CEO Column: Will 2019 Determine News Media’s Strategic Landscape?

The news media industry saw a lot of changes and challenges in 2018. We faced new battles on Capitol Hill, like the fight against newsprint tariffs and the push for an anti-trust safe harbor for news publishers. At the same time, we had to contend with an extremely hostile political environment and a digital ecosystem that continues to favor dominant giants and disfavor quality content.

But looking forward to 2019, I think it is pretty easy to see that it is shaping up to be an absolutely pivotal year that may well determine the strategic landscape for news publishing for many years to come.

First, 2019 is going to be a year of new technological “solutions” for the news business – with proposed debuts of the “new” Texture app from Apple, Jim McKelvey’s new advertising and payment system Invisibly, and subscription products from Facebook and Google, to name a few. While it would be nice for one of them to be The Answer, publishers will instead have to wrestle with how these technologies interact and whether some materially change how the public consumes and pays for journalism. The two questions that will always be asked are (1) does the new technological solution produce significant revenue to fund news operations, and (2) over the long-term, will it increase (or decrease) a reader’s attachment to our news brands? We will need both revenue and brand equity if we hope to maintain sustainable, independent digital news businesses.

2019 will also be a big year for major mergers and acquisitions in the industry. It is easy to anticipate that several big publishers and media chains will change hands throughout the year. We’ve already seen major shifts in ownership in 2018, from the Los Angeles Times’s sale to Patrick Soon-Shiong, to TIME magazine’s sale by Meredith Corp., to tronc taking bids from competitors like McClatchy this fall. As we move into 2019, we’ll see M&A accelerate and reveal a wide range of different strategic choices within the industry.

Finally, I expect that in 2019 will begin to see rapid consolidation in digital publishing systems – like The Washington Post’s Arc, New York Media’s Clay and new products from WordPress – with just a handful emerging as the engines that drive all publishers into the future. There has already been talk this year of the need for a smaller number of digital publishing tools, with some suggesting that having just one digital publishing platform with an integrated advertising marketplace could create a strong counterweight to Facebook and Google. In 2019, we’ll find out which platforms can best serve the needs of publishers and deliver the kind of digital experiences that readers really value.

What I’m most anticipating for the new year, however, is more opportunities to work with our news media members to find solutions to the industry’s problems and answers to the many new challenges that pop up every day. I know that while 2019 will be full of difficulties, it will also bring many new opportunities for our industry, and I look forward to seeing how our members take advantage of each one that comes along.

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