More than 25 years ago Microsoft founder Bill Gates famously published an essay called ‘Content is King’.
He predicted a future where most of the real money would be made on the internet.
Well, we’ve never had more content being produced than we do today, which is hardly surprising in a world where we’re goggle over 3.2 billion hours of videos a month on YouTube alone.
But quantity doesn’t always guarantee quality, so how does a brand make sure its content grabs our attention in a way we are going to keep wanting more?
Dr Dave Musgrove, Content Director (BBC History Magazine) at Immediate Media Co, explains his focus for staying on track…
From the Hollywood studio system or the golden age of Fleet Street to the modern-day streaming wars, the biggest challenge for the media industry has always been creating great content that will grab people’s attention.
Strong, high quality content that engages audiences is the major driver of growth and success for a huge ecosystem, ranging from publishers and rights owners to advertisers and sponsors.
The ability to develop and deliver rich content remains the differentiator and guarantor of success in the fiercely competitive market that publishers of all kinds operate within.
However, with a myriad of traditional and digital platforms to navigate and a fragmenting audience with a plethora of interests and tastes to cater to, it can be a challenge for any publisher to understand and define the right content for its audience – the content that will inspire, entertain and engage.
Harnessing expert voices to tap into passions
At Immediate, we focus on special interest content, as a successful strategy in reaching passionate, engaged and loyal audiences. However, audiences today are judicious and selective.
They want content sources that are trusted and authoritative – and this is especially true for niche or special-interest areas.
It’s crucial to deliver material that truly speaks to audiences.
Content needs to be well-informed, original and, most importantly, authentic. Audiences need to know that they are hearing from people equally as passionate as themselves and that they feel part of a community of like-minded people.
And this is something we’ve developed in Immediate’s history portfolio (the two market-leading print titles of BBC History Magazine and BBC History Revealed, and our website and podcast under the HistoryExtra.com banner).
We are a content-first business. Subscriptions are a vital revenue stream, particularly with our recently implemented digital paywall and premium podcast product, and consumers will only pay for high-value, quality content.
It’s incumbent on the publisher to demonstrate that quality and value, and to ensure that this shines through in every article, in every format, and right across the platforms that homes the content.
For our HistoryExtra podcasts, we regularly interview experts and historians from around the globe. But we have taken this a step further by producing programmes outside of the traditional interview format and experimenting with more of a narrative-style multi-part series treatment.
We’ve chosen topics that merit such a deep-dive format, from the Princes in the Tower through to the Salem witch trials, featuring multiple interviews with world-leading experts in their field.
Authentic, expert-led content can also reap rewards. As we celebrate the podcast’s 15th anniversary, HistoryExtra has also recently hit the milestone of 150 million downloads and our exclusive content has been monetised beyond advertising via paid subscriptions from fans looking for exclusive, specialist content that caters to their passions.
A diversified offering that fits into changing consumer lifestyles
While our HistoryExtra podcast has been very successful this is just one aspect of our offering.
As a special interest publisher, building a direct relationship with our readers and users is at the heart of what we do. In print, we’ve built an impressively large subscription base by providing readers with reliably high quality content that gives the readers confidence to commit to us long term – and Immediate is the UK’s leading publisher by subscriptions with over 1.2m subscribers.
As the media landscape evolves, we’re applying that thinking to our other platforms across web and audio, and developing them beyond a reliance on advertising revenues.
Like many publishers looking to plan for long term future growth, we understand that it is imperative to reach audiences across different platforms.
Audiences want to consume content in the medium that matches their individual needs and changing lifestyles. Digital magazines and podcasts offer flexibility, ideal for consumers on the go, who can read or listen while commuting or doing other tasks.
Meanwhile, physical magazines provide audiences with the opportunity to unwind, cut down on screen time and focus on a more immersive experience.
To optimise returns, content should be delivered through a multi-strand commissioning strategy, so that it can be adapted easily across different platforms for a 360 degree integrated approach.
Allow the audience to feel part of the conversation
Audiences more and more want to be involved and interact. Your content is more appealing if you’re taking a steer from your readers, listeners or users, and directly attending to their needs.
That means that your ideas need to be led by data insights and your editorial teams need to have some basic data awareness.
Data analysis works best when it’s introduced into your editorial processes, while still allowing your team the space and freedom to use their insight, expertise and subject knowledge.
You get the real wins, and the most compelling content, when you equip your editors with the tools to investigate appropriate data sources (external patterns from Google or other tools, and internal usage patterns from your own content), and then you can make editorial decisions with audience relevance to the fore.
A user-centric approach can be as simple as tracking Google search terms before heading into an interview, or as in the case of our very popular ‘Everything You Want to Know’ HistoryExtra podcast strand, asking your audience what questions they would like answered on any given topic.
Direct access to the expert voices you’re working with is a major attraction for the audience, even more so if you’re building out online or physical events, to offer exclusive time with those expert voices.
As the industry continues to evolve, so do the challenges to attract and retain audiences.
Strong content continues to be a driver for growth but you must focus on delivering it with authenticity and expertise to engage audiences, and delivered in an accessible way, so it can be consumed in the best way that suits their lifestyle and needs.
Finally, allow audiences to feel part of the conversation – and your community.
Audiences are ultimately the most important part of the content jigsaw and delivering to their expectations should be the motivator to creating captivating content that delivers for all.