Wearables herald ‘third layer of unbundling’

Wearables like the Apple Watch are likely to change the structure of newsrooms and will lead to further unbundling of content, Fairfax Media’s director of mobile has predicted in an interview with The Newspaper Works.

Stefan Savva also foreshadowed changes to the publisher’s approach to its iPad apps, saying a facsimile of the physical newspaper updated just twice a day is no longer what mobile audiences want or need.

“About four and a half years ago the team that built the [SMH and Age iPad] apps … took that approach because they saw the tablet as a similar method to read news as a newspaper,” Mr Savva said.

“As we go further down the path and we mature those products, I think in a digital sense people want news 24/7, so if a story breaks at five past three they want their content at five past three.

“They’ll have the same content … but the benefits of having content 24/7, so that’s where those products are heading.”

Mr Savva said the iPad, with its physical similarity to a piece of paper, was less of a challenge from a user interface design point of view than a smartphone. Fairfax has eschewed dedicated smartphone apps, instead preferring to concentrate on mobile-optimised websites.

“You get all sorts of customers on the mobile web. On apps, you just get good customers because they’ve chosen to download your app and they’ve chosen to be with you,” Mr Savva said.

“What that means, though, is that you don’t get search and social, which are big intermediaries for news – you don’t get them powering apps in the same way you get them on the mobile web.”

Wearable technology is one of a number of “post-smartphone” technologies set to complicate the sea of platforms publishers are already faced with – like the Apple Watch, announced last week.

Fairfax believes in wearables as well as other still-developing technologies like connected cars and the internet of things, he said.

The Apple Watch, if successful, would herald another phase of “unbundling,” where content previously accessed by consumers from one source would splinter and consumers would visit various sources owned by different groups for different types of content.

It is a term usually associated with the arrival of the internet, meaning readers weren’t getting all their news, sport, classifieds and real estate journalism in one bundle, from one publisher.

“Smartphones came along and added another layer of unbundling [but] with the Apple Watch what I think we’ll see is a third layer of unbundling, Mr Savva said.

“And what publishers will need to ask themselves, is how much further can I unbundle my product, to provide a real utility to users.”

This focus on “utility” is one that would shake up newsrooms.

“Will the utility editor be a role that we’ll create? Will that person sit alongside a social media editor and a data editor?

“It’s quite clear that utility and content services will be paramount.”

Mr Savva said the biggest challenge with mobile platforms as they currently exist is selling display ads, the impact of which can be hard to measure or prove to media agencies.

However, he told The Newspaper Works that revenue from digital subscriptions would make up for shortcomings in display ad revenue.

“We have been absolutely amazed and really, really pleased with the initial year and a half now, and that has been 140,000 paid digital subscribers, and a large part of that is mobile,” he said.

“With display advertising [on mobile] there’s a lot of work to go.”

For more news from The Newspaper Works, click here.

Leave a comment