Digital Media Asia 2017

in Singapore opens up new horizons of digital transformation

Ever since its first edition in 2009, Digital Media Asia has been a landmark news media conference, dedicated to the Asian news publishing industry. The latest edition of the conference was organised at Orchard Hotel in Singapore from October 31 to November 02, 2017 revealed a new horizon upon the way news media is taking into shape digitally. Announcement of the winners of the 8th Asian Digital Media Awards was a big fascination at the conference.

Conference venue Singapore is South East Asia’s undisputed digital hub and one of the most vibrant digital city in the continent. Leading tech companies such as Facebook, Google, Linkedin and Twitter all have located their Asia Pacific headquarters in the city. Also, Singapore hosts more than 50 percent for Southeast Asia’s data centre capacity and is one of the region’s most trusted locations for data hosting, management and analytics.

Singapore also pledges to support local tech entrepreneurship and innovation. It is the only Asian city featured in the world’s top ten of startup ecosystem. As a result, the city thrives with digital entrepreneurs, top level internet executives and innovative media players. It is therefore the perfect location for hosting Digital Media Asia 2017. The opening of the conference was marked with the session Masterclass: Paid Content Business Models. The full day masterclass focused on the topics, viz. Choosing the Right Pay Wall in Your Market; Reinventing the Customer Journey; Best Practices for implementing a Pay Wall; From an Editorial Point of View; and From a Commercial Point of View.

Among the keynote speakers on opening days was Steffen Damborg, expert advisor, WAN-IFRA Global Advisory, who spoke about ‘Design thinking workshop for improving video platforms’, in which he narrated how creative process would yield a business result and the capacity to innovate new concepts to build and launch new solutions for customers. The workshop led everyone through the latest innovation processes.

The next day, Session 1 titled ‘Leading Digital Trends That Are Changing the Rules of The News Publishing Game’ presented the main findings from the 2017 Reuters Institute Digital News Report, WAN-IFRA’s World Press Trends report and other studies and insights that are critical to understand the drastic changes the news industry is currently undergoing. The reports identified the main global trends in media use—the move to digital, mobile, and social media—and discuss the implications for news media’s editorial priorities, distribution strategies, and funding models among a panel of speakers, viz. Francis LF Lee, professor, School of Journalism and Communication, The Chinese University of Hong Kong; Rasmus Nielsen, Director of Research, Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism; Thomas Jacob, COO, WAN-IFRA, Germany; and Sue Brooks, Global Head of Product, Reuters, with moderator Gilles Demptos, Director Asia, WAN-IFRA

Reinventing news ecosystem

After a short coffee break, Session 2 unfolded with the title ‘Digital Rransformation: Are Amazon and Alibaba Reinventing the News Ecosystem? with Victoria Ho, editor, Mashable, Singapore, as moderator. The session focused on the changing landscape of the digital media, with discussion taking on how Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos bought The Washington Post for $250 million in 2013. In the course of a few years, he however completely changed the outlook of the 140-year-old newspaper. Its readership has exploded, its content has become more suitable for the digital world, and the WaPo is now looked upon as one of the most innovative news media companies in the world.

Two years after Bezos, Amazon’s stronger competitor, the Alibaba Group, bought in a surprise move another venerable news media institution: the 113-year-old Grey Lady of Hong Kong, South China Morning Post (SCMP). Headed by Gary Liu (former CEO of Digg), the newspaper is currently undergoing an in-depth transformation which started by taking down the publication’s paywall.

Gary Liu, CEO, South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd, Hong Kong, talked on the topic ‘Transforming Print-minded Newspapers into Digital-first Media Companies is Easier Said Than Done’. In the abundance of noise, fake news and dwindling ad revenue, the clear and present danger is losing readers and ad clients in this mind-boggling ‘attention economy’. Taking an insight into this, he narrated that survival means a well-defined roadmap and disciplined implementation of two key transformations: digital technologies and culture change.

Big data

In the very next session, Shailesh Prakash, chief information officer at Washington Post, talked about ‘Predicting the Future of News: Big Data, Personalisation and Automation. He said big data has been one of the key architects of this outstanding transformation.

After the lunch break, Steffen Damborg, expert advisor, WAN-IFRA Global Advisory, would take on Session 3 titled ‘Beyond Paid Journalism: Big Data and AI in Today’s Newsrooms. Charging for online content doesn’t mean to simply erect a pay-wall around your existing content and expect readers to start paying for what they used to get for free. It actually implies to gain an in-depth knowledge of readers and content performance on digital platforms through the implementation of a relevant data strategy.

Global media brands such as New York Times and Financial Times have come a long way building sustainable digital models. However, most newspaper companies do not have global brands and audiences. This means that they must apply big data to their business models in a somewhat smaller scale. This session will give examples of big data business models successfully applied in small and medium sized publishing companies. It will show how algorithms can reduce churn on paid subscriptions and how machine learning increases traffic by targeting users with recommendations and related articles.

‘Driving Engagement Through Personalisation’—this was the topic which Gyan Gupta, CEO, DB Digital (India) talked about. DB Digital, the digital arm of India’s Dainik Bhaskar, the 4th largest newspaper in the world, has been using AI for building powerful content recommendation engines across its digital platforms. DB Digital also leverages its data-driven strategy for segmenting its audience in order to target ads using algorithms and artificial intelligence and works with Ad agencies to define its audience segments.

Paid Content

News publishers’ global audience revenues overtook their advertising revenues in 2014. Since then, this trend has constantly increased. Media companies are now aware that digital journalism can only become a financially successful business with paid models. And the good news is that, even in Asia, more and more publishers are now putting this awareness into action, thus increasing reader acceptance for paid models on the Internet.
This session will present several case studies of Asian news publishing companies that have implemented different ways of charging for their digital content. It will argue that the real question is not anymore to charge or not to charge but rather when and how to start charging…

In addition to traditional digital subscriptions, new models for monetising digital content are emerging. Sachin Doshi, a former Spotify Executive has co-founded Scroll (with Tony Haile, the former CEO of Chartbeat), a start-up that wants to roll up a selection of stories from a wide variety of publishers and sell monthly subscriptions on a platform with little or no ads. Scroll is backed by Axel Springer, News Corp and New York Times.

Panel discussion

In the panel discussion on ‘Is it time for Asian publishers to start charging for their digital content?’ moderator Gautam Mishra, founder & CEO, INKL, conducted the session with panellists: Hiromi Ohnishi, executive director, Digital Business/International Affairs, The Asahi Shimbun, Japan; Endy Bayuni, chief editor, The Jakarta Post, Indonesia; Sachin Doshi, co-founder, Scroll, USA; Kirsten Han, editor, New Naratif.

Opening of the last day of the conference (November 2) was unfolded with a breakfast session: The digital-first newsroom at Helsingin Sanomat. Speaker at the session was Kimmo Pietinen, managing editor at Helsingin Sanomat, the top-national brand of Sanoma Group in Finland, shared his experience of the newspaper’s journey to become a digital publishing house, and how the newsroom of Helsingin Sanomat transformed to a digital-first approach. After implementing the CCI NewsGate system, they redefined their workflow – enabling digital growth and reducing of print-production cost.

For younger generation

Session 5 titled ‘Creating Shareable, Viral Content for Millennials’ focused on the digital model of how reaching out to millennials would imply to move beyond the online article to develop a range of native formats – from pictures or short videos to quizzes, lists, live blogs or interactive graphics – that are mainly designed for consuming and sharing in social networks and other offsite platforms. The session presented case studies from digital-natives companies which have succeeded, in just a few years, to shape up their media brands by creating highly shareable content that seduces the younger generations. With moderator Joon-Nie Lau, Media Trainer, Vice President, Singapore Press Club, keynote speakers in the session were Aralynn McMane, CEO & Young Audiences Consultant, Connections, France; Mike Raomanachai, Senior Global Business Correspondent, Voice TV, Thailand; Marc Lourdes, Director, CNN Digital Asia, Hong Kong; Winston Utomo, CEO & editor-in-chief, IDN Media, Indonesia.

In the next, Session 6 titled ‘Increasing Content Quality, Reach and Monetisation Through Partnerships’ focused on rules of the game, which have changed in the new news ecosystem: the most successful publishers may not be anymore those able to rely exclusively on their own content, distribution platform and sales teams, but those able to forge the smartest alliances. For producing nimble digital content, newsrooms can’t rely anymore on a single do-it-all CMS: editors must be trained to use a myriad of third-parties online tools that evolve constantly in order to enhance the relevancy and impact of their journalism.

Producing the critical mass of content needed to gather enough eye-balls on a large variety of digital verticals may also beyond the capacity of the most powerful newsrooms. Should content partnerships – around texts, audio, videos – become an essential part of editorial strategies? As for distribution, news media must reach out to their users where they are, and with the adequate format: this implies publishing on social media platforms, with a growing part of mobile-first and live video content. But while such distribution partnerships can open up interesting monetisation opportunities, publishers must be careful and make sure the deals they strike will allow them to preserve the originality of their voice, the strength of their brand and a direct relationship with their users and customers. Magdoom Mohamed, MD, WAN-IFRA South Asia moderated the session with speakers, including Amrita Tripathi, News Partnerships India, Twitter, India; Joe Martin, commercial partnerships director APAC, Dow Jones, Hong Kong; Kate Beddoe, Head of News & Publishing Partnerships, APAC, Google.

Programmatic advertising

The post-lunch session of the last day of the conference, which was ‘Session 7 – Enhancing Programmatic Yields Through Ad Networks’, shed a light on advertising budgets inexorably migrating from legacy to digital platforms. Discussed at the productive session was of programmatic advertising on this already competitive market keeps growing. In this challenging context, can co-operative market places play a decisive role and allow premium publishers to claim higher yields matching their content and audience quality?

While in Europe large ad networks such as La Place Media have gained a significant scale, news-centric publisher networks – such as Project Juno or Pangaea – still struggle for traction. How are Asian ad networks faring so far? This sesssion discussed the promises and challenges of initiatives such as CltrShift in Malaysia, OPPA in Thailand, Apex in Australia, Kpex in New Zealand, in Japan or the recently launched SMX in Singapore. With moderator Joe Nguyen, senior vice president, Asia Pacific, comScore, key speakers at the session were Chris Janz, MD, Australian Metro Publishing, Fairfax Media; Parminder Singh, chief commercial & digital officer, Mediacorp, Singapore; Su-Lin Tan, head, sales strategy & operations, SPH, Singapore; and Serm Teck Choon, country head, Malaysia, CtrlShift.

Truth & trust

Session 7 (Breakout) titled ‘Truth & Trust in the Media – fighting the spread of misinformation in Asia
On June 19-20, 2017, Asian news media organisations, tech companies, universities, foundations and other members of the civil society gathered in Singapore at an event titled Keep it Real: Truth & Trust in the Media in order to define a concrete set actions for fighting the spread of misinformation on digital platforms and improving journalism practices in the ‘fake news’ era. What has happened since then? The session offered a follow up of the various initiatives and projects that have been launched in the aftermaths of the ‘Truth & Trust in the Media’ conference in the fields of fact-checking and news literacy. New angles to this crucial topic will also be discussed. Quality journalism would not survive online if it isn’t able to retain the readers’ trust and demonstrate its value.

Taking on the above topic, Andrew Heslop, director, Media Freedom, WAN-IFRA, as moderator conducted the session with a host of speakers, namely, Gilles Demptos, director Asia, WAN-IFRA; Endy Bayuni, chief editor, The Jakarta Post, Indonesia; Warren Fernandez, editor-in-chief, The Straits Times & SPH’s English/Malay/Tamil Media Group; Sun Sun Lim, professor of Media & Communication and Head of Humanities, Arts & Social Sciences, Singapore University of Technology and Design, Singapore.

Closing session

Closure of the conference came up following the coffee break with the Session 8- Storytelling for Mobile Audiences, in which it was discussed the latest developments in storytelling formats on mobile platforms, from long form text to bite-sized information to data viz and interactives. It provided in depth case studies of what innovative leading media brands such as HT Media (Hindustan Times) and CNN, or newsmedia start-up such as are currently producing and what their achievements imply in terms of talents, resources, tools and training.

The closing session also highlighted the insights of the latest methods for surfacing the best ideas from across the newsroom and brought them into action plans. With moderator Alan Soon, founder & CEO, The Splice Newsroom, Singapore, speakers at the session were Yusuf Omar, co-founder, Hashtag Our Stories, former CNN Senior Social Media Reporter; Daisy Li, founder & CEO,, Hong Kong; and Robb Montgomery, Media Innovation Strategist, Berlin.

Asian Digital Media Awards

Moderated by Manisha Tank, CNN freelance news anchor, the evening of the 8th Asian Digital Media Awards presentation was a big attraction at the conference. The winners were presented by Google and WAN-IFRA and listed as under.

Best News Website

Gold: This Week in Asia by South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd
Silver: by South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd
Bronze: Building an Active Community by Singapore Press Holdings Ltd

Best in Lifestyle, Sports or Entertainment Website
Gold: HK RACING by South China Morning Post
Silver: Gold: Joseph Schooling’s Road to Rio by Singapore Press Holdings Ltd
Bronze: Every Little D by The News Lens

Best Digital Advertising Campaign
Gold: Mr Peanut x CE2017 by Next Mobile Limited
Silver: The anatomy of cancer by Singapore Press Holdings Ltd
Bronze: Honda City BMCC Launch by New Straits Times Press

Best Use of Online Video
Gold: Predator In My Phone by Star Media Group Berhad
Silver: Stakk Factory by Stakk Factory
Bronze: Are you future ready? by Singapore Press Holdings Ltd

Best Data Visualisation
Gold: Belt and Road Initiative by South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd
Silver: The Power of Your Passport by South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd
Bronze: Bolts from the Blue by South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd

Best News Mobile Service
Gold: SCMP – Mobile App by South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd
Silver: The Straits Times Apps by Singapore Press Holdings Ltd
Bronze: All the Queen’s men and women by Singapore Press Holdings Ltd

Best Lifestyle, Sports or Entertainment Mobile Services
Gold: 01 run together@ Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon by WeMedia01 Ltd
Silver: South-east Asia’s brightest hopes by Singapore Press Holdings Ltd
Bronze: Christmas in the City in 360 by Singapore Press Holdings Ltd

Best Innovation New Product
Gold: MaskOFF by STAKK Factory
Silver: Visual Interaktif Kompas (VIK) by PT Kompas Cyber Media
Bronze: The Straits Times… coming to you from your smart home gadget by Singapore Press Holdings Ltd

Best in Social Media Engagement
Gold: Activating Stomp’s Awesome Citizen Journalists by Singapore Press Holdings Ltd
Silver: Live! @ The Newsroom by Singapore Press Holdings Ltd
Bronze: AkuIndonesia by PT Kompas Media Nusantara

Best Innovation to Engage Youth Audiences
Gold: R.AGE Documentaries by Star Media Group Berhad
Silver: Stakk Factory by Stakk Factory
Bronze: Zetizen Jawa Pos National Challenge by PT Jawa Pos Koran

Has MoJo (Mobile Journalism) era arrived?

In the session ‘Storytelling for Mobile Audiences’ Yusuf Omar, co-founder of Hashtag Our Stories, was absolutely convinced it already was. The former Senior Social Reporter of CNN was determined to prove it through Hashtag Our Stories. And he gave a bunch of reasons to explain why. Traditional media can’t win the breaking news game, he assured; news organisations and papers are struggling with hyper local news; aggregation and fact checking are not a sustainable value add; the future is video – “Pivot to video is real”, he emphasised; “We are in the golden age of journalism, but as a reporter you need to be half robot. “You need to be Robocop and am I am a MoJo (Mobile Journalist),” he said.

For Omar there are seven steps to take to embrace the ‘MoJoism’. Some news can’t be live but others definitely can. “It is going to get 10 times more comments on Facebook—pick a day of the week to train each reporter; choose the social media formats,” he said. He believes that his business model can also be profitable. And he summarised some of the possible ways to make money. “It could be crowdfunding, sponsored content, on platform monetization, paywall… Good journalism and getting access to hard to reach communities is going to attract people to participate.” Mobile Journalism is giving voice to something—To more views, more perspective and More truth!

Where do youngsters take interest?

Marc Lourdes, director of CNN Digital Asia, doesn’t agree with the assumption that ‘millennials want light content and lack the appetite for real news’. “Last year, around the American election, there was an inflection point. And the appetite came back. People became interested in hard news again”, he said.

CNN Digital Asia works around two concepts: viral and shareable. “The idea of what viral is has changed and it has turned almost 180 degrees to hard news. Shareable has also changed”. Marc assured that CNN is ‘experimenting heavily with emerging technologies”, such as virtual reality or drones for certain coverages (the Rohingya refugee crisis in Bangladesh/Myanmar, for instance). Also, to engage young audiences CNN Digital Asia is working a project called the ‘Great Big Story’.

Aralynn McMane, CEO of Connections, helps news organisations and nonprofits that want to better reach and serve the youngest audiences. She believes engaging them at “a critical stage” is crucial, as well as “teaching them how to decipher content”. McMane refuses to speak about “generations” and she prefers referring to “life stages” as a better way to understand the needs of each group and tailor the content or platforms accordingly. “Each cohort goes through the same processes. It is how you address those processes what makes the difference”, she assured. She speaks about “firsts”: “You can offer the first time they are being taken seriously by the media”.

Fight against fake news

How do Asian news media organisations combat fake news? Do they think they can win the battle? Is it really a new fight or it just comes wrapped differently? Taking this into account, Gilles Demptos, Asia Director at WAN-IFRA said misinformation has been around forever; but recent months, the awareness of the impact of this phenomenon elevated and everybody has been speaking about it. “That pulled people together to do something about it. Media organisations, tech companies like Google or Facebook, governments, students. A global brainstorm and a call for action to combat the spread of fake news and the damage they provoke to the news industry. “We can’t do it by ourselves. We have to speak with the platforms, with the social media,” he informed. “There is no greater challenge than trust,” emphasised Gilles.

Warren Fernandez, editor-in-chief at the Singapore Straits Times & SPH’s English/Malay/Tamil Media Group, defined fake news by the ‘3M’: mischief, money, malice. He agrees that combating them “requires responses from various players: media, government, public, platforms, universities. “We need to partner to work on common efforts,” he said. Regulators must also meet their obligations, he said. Singapore will introduce a new law on fake news next year; the precedent in Europe is Germany, whose news law imposes fines of up to 50 million Euros on social media platforms if they fail to remove illegal content within 24 hours. But there might be something more effective than legal actions “The best answer to fake news is good journalism,” considered Warren.

Forging right partnerships

How can publishers forge alliances without putting at risk the brand credibility? Are content partnerships an essential part of today’s editorial strategies? Amrita Tripathi, News Partnerships Acting Manager at Twitter India, assured that her company is working very closely with our (media) partners in different areas, such as reach, revenue (sharing agreements and models) or innovation. “We work with different partners depending on the strength of the content or their apetite. Some partners are more interested in growing audience than others so we do customize our packages.”

Joe Martin, commerical partnerships director for APAC at Dow Jones, starts by highlighting the good news for the industry: “There are plenty of stories”. “Monetising them –he adds is the difficult thing”.
Partnerships can help. Martin mentioned the alliance forged by Dow Jones with Malaysia newspaper The Star. “They wanted to elevate and increase their content set to grow their premium membership”, he said. “It has been a challenging time for publishers, no doubt. But using partnerships to reach disengaged audience is a way to monetise the industry”.

Kate Beddoe, head of News & Publishing Partnerships for APAC at Google, assures that the first thing she does when meeting potential partners in the media industry is asking a question. She asked for their strategy and how Google could help to put it in place. “Partnership has become a euphemism for transaction. And that is not what we are here to talk about”, she said. Google, which launched Fact Check in 2016 to fight the spread of fake news, is “accelerating our contributions with the industry in the last few months”, Beddoe assured.

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