Interview with Marko van Kampen, director online video at DPG Media (formerly De Persgroep) and founder of Makers Channel, now MyChannels and part of DPG Media since 2016.
A continuous digitalisation process is disrupting the news-publishing sector and forces major players to reconsider their strategies while “simultaneously playing on different chessboards”. These are the words of Marko van Kampen, director online video at DPG Media and founder of video technology and production startup MyChannels, which is now part of DPG Media. According to Van Kampen, these chessboards refer to topics such as user data, user experience, personalisation, new content formats, global competition, and advertising. He sees acquisitions and partnerships as a way for local news publishers to acquire or share the necessary expertise on these comprehensive topics.
“Digitalisation has changed the playing field for major news publishers,” says Van Kampen. “New players are emerging. Google News has entered the Dutch market and Apple News is on its way. These news services focus on a flawless customer experience and are popular among young people. Yet, existing local news companies are still strong and powerful. DPG Media has the news stories, the necessary authority and credibility, as well as a steady base of subscribers and recurring news platform visitors.”
“Global public confidence in the media is declining, but the Dutch still have a deep-rooted sense of confidence in their news media. Original high-quality content is important and will be even more important in the future. Professional journalists select, interpret and write the news content everybody should read. Editorial teams guarantee quality and reliability, which is crucial in a world where there is so much fake news.”
In this changing news landscape, DPG Media transformed its traditional silos into a cluster of platforms and apps where users consume a wide variety of news media, including videos, as well as entertainment content, games, puzzles, and online services. These online services relate to for instance finance (Independer), jobs (Nationale Vacaturebank, Intermediair), cars (Autotrack) or product reviews for electronic devices (Tweakers). Van Kampen: “With our online services, we help people make important life choices.”
Bring in new talent and expertiseDPG Media’s business strategy to innovate and transform, also requires different (technical) capabilities and the accompanying specialists. Van Kampen: “Our CIO converted our traditional IT environment into an innovative team that works according to the rules of startup thinking.” Van Kampen sees German publishing company Axel Springer as a good example of a company that reinvented itself in the current digital age. “Axel Springer started the digitalisation process at an early stage and now eighty percent of their revenue is generated by digital. They developed new products, attracted new talents, entered partnerships, and acquired businesses to bring in special expertise. I think it’s good to hire critical minds, as they will challenge the status quo and keep the door open for new ideas and opinions.” “I often see publishers trying to develop digital expertise in-house, but this requires specific knowledge and substantial development budgets. Why not acquire an external party or work together with a partner to share knowledge and investment instead of re-inventing the wheel? Existing local media companies should be more proactive and look for ways to cooperate.”
For DPG Media the acquisition of MyChannels was a conscious move to acquire expertise regarding both video technology and the production of video content and video formats, including branded (entertainment) formats. Van Kampen: “I’m very pleased to see DPG Media managed to embed the video virus within the wider organisation and help make the shift to a video-first mindset. It all started with laying down a good vision and getting support at Board level. A major part of the vision is a focus on technology and customer-first thinking. MyChannels contributes to operationalising this vision by offering Software as a Service, which we call Video as a Service. Our service offering is easily scalable and widely applicable.”
MyChannels works for all DPG Media’s platforms, including AD.nl and HLN.be. With regard to content, their main scope is the entertainment video agenda of ADR News Media, which includes the Algemeen Dagblad (AD), QMusic and a wide range of regional titles. Van Kampen: “Looking for growth in entertainment content is a conscious decision of DPG Media. Although some journalists find it hard to take, entertainment is also part of a news service. People primarily visit a platform to get an update on the news, but also consume entertainment content along the way. When Dutch reality stars, Michael and Barbie, filed for divorce during the month of the Dutch general elections in 2017, this was by far the best-read news article. For many people, entertainment news remains a guilty pleasure.”
For the online platform of AD and DPG Media's regional titles, MyChannels set up the Morning Show to Go, which is a daily morning live show with live reports of news, sports, street interviews and entertainment stories. MyChannels laid the foundations of the morning show and now a professional editorial team works hard to make the show part of the morning ritual of many viewers. Van Kampen: “We are often the only publisher shooting video items at live events. When we first started, some people said we were a newspaper publisher ‘playing TV’, but for me TV is just a medium that taught us how to make a good story using sound and moving images. Why not use this online? The format we chose fits in with our existing readership, as the show is accessible, light-hearted and there is always room for a smile.”
“Our news platform has quite some impact in the Netherlands. We are perhaps too modest in that respect,” says Van Kampen. “Recently, we welcomed the Dutch prime minister in the Morning Show to Go for an interview, which shows our platform has proven its relevance as an established brand. Of course, MyChannels is a bit of an outsider within DPG Media, because we are experts on the technological side of video production as well as on the video content production side. But after a while, newspaper journalists and video makers grew closer together. This makes sense because written articles and videos are just different ways of telling a story.”
Besides news and entertainment content, MyChannels also started developing online puzzles and games for the platform of the Dutch newspaper AD and DPG Media's regional titles, which reaches more than four million people on a daily basis. Van Kampen: “Puzzles and games have always been part of the printed newspaper, and we integrated these in our app for instance. We have done the same for the Belgian newspaper Het Laatste Nieuws (HLN). Right now, we are also working on developing podcasts and audio books.”
UX design (User Experience design, ed.) makes sure the platform of AD and DPG Media's regional titles is accessible, easy to use, and in line with the experience that consumers expect from a new media platform. “Users are smart and visit many different news platforms every day, so you need to attract and retain them. On our platform, we publish our videos clustered on a ‘wall’ according to the timeline principle to increase findability. We add a live setup to create a real news channel, because this is where I think the newspaper business is heading. Swedish multichannel newspaper Expressen is a great example for me in this respect, since they really embraced the video-first principle and transformed themselves into the CNN of Sweden.”
Right now, everybody gets the same view on the platform, but in the future, DGP Media will add a more personalized timeline. Van Kampen: “Our journalists write hundreds of articles every day, but some of these stories disappear from the timeline because not enough people read them. But if you know these stories do have an audience, and you know how to reach this audience, it will be worthwhile to offer these stories as targeted content. Personalization is important, since it gives a platform its distinctiveness. Still, you don’t want a platform where algorithms determine everything. You need an independent editorial staff that curates and interprets the news, but for the other sixty or seventy percent of the content you need algorithms to offer targeted content. I see AI as a way to get the right stories with the right people. Our challenge is to surprise our readers in a positive way.”
Unlike journalists who write all news content within DGP Media, producing all videos in-house is not possible, as it would be too costly and time consuming according to Van Kampen. “For budgetary reasons we obtain part of our videos through partnerships. Besides, it’s difficult to offset the costs of making online videos with digital advertising revenue. If you look at CPM (Cost-Per-Thousand impressions, ed.) of online ads, the greater part of it goes to only a few global tech giants. In addition, these CPM rates are flat rates, as they apply to all videos, regardless the quality. For instance, travel content is always very popular, but relatively expensive to make. Why not increase the CPM rate for a well-made travel video? If we manage to change this system, making good-quality videos could become a paying proposition.”
Apart from time and money, a lack of specific expertise and a network of people is also a reason not to make all videos in-house. Van Kampen: “Take cooking videos for example. Why not benefit from the credibility and experience of a party like 24Kitchen? The same goes for sports. For instance, MyChannels benefitted from a deal between DPG Media and Ziggo Sports regarding Formula 1 content. We were lucky with the success of Max Verstappen that season, as the popularity of these videos really helped us prove our case.”
Sports are an important part of the AD brand image. “After I joined DPG Media with MyChannels, I asked Hidde van Warmerdam, sports anchor at De Persgroep and AD Sportwereld, if he wanted to make a format with me for a new cycle racing programme. That is when In het Wiel was born. This online programme offers live video reports twice a day and is an important part of our sports reporting division. We built good relationships with cycling teams and often our reporters get answers to their questions only right after the Dutch public broadcaster NOS, sometimes even before them. Again, we were lucky, since our initiative got an extra boost when Dutch bicycle racer Tom Dumoulin won!”
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