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Expert Interview Series: Dennis Mortensen Opens a Discussion about the Future of Online Media

Suhail Doshi

We thought it would be cool to gain insights from some of the Analytics
Industry’s top leaders, so we’re starting an “Expert Interview” series. I will
be interviewing various analytics professionals on topics where metrics are,
or will be, playing a large role in shaping their future.

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In this interview Dennis Mortensen touches on a few areas where the media
industry can use an overhaul; something that analytics will likely play a
large role in down the road.

Dennis R. Mortensen is a pioneer and expert in the Analytics industry.
He is an accredited Associate Web Analytics Instructor at the University of
British Columbia, the Author of data driven insights with Yahoo! Web
Analytics, and a frequent speaker on the subject of Analytics, Media and
Marketing. Mortensen is an Entrepreneur and was the COO of IndexTools until it
was acquired by Yahoo! Inc., in May 2008. Today he is the Director of Data
Insights at Yahoo! and sits on the Board of Directors at the Web Analytics
Association, and he maintains the highly popular analytics blog,
VisualRevenue.com/blog
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And now for the questions!

What do you think about the current position of the traditional newspaper?

Let me start by stating an obvious, but less talked about fact. Consumer
demand for news and news related products has never been greater than it is
today. I do understand that the supply (of news articles) has changed from a
finite amount to an infinite amount, and with that change, a perhaps unfixable
amount of damage to the current business model occurred. However, if
capitalism and free markets have shown us anything, it is that wherever there
is a demand there is a market.

Therefore, my concern is not so much the survival of Newspapers, which might
even be an irrelevant debate. My focus would be on the persistence of
journalism or in a less idealistic term, the persistence of worthy news
gathering. News gathering itself will most certainly change, whether that be
in the form of citizen journalism, reporting by the participants themselves or
by traditional professional journalists.

I believe we will see traditional newspapers transform into true news media
companies, independent of specific channels – or at least the successful ones
will.

Do you think that the pay-wall proposal from News Corp has any chance of success today or in the future?

In my opinion and as we examine Online News Media, such as e.g. the properties
of News Corp., it very much seems like there is a mixed understanding of the
actual currency in which the newsreader can pay for the product. If we focus
on the statement, that it is always the actual newsreader who pays, something
which I very much believe to be true, we should conclude on the currency in
which he pays, before we even debate the actual monetization strategy, such as
a pay-wall.

My theory is that the newsreader can only pay in the following three
currencies:

– Time

– Data

– Money

For us to have a meaningful conversation around monetization, we need to look
at the above on an individual level. Something which I wrote about recently:
http://visualrevenue.com/blog/2010/03/news-media-monetization-and-available-
currencies.html

In answering your question more directly, I donÂ’t believe that Money is the
strongest currency for news media companies, and if anything, you can read the
above list as my personal priority.

Is one of the problems the price of online display for online news media?

It is easy to dismiss the digital pennies earned by online display ads, when
compared to the analog dollars earned in traditional offline display
advertising, which by absolute numbers are both true and well, sad, if you
believe this is where we are supposed to be. I however, firmly believe that
online display advertising has a bright future ahead.

First, there is the inevitable shift of attention from offline media to online
media; this is something which with little effort by the publisher will
increase sales.

Secondly, we perfected offline ad buys over the last set of decades, to the
extent where placing the ad is no more than 3 or 4 percent of the adÂ’s value.
This is not the case for online, however bizarre that might sound, but the
overhead ends up in the 20 to 30 percentage of the adÂ’s value, cutting that
down will increase profits.

Thirdly, online display ads will get a whole lot more targeted in the years
ahead, and as we know from search, this increases the value drastically and is
thus likely to increase revenue for the publishers.

I find it likely that the laugh we have today in regards to display ads is
going to be on us 5 years from now. In conclusion, news media companies have a
bright future ahead of them in display ads, but they need to start optimizing
today, if they want to be on the winning team.

So could Web Analytics be one way to solve some problems in the media industry?

I wouldnÂ’t say Web Analytics alone. I would rather conclude that it is a
necessity for the news media companies today, that they become data driven, if
they want to end up as one of the winners. Not just data driven in how they
talk about numbers at management meetings, but truly data driven, to the point
where every creative element and process has data embedded into it.

This is immensely hard to do and even data focused companies struggle to
execute on this.

Can you give a specific example that can be improved with Analytics?

Take for example something as simple as the process of deciding how much
exposure any given news article is to receive, at any given point in time.
Usually a process managed solely by editors, and usually not data driven at
all. There is nothing wrong with that per say, but why is this? Why is it that
we cannot or should not model for a better understanding of article exposure,
so we can maximize performance? We should have enough click stream behavior to
model an editor.

Why is it that some news articles have a longer life span? And since this is
happening, what can I do to take advantage? I personally spend all my time
trying to solve exactly these type of questions. AND – I do think that we (the
Analytics industry) have something to offer.

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