Published 2013-02-13

Digital opportunities for traditional media houses

CEO Rolv Erik Ryssdal has written an article on “Digital opportunities for traditional media houses”. Read it here.

Published in Aftenposten, 13. February 2013. 

Digital opportunities for traditional media houses

Rolv Erik Ryssdal, CEO, Schibsted Media Group

The new type of journalism in Schibsted’s media houses is now taking shape. New digital talents are collaborating with experienced journalists to find exciting solutions. They disseminate journalistic content in digital forms – on different platforms and in different formats. The journalism is shaped, presented and distributed through interaction with readers and users. 

The ability of traditional media houses to continue to fulfil their social mission in the digital age is not a given. New technologies are being developed, competition is global, and readers’ needs and expectations are changing. And all of this is happening at a faster pace than ever before. But when we invest in our media houses, it’s not because we feel compelled to do so, but rather because we believe we will succeed.

I have worked in Schibsted for twenty years now, and during almost all this time we have witnessed how the digital channels have challenged us and changed us. Since the internet began to make its impact, in around 1995, we have worked on positioning our media houses in new channels and formats. Even our competitors acknowledge that Schibsted has been more successful than most other media organizations in the world when it comes to our digital investments.

Last autumn’s workforce reductions and reorganization was a difficult period for our media houses. But technological and structural changes are no new phenomena; many industries have been through the same processes. Traditional companies can disappear in these processes – Kodak is a relatively recent and sad example – while others renew and find a course that will take them into a new era. We intend to belong to the latter group.

World-class digital mediahouses

We have said that we will create world-class digital media houses. To achieve this we need resources to invest, and this was a key reason for the cost reductions we implemented. Now we want to prove that investment in practice. We are recruiting digital expertise to fill roles which no-one in our industry had heard of only a few years ago. Aftenposten alone is recruiting approximately twenty new digital talents to create new digital growth. And – not least – we will work systematically on providing the employees we already have with new competencies. One of the group-wide initiatives is the establishment the Schibsted Academy of Journalism, a joint initiative where we will learn from the best in our own media houses, share experience, and gain knowledge and impulses from outside.

Goal-oriented work produces results, and Fædrelandsvennen is an example we are proud of. There we offer all the content produced by Fædrelandsvennen in all channels, to make us available to readers and users in the channel and format they want, when they want. Simple and user-friendly for the readers, and a more future-oriented and secure business model for Fædrelandsvennen. It’s remarkable that a regional media house in Southern Norway should achieve something that has become the envy of many big actors around the world. Last year, and contrary to all the trends, Fædrelandsvennen increased its subscriber base. We are now transferring the experiences gained from Fædrelandsvennen to our other subscription-based media houses.

Our larger, single-copy-based media houses, VG and the Swedish Aftonbladet, are building their positions in digital media based on the large numbers of readers these brands have. Although print circulation for these two media houses have dropped by around 50 percent compared to peak years, the numbers of readers and users are higher than ever before. Aftonbladet now has more than 2.8 million readers daily, and it is mobile usage that is growing most. On 1 January VG had more readers on mobile than on the web.

VGTV, which only a short time ago was a small fish in a big pond when it came to live images, has now become a serious contender in the TV market. Aftonbladet has enjoyed great success with its Aftonbladet Pluss service, which has now exceeded 160,000 paid subscriptions.

Print continues to be of importance

The focus on digital does not mean that we’ve forgotten the print newspapers; they will also be developed to satisfy reader demands. Aftenposten Junior and VG’s new weekend supplement are examples of new investments on the print side which I would wholeheartedly characterize as successes. 

For several years now we have been developing a system of division of labor that has proven to be sound. It is of course the managers and people in the respective media houses that know their readers and customers best and that can best decide which products and services they want. But the Group can provide expertise from which everyone can benefit. We can also facilitate common solutions for those parts of the business that should not be dealt with locally. Parts of our digital development activities are conducted centrally, others locally. Schibsted Payment (SPID) is one example of a group-wide solution that is intended to make it as easy as possible for all the media houses’ customers to gain access to the content they want in the channels they want.

In last autumn’s debate on cost reductions in the media houses and Schibsted’s role as owner, it could seem as though some parties in the debate had difficulty grasping that it was actually possible to combine corporate social responsibility with the need to earn money. The fact is that Schibsted and our media houses have a long history of living perfectly well in this symbiotic relationship. A sound financial position ensures independence, predictability and development opportunities for the media houses.

Rapid change

The long-awaited digital revolution is now in full force – we can almost feel its impact. Our everyday lives, both out in the media houses and in the Group Management Team, are marked by new knowledge, learning, experimentation, enthusiasm, disappointment, ups and downs. This is precisely how we become even better – at a faster pace than ever before. The will and capacity to change, improve and grow have never been stronger.

While in ‘the old days’ we could spare the time for comprehensive reports and large-scale launches, today our course takes us in the direction of experimentation, testing and learning. The reason for this is that we want fast response from readers and users so that we can adjust our course according to need and adapt to the demands of those we serve. In this way we reduce risk and accelerate the speed of our development efforts. It’s also fun, which is no drawback when you want to create something new and exciting.