AOL content chief warns that mobile will eat desktop’s lunch (video)

10 Nov 2015

Web publishers who fail to transition to mobile and change their content to suit the smaller screen could soon see their lunch eaten in the same way that newspaper publishers were overtaken by the web, warned AOL content chief Jimmy Maymann, who oversees titles like the Huffington Post and TechCrunch.

“More than half of our organs are now on mobile devices and that means that it [mobile] should always be the starting point for us, challenging everything we do.

“If we are not doing it this way then we will make the same mistake traditional publishers did when they went from pen to desktop. When that shift happened newspapers just took the newspaper and put it online.

“That didn’t work and that’s why a lot of internet businesses like the Huffington Post came in and captured a huge audience.

“We want to make sure we understand the mobile side of the equation so no one will eat our lunch as things shift to mobile,” Maymann said.

As executive vice-president and president of AOL Content & Consumer Brands, Maymann has one of the most interesting jobs in media, where he is in charge of AOL’s content network, which includes content brands AOL, Huffington Post, Engadget, TechCrunch and over the top (OTT) products, which attract a combined audience of 500m monthly users worldwide.

Maymann ascended to his new role after three years as CEO of the Huffington Post.

He has been at the forefront of video innovation since co-founding GoViral in 2005, an online video production and platform development company subsequently acquired by AOL in 2011. He was responsible for designing and executing the expanded site-wide video strategy to complement HuffPost Live, the publisher’s existing online video-streaming product.

Maymann, who hails originally from Denmark, believes the transition of traditional media to digital has been a difficult one, but right now we are at an inflection point of getting it right.

The main problem for publishers is the subscription model hasn’t yet been cracked. “We haven’t seen any subscription model that is working. People want quality content but for a long time everything on the internet has been free.

“Putting paywalls around everything hasn’t necessarily been the solution. We need to be smarter than that.”

From the new world to the mobile news world

Speaking with at the Web Summit, Maymann said that journalists also need to change the way they work. “Using technology, using data in new ways and understanding how to tag things, understanding the importance of getting content into social media and how to amplify stories.

“One of the key things I learned at Huffington Post, for example, was the importance of headline testing – that could be the difference between 10,000 watching a story or 10m people watching a story. A journalist may spend three or four hours on a story, but spending an hour testing headlines actually makes a difference in this new world.”

I point out to Maymann that every time I meet AOL the main mantra is programmatic advertising, where advertising is bought, sold and distributed in an automated way.

“I think from our perspective programmatic really is a barbell.

“On one end of the spectrum you have the premium side of things, which is still very important for us. 500m users is a significant scale to have on a monthly basis from a CPM perspective and we are able to monetise that at a higher rate. What we try to do is sell the majority of our audience through premium and get the best rates in order to reinvest in quality content.”

‘The answer for us is the business is now shifted to mobile’

At the other end of the spectrum is programmatic advertising. “That needs to be automated because we can’t have people selling the same piece of content.

“That’s why this barbell works really well, there really needs to be a balance between the premium and the programmatic side of things.”

Maymann said it is mobile that presents the greatest opportunities for AOL, but also the greatest set of challenges, because it means not only not resting on laurels but starting afresh and learning all over again.

“The shift in media was at first from print to desktop and now it is from desktop to mobile. Those shifts are huge and the shift from desktop to mobile has more transformational changes than from print.”

He said the worst mistake people make is thinking mobile is just a smaller screen so they don’t really need to change the way they do things, just squeeze the content down to fit on a mobile screen.

“That’s actually not the way to do it. Mobile is fast becoming the first screen and we are starting with the mobile screen first to create content. That requires asking questions like should the content be shorter, do we serve up video, or will the same headline we use on desktop be the same as the one on mobile?” Maymann asked.

“The answer for us is the business is now shifted to mobile.”

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years