Audience Engagement Digital Publishing
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AOP Summit Review, Part 2: “Forget AMP, Google AVP will soon arrive”

Last Wednesday, the AOP (Association of Online Publishers) held their annual Summit in Waterloo, London. With over 300 hundred publishers, brands and ad tech professionals present, the event made for an intriguing mix of industry opinion, debate and discussion.

Our chief criticism, covered in Part One of our review, was that a number of sessions failed to go in-depth and just when you thought they were getting somewhere, it was time to bring proceedings to a close. Such accusations couldn’t be leveled at two standout presentations delivered by Chris Gatherole of FT Labs (Financial Times) and Norm Johnston, CEO of Unruly

Gatherole’s presentation, delivered alongside Vida Media’s Mark Maddox, looked at innovation and how publishers could create the ideal business structure to nurture, protect and push forward new initiatives.

Chief takeaways included:

  • “Prioritization is essential”: Unless teams prioritise their work, initiatives that demand proper resource, time and attention can be superseded by much less worthwhile ventures.
  • “Team structure/politics dictates tech architecture of systems”: We were warned that successful publishing innovation happens only when team structures are empowered from C-suite level, are autonomous and fully funded. Internal politics is the unwritten danger.
  • “Business processes resist change”: Innovation demands change and change is resisted. This needs to be recognised and overcome at the company level.
  • “Our mission is to report back from the future”: Regardless of how good an idea is, an optimal innovation lab’s job is to report back on the “potholes from the future”.
  • “The weeping sore”: The handover of a successful innovation pilot to the commercial teams is one of the most difficult challenges. Whose job is it to run with the projects? This, we discovered is not an exact science and for FT Labs is ‘the weeping sore”.
  • Multiple revenue streams“: Vida Media’s Maddox reminded us that when it comes to evaluating new business ventures, looking for more than one single revenue stream is crucial.

The next presentation came from Norm Johnston, CEO of Unruly. Hailing from Ohio and with an accent more akin to a sardonic Dustin Hoffman, Johnston’s presentation left us with more than a few insights and, at times, aching ribs.

Focusing on voice user interfaces (VUI) and voice-activated content, chief takeaways included:

  • “By 2022, voice content will be worth $40Bn”:  The figures speak for themselves.
  • “Voice is worldwide”: Whilst Google has 32% of voice traffic, Alibaba has 17%. It’s a worldwide phenomenon. 
  • “73% of smart speaker owners said news and current affairs is what they primarily search for”: News and current affairs is the early forerunner, but bubbling up underneath it are lifestyle topics such as recipes and cooking.
  • “For publishers, Google AVP (voice version of AMP) will probably arrive in the near future”: Publishers need to dive into voice now as the tech is improving on a weekly basis. Soon, the equivalent of Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages will arrive for voice activated content.
  • “Emotion will become more important”: Current voice interfaces are robotic but these will evolve and emotion will become more important, across the board.
  • “Voice has growing pains”: Whilst the tech is improving, it’s not perfect, and Johnston implored publishers present to be ‘careful’ and be measured in their approach, showing us the video below to demonstrate his point:
  • “Voice raises many issues beyond the mere technology”: For example, how will publishers enact GDPR on voice? Many of the rules surrounding the technology haven’t been defined.
  • “Pizza, porn and gaming”: Johnston remarked that the pizza, porn and gaming industries often lead digital innovation (including voice) but with a wry smile implored us to “do our own research”. The drinks industry is also pioneering voice interfaces and Johnston showed a standout example by Diageo with its groundbreaking

The final session WNIP attended was entitled ‘The Attention Economy: An editorial perspective’ with a panel consisting of The Guardian, Refinery29 and HuffPost UK. An editorial love-in, the hard-hitting questions of political bias and journalistic objectivity were neatly sidestepped at every turn. We only wish John Pilger or Media Lens could have interviewed The Guardian’s Chris Moran, because then we might have witnessed some substance.

The only quote worthy of the name was when HuffPost’s Jess Brammar told of her meeting with the infamous Bob Woodward, yes he of Watergate fame. Discussing the election victory of Trump and the media’s obligation to report objectively, Woodward asserted, “I think as a journalist you have to be so objective it hurts”.

A good point to end on.

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