Digital Innovation Guest Columns
5 mins read

Why digital media companies need an eye toward adaptation, not just innovation

Digital companies are consistently tasked with innovating—from tracking traffic changes, to keeping up with platform trends, to understanding the dynamic ad tech landscape.

What was predominant in the last year, however, is that innovating to meet consumer behavior and advertiser preferences was simply not enough. We were hit by a global pandemic, platforms like TikTok exploded in popularity, the social climate changed drastically, and it was an election year in the U.S.

In the wake of the ever-changing landscape, the good digital publishers were nimble, and ready to make changes at the drop of a hat. While many advertisers opted to pull their marketing given the uncertain social, health and economic climates, digital media companies had to strategize on how to stay relevant, with limited budget. The ones that focused on adaption, rather than just innovation were able to maintain a strong position in both consumer and advertiser eyes.

Here are two ways that successful publishers were able to adapt to the challenging media environment in 2020:

They Understood the Change in Primetime

In a typical year, publishers could anticipate that consumer preferences and habits would shift and evolve, but with anticipated consistencies. They could reliably tap into key content consumption moments—whether that be timing content to publish during traditional “prime time” hours, or working with an advertiser to amplify a new beer offering during Spring break season. But the pandemic paired with the subsequent economic impact and prolonged quarantines flipped traditional tendencies, interests, and life-stage moments on their head.

While media consumption habits naturally increased in 2020 given the state of the world, publishers needed to understand what the new climate meant from a traffic trends standpoint, and from a content need perspective to best inform strategy. In short: they had to know where and when their audience was looking. At UPROXX, some key areas we looked into included:

  • Feeding into Rising Consumption Habits: We saw that our overall video views across all of our YouTube channels grew by +63% in 2020 compared to 2019.
  • Traffic on New Mediums: On channels like UPROXX Video we saw an almost +200% increase in OTT (over-the-top) views specifically (TV + Game Console), with our OTT share growing from 14% to 21%.
  • Traffic to Varied Content: We also saw new sub-genres pick-up-steam. While sports content was a key vertical in years past, esports and gaming were of particular audience interest in 2020. While streetwear was always a reader/viewer category of attraction, UPROXX’s SNX Sneaker Column content doubled in views per post in 2020 compared to the same time in the year prior.

We took these insights and ultimately used them to decipher the best approach to get in front of key audiences—for both owned content and sponsored content. On the editorial side, the pickup in interest in gaming editorial inspired us to launch an entirely brand new vertical. For sponsored integrations, we took a very intentional method to content pitching and development.

One example of this is a campaign we collaborated with Footlocker on—where we tapped into the rising popularity of “Sneakerhead” culture and the increasing interest in video content to connect with key audiences in a unique and authentic way. During the campaign, UPROXX and Footlocker created videos featuring well-known artists, Kyle NG and Sophia Chang, to bring viewers on a studio visit to share their art, their creative practice, their unique journey and to discuss how the Nike Air Max has been an essential inspiration for them along the way. Tapping into the trending video consumption habits and sneaker content focus proved fruitful—earning Footlocker an incredible 156% of the total impressions KPI at just part-way through the program.

Good Publishers Maintained a Strong Stance—and They Knew Where and How to Do It

The civil unrest that came to a head in 2020 was an important reckoning that presented new challenges for publishers and advertisers from a social and political perspective. For some publishers, it was about starting some of those conversations, for others, it was about authentically approaching those previously covered topics with sincere candor.

As an example, Talib Kweli’s People’s Party Podcast has been the place to go for hip-hop storytelling and tough discussions about significant social justice issues—earning the content stream a #1 spot on Apple podcasts in early 2020. The podcast has proven both particularly potent and adaptable during these trying times. While it was traditionally a weekly in-studio interview podcast that was streamed via video and across popular streaming platforms, when COVID-19 hit, they knew they had to change course.

With an increased interest in social media content during peak shelter-in-place orders, the People’s Party team quickly pivoted to Instagram livestreams to create thumb-stopping action—and the audience followed, with streams doubling the engagement on the UPROXX Instagram. Content shared via People’s Party was unequivocally unafraid to broach some of the toughest political topics—and this earned the podcast shoutouts from powerful fans, including presidential candidate, Bernie Sanders.

Beyond the podcast, we had heartfelt conversations amongst our company and took the time to reflect on how we could lend our support to Black Lives Matter — resulting in many actions including sending two of our editorial staff journalists to Los Angeles news station, KTLA, to discuss what it means to be an ally. What’s important to note here though, was that none of these efforts would have been meaningful had they not been authentic and the groundwork had not already been laid. As a publisher, you must know when and how to lay that foundation, and you must be consistent in your convictions.

Takeaways for publishers and advertisers in 2021

So, what does this mean in a world that is not yet post-COVID, where the social justice and political conversations continue to remain predominant, and where consumer consumption habits have shifted completely compared to a year ago? Publishers must continue to focus on not just innovation, but adaptation. They need to monitor for trends, consumption habits and traffic spikes—and understand where their audience is truly looking. Data is of course a key baseline in understanding best publishing patterns, but the successful publishing companies know how and when to put a human lens on their editorial and advertising efforts.

Even more important than that, they recognize the need to be authentic. Taking an introspective look at the why behind content consumption and using a combined voice to stand for something real will ultimately allow you and your brand to remain relevant and connect with the consumer of tomorrow.

Paul Josephsen
Chief Strategy Officer, UPROXX

About: UPROXX is the leading entertainment and culture brand for the new generation. Acquired by Warner Music Group in 2018, UPROXX reaches over 60 million people every month through compelling journalism, award-winning video and in-depth conversation around music, TV, film and culture. For more information, see www.uproxx.com.