to be a very big problem. Our focus in the press is turning the public into passive bystanders who are merely reacting to things when they should be directly involved in doing something about it.

This is something we need to change!

What metrics venture capitalists look at

Finally, I came across a tweet a few days ago from @lolitataub, who is working for an investment company. She shared a graphic that outlines the key metrics VCs look for when deciding whether to invest in startups.

I found this to be very interesting because this also applies to anything else, including the media. If you are a media company and you want to define your market value, these are very good metrics to focus on.

There are a few missing though, as another person commented. Specifically, we also need to include LTV (lifetime value), retention, volume and value share.

Of course, there are also many sub elements to this. Like how do we define 'active usage' as publishers? And this chart also doesn't look at things like the cost and value of the content.

One reason for this is that many startups today don't produce their own content (they are all trying to be platforms), so they don't have a 'content cost', and they don't need to optimize the value of the individual articles.

A good example, look at something like Facebook. Facebook benefits the more content is shared on their platform, but as publishers, we suffer a cost the more content we have to produce. So this chart doesn't think about that.

Actually, this might be a good topic for a future article, so I will add this to my list of things to write about :)

But, overall, I found it to be a very useful chart.

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


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