Adam Ostrow (pictured) joined TEGNA Inc. in August 2017 as Chief Digital Officer responsible for creating, evangelizing and implementing the company’s digital vision and strategy.
Prior to TEGNA, Ostrow served as the Chief Strategy Officer at Mashable, a role in which he was responsible for defining and implementing strategic initiatives across the organization. Ostrow joined Mashable as its second employee and Editor in Chief in 2007, a role in which he directed day-to- day news coverage, authored more than 2,500 articles and built the editorial staff from 3 to 25 employees.
During his tenure as Editor in Chief, the site’s audience grew more than twofold. Since moving into an executive position in 2011, Ostrow has led the development of Mashable’s video program, publisher platform, branded content offerings, international expansion, and its licensing and distribution strategy.
Osrtow has made presentations at TED Global, Cannes lions, CES, SXSW Interactive, Advertising Week, Digitas NewFront and Guardian Changing Advertising Summit. He’s also spoken at events for corporations including Coca Cola, Disney, Verizon, American Express, Nike, Gillette, McGraw Hill, Yahoo, PepsiCo, Hewlett Packard and BMW. His TED Talk, “After Your Final Status Update,” has been viewed more than 1 million times.
In this week’s “5Questions,” the industry vet discusses how TEGNA is utilizing data in storytelling, the difference between the company’s digital and linear video strategy, and what to look out for from the media company in 2018.
Videoink: When joining TEGNA you said you were impressed with its digitally-fueled and data-driven approach to storytelling. Since joining, which metrics have you found the most useful in creating successful content.
We focus a lot on efficiency. Our content operation is complex – we have 38 sites and their associated apps and social media – and we also have a centralized team that focuses on national stories so our stations can prioritize local news. Efficiency metrics, such as how much audience and engagement you’re attracting per piece of content, can tell us a lot about whether the system is working as a whole. Then on a market by market basis, we’re also looking at performance relative to market size to see where individual stations are winning or falling short.
The nice thing about this model is it makes it very efficient to test things, find what works and then scale it across the portfolio. This is especially true in video, where we’re trying to identify formats that resonate and can then be localized across multiple markets. It also works well from a product perspective, where we’re able to test tweaks to our user experience, gather data, and then roll out changes more broadly that can have a big impact when multiplied by 38.
How does TEGNA’s approach to digital video differ from its linear strategy?
As a company, we’re putting a lot of effort into reinventing the linear product, which helps make it more relevant on digital too.
But on a real-time basis, the biggest difference between linear and digital is that in digital we’re using a lot of raw video, a lot of UGC and a lot of social video that is native to platforms like Facebook and Instagram. This allows us to be fast and relevant throughout the day, regardless of when our news programs air on TV.
Additionally, we have a number of digital initiatives underway that bring our content to national audiences. For example, HeartThreads is a digital brand we launched last year that repackages the best human interest stories from across our stations as social video on dedicated channels across digital platforms. We’re also doing episodic investigative series like “Selling Girls” and “Charlie Foxtrot” that attract millions of viewers across all of our properties.
What is TEGNA’s 2018 digital video strategy and how has it evolved since 2017?
We think we’re just scratching the surface in terms of leveraging our great local content in more ways to a national audience. Similarly, there’s a big opportunity to take better advantage of our scale and learnings across markets. So these are two priorities for us going into 2018.
Another key part of our digital strategy this year is to better plugin to what we’re doing in linear. In the same way that HeartThreads has become a national brand for our local human interest content, our show Daily Blast Live, which is produced in-house and airs daily on TV in all TEGNA markets, is quickly becoming our digital lifestyle and entertainment vertical. On the back of the success we’ve had with DBL, we recently signed a distribution deal with Sony, so we think the opportunity there is substantial.
At the same time, we’re also focused on building better user experiences for video on our own platforms. We are in the midst of a redesign for our desktop and mobile sites, and will be doing more this year to make video core to all of our digital products.
What do you think of Facebook’s new initiative to prioritize posts from friends and family over public content. What impact might this have on media companies like TEGNA?
We weren’t terribly surprised – like most publishers, referral traffic from Facebook has been in steady decline for some time at TEGNA, and Facebook has said explicitly that publishers can expect more of the same with this most recent change. It’s one of the reasons why we’ve been investing aggressively in upgrading our own platforms and diversifying where we engage with our digital audience.
That said, we think we’re in a good position relative to many other publishers. First, we’ve never been over reliant on Facebook for traffic. Second, we have incredibly strong brands with decades of history on linear that we can leverage to build our own direct to consumer connections on digital.
And lastly, if there’s reason for us to be cautiously optimistic, it’s that Facebook’s revised mission statement — “to give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together” – aligns well with TEGNA’s mission of serving our local communities. Along those lines, Facebook has indicated that local relevance will increasingly be a signal in determining what users see in News Feed. But we’re not holding our breath.
What do you think will be the next big change in the way people consume media?
The biggest trend impacting consumption for us is that there are now literally limitless combinations of ways that users can access content. OTA, OTT, cable, skinny bundles, social – you name it – and there’s rapid change happening simultaneously in all of them.
In my view, the thing that all of them will share in common is increased interactivity, which is why as a company we’re investing in technologies like ATSC 3.0, as well is in startups like Tubi TV and Vizbee that are reimagining the TV experience for “always on” internet connectivity.
We think our local content makes us well positioned regardless of which platforms win out, but nailing the connected viewing experience is going to be critical.