As the magazine industry and the audiences it strives to reach constantly evolve, it is clear that mobile devices represent increasingly vital channels through which readers access content. With that in mind, the MPA brought together leaders from across magazine media at the Hearst Tower in New York for Mobile Matters, a day-long conference examining the fastest growing audience platform—and the largely untapped engagement and monetization opportunities it holds.
The program began with a greeting from Eric John, Digital Strategy and Initiatives at the MPA, who put into context the importance of mobile devices as a medium. Mobile ads comprise 30 percent of digital spending, John reported, and that figure is estimated to climb as high as 70 percent by 2019.
John then welcomed Forrester Research senior analyist Susan Bidel to the auditorium stage. Bidel gave the audience a breakdown of the mobile consumer, both by demographic and mobile device. Among Bidel's key points were the fact that Generation X, those born between 1960 and 1980, still represent the largest online population. While millennials may be more tech-inclined, Generation X has far more disposable income to spend on connective devices. Additionally, while tablets may fade away as smartphone screens grow larger and larger, internet-connected television could be a space for growth. Smartwatches are another technology to watch, Bidel said; while many smartwatches consist of little more than a "glorified pedometer," 21 percent of online adults in the U.S. sport "wearables," such as the Apple Watch or Fitbit.
Next up was "Capturing Attention in the Micro-Mobile Moment," a panel discussion hosted by John with Time Inc.'s Ian Orefice, senior executive video producer, and Callie Schweitzer, editorial director of audience strategy. The discussion explored ways in which publishers can get the most out of their mobile content in terms of audience discovery and engagement. Orefice and Schweitzer described various success stories from Time Inc., including Southern Living's wildly successful "Oreo Cookie Balls" instructional video, Tom Hanks' Tumblr (Tom-blr?) takeover in conjunction with Entertainment Weekly to promote his film Bridge of Spies, and Time's ongoing "A Year in Space" documentary series with astronaut Scott Kelly.
"Mobilizing Video" brought National Geographic's VP of product management Jim Kelleher, Hearst Digital Media VP of audience Brian Madden, Capture Inc. founder and CEO Jordan Osher, and Condé Nast Entertainment VP and head of digital video production Jed Weintrob to the stage. Weintrob described one of the 3,000 videos that Condé Nast Entertainment produces each year, "Shower Thoughts" with actress Anna Kendrick, which saw tremendous engagement on Facebook. Madden then described his approach when creating video content with a partner.
"Give them clear metrics up front," he said. "We guarantee this will get x-number of views, and then we always over-deliver."
Weintrob emphasized the need create content that's specific to the platform, a sentiment echoed throughout the day. Kelleher agreed, saying that our audiences are intelligent; they know marketing when they see it.
"We're all good at telling stories," Madden added. "Why not tell stories for our advertisers?"
Jen Wilga, MediaRadar, then described trends in mobile ad placement, with a particular focus on cross-device ad placement.
"For a long time, we've all been hearing that mobile is coming," Wilga said. "The exciting thing is, that time is here."
There were 10,137 different mobile advertisers in Q3 2015, Wilga reported. Only 11 percent of those were exclusive to mobile devices. Furthermore, 26.6 percent advertised across mobile, desktop and print, while 62.1 percent advertised across both mobile and desktop. 25 percent of all desktop advertisers are also buying mobile.
Next, Scott Cunningham, senior VP of technology and ad operations at IAB; Mike Smith, senior vp, revenue platforms and operations, advertising platforms and core audience, Hearst; and Jonathan Schaaf, president of digital investment at Omnicom Media Group presented "The Future of Mobile and Native Programmatic." Smith began by emphasizing the importance of audience development, much of which has taken place in mobile. Hearst has "cracked the code" on both monetization and traffic growth, Smith declared, before tactfully avoiding any futher disclosure.
Schaaf described most of the mobile ad inventory, for lack of a better term, as "shit," stating that the industry is attempting to "take the firehose of technology and fit it into the garden hose of mobile."
"We have to think differently about the way creative content manifests itself in the mobile space," Schaaf added.
The panel agreed that retargeting was becoming a poor practice, because consumers find it creepy. Moderator Matt Prohaska, CEO of Prohaska Consulting, stated, "When The Onion publishes a spoof story about a woman who bought a pair of shoes online and gets retargeted, we know we've jumped the shark."
Schaaf then likened the current status of mobile advertising to that of desktop advertisign in 1999, saying that there's a lot of room for improvement, and things will only get better.
Lauren Hendricks, VP of publisher partnerships for Kargo, then presented "Mobilegeddon," a glimpse into the future of mobile media. By 2020, Hendricks said, people across the globe will have an average of more than four internet-connected devices, and "wearables" will increase 246 percent to 600 million over the next four years. Other key insights included the idea that consumers often consider advertising on smartphones to be an invasion of personal space, advocating native advertising because it does not disrupt the user experience. Hendricks then demonstrated the difference between the user experience on Facebook and that of The New York Times, saying that people scroll faster on Facebook and thus see more ads, but they spend more time with each ad on The New York Times.
"Measuring Mobile Audiences" featured Adam Shlachter, chief investment officer at DigitasLBi, Josh Chasin, chief research officer at comScore, Scott McDonald, president of Nomos Research and Kevin King, senior VP of mobile product management at GfK MRI. Shlachter illustrated the difficulties in measuring mobile exposure and engagement, most of which happens through apps, because of a lack of standards across the industry. King described mobile audiences as a "moving target," but identified potentially useful data such as location. Chasin agreed, stating that the mobile environment is somewhat inhospitable to measurement.
When asked if big data was the solution, as opposed to panels, Shlachter responded, "Each person uses mobile differently. You can cluster people by behavior, but we each represent different opportunities for marketers based on who we are and the way we personalize our devices. I'm not saying panels are dead, but in this day and age, you can look at people as people and get a much different read based on the behaviors they exhibit, particularly on mobile devices."
In the afternoon, Beth Buehler, senior VP of digital operations at Rodale, Paul Canetti, founder and CEO of MAZ, Kimberly Lau, VP and GM of The Atlantic Digital, and Sharon Bailey Romano, director of the Hearst App Lab, composed a panel titled "App vs. Web: The Latest on the 'Walled Garden' Debate."
Buehler described Rodale's experimental approach to aggreagtors such as Facebook Instant Articles and Apple News, learning what works with those audiences and what doesn't, and pulling back as necessary. The Atlantic takes a different approach, Lau said, adding everything it can to aggregators, time permitting.
Despite certain drawbacks like a lack of accessible audience data, the panel generally agreed that embracing aggregators was both necessary and inevitable.
"It's a little scary not to own the data, but its not necessarily something you need in order to engage with consumers," Romano said. "The more you engage with your audience, the more you can monetize your content."
Lau went on to describe The Atlantic's app, stating that it has a small but monetized audience with paid subscribers who are, in some ways, the publication's most loyal readers.
"We do feel that the user who takes a real deep dive comes in through the app," Buehler agreed.
"Native apps represent the only way for magazines to compete with the aggregator experience," Canetti concluded.