Transitioning Africa’s largest print newspaper group into a global digital first media group.

Independent Media Group goes Digital

It was 2014, Independent Media Group had recently been acquired by a consortium of private and government investment businesses from the Irish Independent owners. Back then previously known as Independent Newspapers, had over 32 printed newspaper titles (national, regional and community) and only one news website (www.iol.co.za).

The Afrozaar digital product team approached the new owners and proposed a digital journey and platform implementation plan to transform the traditional newspaper group into a globally positioned digital first media business.

Objective:

To define a change-controlled roadmap and journey to systematically transform the group’s print content to be digitally compliant for wider distribution across a suite of newly deployed digital web and app properties. Following the initial objective as print produced content was digitally available and archives thereof manageable for reuse and reference, we were to transition the group’s people, process and platforms further towards a digitally focused mindset.

By utilising The Publisher’s Toolbox suite of products we believed that immediate value would be realised from a digital asset resource, publishing, presentation perspective, and over time the commercialisation and enrichment of print content into a digital world would be achieved.

Implementation Approach:

We assessed and applied a systematic approach starting at the physical infrastructure deployment layer we wanted to take to the cloud whilst determining a digital publishing and platform rollout sequence of events.

To understand the challenge and opportunity here is a summary of the digital landscape we analysed; numerous nationally distributed editorial teams, no digital publishing process, no digital products, no subscriptions, no title specific apps or websites, no centralised digital asset archive or storage facility, no user roles or workflow from security perspective, no centralised analytics and no customer database.

Cloud Architecture

The digital journey begun by establishing a cloud based infrastructure within Amazon Cloud: AWS. Where our first challenge was to preserve yet port the propriety Atex Prestige Print Editorial platform to run in a scalable AWS environment. Acacia Cloud Solutions a company with the Afrozaar group, was responsible for all cloud setup, configuration and optimisation.

“We needed a reliable and scalable hosting environment to deploy our media platforms, leverage digital services, archive digital assets and facilitate efficient digital publishing cycles.”, Rich Cheary (CEO of Afrozaar)

Content Redistribution and Digital First CMS

It was important that the traditional publications had an equal opportunity to establish their brands digitally. Initially the impact on people and process was minimal, and resulted in maximum satisfaction when we were able to repackage print content within Baobab Suite and auto publish to a branded app and web platform. By utilising Baobab Suite’s Import and Export of content APIs syndication and aggregation of content within and from external sources is tightly regulated and managed for further redistribution.

“Such an undertaking of migrating and supporting a media group’s platforms had to be handled with care and zero tolerance for failure. We were dealing with traditional newspaper brands, that were over a century and never before missed a print run, and we weren’t going to miss one now because of new digital rollout.”, Rich Cheary

Mobile App Strategy

We wanted to mobilise the print-run content whilst respecting each title’s brand, so we defined a mobile app offering (Android and Apple) that had newsstand facility whereby each print brand was represented and their respective print editions were digitally available for download and historically for up to week. It was NB for us to steer away from outdated PDF based experience and transition the print content into unique low-level content posts with supporting media files, however we couldn’t veer away from complementing the edition with a PDF download facility for ABC purposes. The Afrozaar team used an enhanced version of their Mobile App Suite framework which had the ability to scale rapidly with regards to single-title, multi-titled, continuous and edition based publishing cycles, and included metering module and subscription entitlement layer for digital newspapers.

Multi-titled App Solution

IOL News Mobile app is available on Google Play Store and Apple’s iTunes Store where one can subscribe to any of the groups daily or weekly newspapers.

Single-titled Mobile App Solutions

The Star newspaper single title mobile app is available on Google Play Store and Apple’s iTunes Store where one can subscribe to any of the groups daily or weekly newspapers.

By choosing to use the Mobile App Suite, we provided the Independent group with a massive advantage and differentiator in the market, as new mobile title apps could be deployed within a week, thus rapidly expanding the group’s mobile distribution and reach”, Rich Cheary

Website Strategy

We fulfilled a role of content API provider to a 3rd party web development team who designed and built a custom web framework / platform for the group utilising the content API. IOL website utilizes Json services. We as team decided that the group’s smaller titles couldn’t hold out until the fully fledged group wide web framework, so offered a WordPress plugin set that was Baobab Suite compliant to provide a collection of WordPress sites that were of Enterprise Media Group standard. Some examples of these sites are: www.tyi.com, www.video360.co.za www.houseandgarden.co.za

Monetisation of content

Google DFP Implementation

The next objective and approach taken was to provide mechanisms upon which the new digitally minded group could monetise their content and brand effort in a digital environment. Afrozaar implemented Google DFP and managed all AdOps tagging across all websites and mobile apps from within the Baobab Suite centralised configuration engine. Afrozaar was able to implemented fractional, banner and interstitial DFP adverts across mobile app navigations, display adverts on web and pre-roll video adverts within the customised branded media streaming players.

Augmented Reality

With our mindset being digital and app oriented, we needed to be sure we didn’t cannibalize the print advertising side of such a large group.  We then decided to implement a mobile app module that would enhance and enrich the print version of newspapers, especially any print adverts. By combining Augmented Reality scan module in the apps, we complement the print edition and provide the audience with a way to unlock additional value and benefit, most importantly so could the advertisers. Our own implementation of AR+ Augmenta is now at the heart of the group’s print advertising commercial upsell strategy.

Key Digital Platforms

By implementing the following digital platforms and products across the group the Afrozaar team have been able to achieve the objectives set out:

 

  • Digital First CMS complete with permission based editorial workflow
  • Subscription based content metering
  • Evolving content APIs for serving various websites and mobile applications
  • Digital Asset Management (DAM) – centralising media assets across multiple print and digital brands
  • Mobile Newsstand App of all their titles
  • Mobile Apps for each digital brand in the group
  • Google DFP AdOps and tagging
  • Video streaming and player services
  • Content Syndication
  • Enterprisation of their WordPress ecosystem by installing Baobab plugins and hosting in AWS.
  • Social publishing Facebook, Twitter with tracking
  • Push notification facility to auto or manually communicate
  • Reporting – editorial performance metrics, digital subscribers
  • Advert Booking App
  • MojoReporter (Mobile Journalism app platform)

Outcomes and Learnings:

Improved Efficiency

  • Independent has a large amount of content produced daily for print. There is a need to improve efficiency and lower operational overheads through centralised control of content across multiple apps and website brands and  a single view of subscribers.

Reduced Costs

  • Reduce costs in developing tailor-made, integrated web and app solutions from MBaaS architecture and a wide range of APIs and SDKs.

No Vendor Lock-in

  • We wanted to give Independent freedom to choose multiple app development partners and reduce risk of vendor lock-in with flexible and secure content APIs.

Increased Revenue

  • Drive digital revenue growth through multiple channels including advertising via Google DoubleClick for Publishers, numerous subscription options and content metering.

Flexibility

  • When trying to drive a digital first mindset into an organisation that focuses primarily on print, there is a strong need to experiment and modify functionality on an ongoing basis. This in order to both inform and support the long-term evolution of the digital strategy.

Exceptional Performance

  • Providing business and consumer facing digital products in an emerging market means being reliable, fast and considerate to geographically distributed editorial teams. High performance cloud services tailored towards superior search and archive facilities for sharing content across the group provide a competitive edge.

TECHNOLOGY USED:

  • JAVA, MySql, ElasticSearch, Polymer, JavaScript, Android, iOS, ReactNative

HIGHLIGHTS OF PROJECT:

  • Being able to scale digitally rapidly to roll out Getting IOL content team onto Baobab CMS editorial workflow
  • Unlocking tools like integrated social sharing, article preview, and publish schedules to increase online engagement
  • Working with AdOps teams to create effective digital advertising campaigns across websites and mobile apps

QUOTE:

“Thank you Afrozaar. The quality of your delivery into Independent, a large media organisation, was done extremely well. We now have the digital foundation to scale our product & service offering across web & mobile.” – Anthony Robinson (CDO, Independent Newspapers)