“The future of media is not about digital transformation, but about transformation of digital”

Over 100 media innovators and 18 speakers joined us in London and online to discuss key technology trends impacting the news industry today, tomorrow and in the longer term. We’ve summarised the key themes of the Twipe Digital Growth Summit 2022 to help you understand 6 big news technology trends.

Trend 1: Synthetic media is on the rise

The past years have seen amazing progress made in AI generated content. Whether it be text-to-image like Dall-E, long text generators like onceuponabot, or AI workflow, content is also being created by AI. The difference between human generated content and machine generated content is hardly noticeable. Whilst this is an exciting advancement, it is one that will change our worlds faster than ever. If digital transformation used to be the key paradigm of the past 20 years, the transformation of digital itself is likely going to be the one for the next 20.

The future of media is not about digital transformation, but about transformation of digital.

Ezra Eeman, Change Director, Mediahuis

Tools that once were inaccessible are now mainstream, with the “Hollywood to home effect” providing challenges and opportunities. “We are already playing with reality” stated keynote speaker Sander Duivestein, author of the book Real Fake, “but there is a long road ahead”. As a society, the agenda could be flipped and we could be asked to prove what is true rather than what is fake. Factchecking will become more important than ever.

Sofie Hvitved emphasised that there are plenty of opportunities for publishers to leverage these tools for the good. In a powerful example, she demonstrated the potential of prompting, with a few lines of text being enough to make a whole story or video. This is a powerful way for journalists to tell stories and engage audiences. Rather than being in a world full of fake, we could just have another reality. 

Synthetic media is already present in many newsrooms, through AI-generated robot journalism. USA Today publisher Gannett built a new tool, Localizer, to automate the creation of hyper local stories based on local health data or real estate transactions. These stories are highly relevant to local communities. As a result, journalists have more time to focus on in-depth reporting. The most important piece of advice from successfully launching Localizer, for Kara Chiles, Senior Vice President of Consumer Products at Gannett, was to closely involve the editorial team from the start. As such they understand that these “robot journalists” will not take their jobs.

Trend 2: TikTokification is rapidly spreading

TikTok has changed not just our methods of consumption, but the way younger generations behave and act. This has been plain to see with the Tiktokification of everything. Sander Duivestein presented how Gen Z now use TikTok for search, looking for recipes rather than simply Googling. This gave the creator economy a new boost, seeing creators like Kat Norton, aka Miss Excel, who earns $100,000 per video of her Excel masterclass. Most interestingly, we seem to be moving from a text rich exchange of news and information to much more visual video formats. For traditional newsrooms, this brings new skill building challenges.

Young people use TikTok for everything, from entertainment to information and search. This is a real threat for the Googles and Facebooks of this world.

Sander Duivestein, Thought Leader and Author of Real Fake

We’ve already seen platforms like Instagram and Twitter jumped onto the trend, with the short videos popping up and the fluid user interface being seen as an easy win. The algorithm of TikTok has given consumers more personalisation than ever before, to the point where personalised experiences are expected. For younger generations, these formats “just work”. But as Ezra Eeman, Change Director of Mediahuis explained, they’ve also faced backlash. Video has taken over and originality has gone. Instead, other platforms like BeReal have started to grow, and innovators and publishers alike face a choice of whether to trend follow or be original.

Trend 3: It’s still Day 0 in Web3 and Metaverse development

The Metaverse and Web3 are topics that many participants still felt sceptical about with respect to their short-term impact on the news industry. Many speakers referred to the early stage of maturity. However, looking at the long-term potential, and having an open innovation mindset, recent initiatives in this space seem to bring promising results.

TIME Magazine leveraged their iconic front covers with their TIMEPieces NFT project presented by VP of Web3 Operations William Ban. The project generated over $10 million in profit for the US publisher, and seen $600,000 donated to charities with future projects including an exclusive set of NFTs developed with the City of Miami, Salesforce and Mastercard.

TIME has a very long term horizon investing in the Web3 and NFT space. We know that what exists today, may change tomorrow.

William Ban, VP Web3 Operations TIME Magazine

20 Minutes used NFTs to build on the power of Web3 community to create a new magazine, 20 Mint, co-owned by its readers. By dropping 999 NFTs through the 20 Mint project, they gave NFT holders exclusive access to the newsroom through a Discord channel. 20 Mint NFT holders could provide article ideas and inspiration, with many making the main magazine.

Le Parisien unlocked the power of membership with their NFT programme Crypto-Unes. Buyers of their NFT collection can access all of Le Parisien’s content via metadata over differing periods depending on rarity of the NFTs. The package of 1000 NFTs features some of the historical Le Parisien front covers to show of their wealth of heritage.

Whilst these Web3 initiatives represent some early NFT successes, 20 Minutes Editor-in-Chief Laurent Bainier, the driving force behind 20 Mint, was quick to stress that it remains Day 0 for NFTs and Web3. He added traditional media shouldn’t be afraid to experiment, but they must understand the kind of audience they address with these innovations.

Beyond NFT’s, Jack Davies from nChain discussed the long-term revenue potential of Web3. With the advance of tech, payments methods like micropayments and network value sharing may become reality. In this way, creators and journalists alike will be able to profit from their work beyond the original point of sale, giving longer economic life to pieces of content. Interactive workshops with NFTs and Decentraland illustrated how the technology is still in its early infancy. In a poll, participants do not expect Web3 and Metaverse technologies to have a significant impact on the news industry during the next 5 – 10 years.

You need to take the Metaverse seriously. No matter what we think now, people will be there in the future.

Sofie Hvitved, Media Futurist Copenhagen Institute of Future Studies

Yet, Sofie Hvitved powerfully emphasised that people need to take the Metaverse seriously, as no matter what we think now, people will be there in the future. Both Sofie and Sander presented the Gartner Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies, and showed that we are just at the start of the curve for the Metaverse. 

Source: Gartner

Trend 4: “We will continue to print 7 days a week for the next decade”

In a poll, the audience confirmed the importance of print in the next few years. According to Nick Hugh, CEO of The Telegraph, print is going to stay for the foreseeable years a big part of the core business of The Telegraph. At a time of hyper-digitalisation, it cannot be underestimated how important the offline presence of a brand is in building a great digital footprint. Print helps brands to build trust and formulate long-term relationships, also in the digital space.

We will continue to print 7 days a week for the next decade.

Nick Hugh, CEO The Telegraph

This reaffirmed importance of print doesn’t however mean that it can’t get smarter. Agnes Stenbom presented how Schibsted uses AI to make the print production and distribution processes significantly more efficient and sustainable. Their machine learning algorithms calculate exactly how many papers they will sell on a given day and only print as needed. It also ensures the newspapers go to the right people to sell them and provides information of the best possible routes for the journey, so they pollute as little as possible.

Trend 5: From “always on” to “always in”, audio is everywhere

Audio remains a format with huge potential. In an in-room poll, a sea of green greeted the question of whether audio is a key format for the next 5-10 years. Voice, said Kara Chiles, is the most personalised and intimate format, as there is nothing more personal than someone talking to you. According to NRC’s CDO Han-Menno Depeweg, audio is “turning bylines into real people”.

Agnes Stenbom explained how Schibsted have adopted AI synthetic voices for their articles in Norway, with the voice being that of Norway’s most famous podcaster. Working with BeyondWords, they spent a day in a recording studio to use her voice and train their AI model to read articles as naturally as possible. Consumers can now listen to the news delivered from their favourite podcaster as a synthetic voice, and it has been a success. The synthetic voice is preferred to human read articles. If this text-to-speech news tech is that good already, how large is the potential?

Audio has helped Dutch publisher NRC to bring in a new audience. Han-Menno Depeweg explained that of the 300,000 weekly listeners to NRC’s podcasts on their audio app, half are under 35 years old and there is a 50-50 gender split. Han-Menno gave 5 practical reasons as to why publishers should believe in audio.

  • Future proof
  • Habit builder
  • Adds to reading
  • Growing market
  • Trustworthy

Trend 6: More risk appetite accelerates innovation

A phrase we repeatedly heard at the summit was “heritage”. Whilst the journalism is a heritage industry, it needs to take more risks. A low appetite for risk was identified as the main blocker to innovation by FT’s Product Director Debbie McMahon. With the recent successful launch of FT Edit, the approach to innovation seems to have changed. It requires ongoing alignment between all stakeholders in the organisation.

Dare to fail, and learn from your failures.

Mathieu Halkes, Head of Product Schibsted

When taking risks, publishers shouldn’t be scared to fail. Schibsted’s Head of Product Mathieu Halkes said that failure happens at Schibsted all the time, but it must be seen internally as a good way to learn. He provided the example of VG in Norway, who produced a successful entertainment product in Norway. The team wanted to add casting support for the programme, but introduced it too quickly and realised that casting support for all kids of phones and TV combinations was much more complex than they originally believed. But they learnt many valuable lessons for future experiments and have improved the product. Mathieu’s number one piece of advice for innovators was to not be afraid, talk to newsrooms, listen to your audience when experimenting and be sorry when you need to be.

Smart risks will still feel uncomfortable, take them anywayKara Chiles told the Digital Growth Summit. Gannett recently changed their puzzle interface for readers, unifying the experience to have all of Gannett’s puzzles in one place. The US publisher undertook extensive user research to find out what to do and how to do it best. But they knew upfront that no matter what, there would be discontent amongst puzzlers. As puzzles are a highly engaging product, when they go wrong, Gannett always hears noise. Not unexpectedly, when Gannett launched Puzzles 2.0, they first heard noise, before they heard harmony. They pushed through despite being challenged by the top management.

Pure plays have advantages over traditional players as they do not have the heritage. We learned that pure play publishers like Morning Brew and Business Insider are able to introduce new features faster and in a more agile way than the traditional media like Bild and Die Welt. More agility and ability to change will be key for future, sustained growth.


Team Twipe

Get insights on Digital Publishing direct in your inbox

Subscribe to Twipe’s weekly newsletter and receive insights, inspiring content and event invitations directly in your inbox!

Subscribe to our Future of News newsletter