This week we hear from Bonnie Kintzer, CEO of Trusted Media Brands – which includes brands like FailArmy, Family Handyman, and Reader’s Digest. She tells us about the opportunities she saw to turn around the company when it was facing bankruptcy in 2013, how the business has weathered some of the storms of the past decade, and why she thinks it’s vital to focus on where the audiences are regardless of platform algorithms. She also explains why a ‘re-start-up’ mentality helped TMB get ahead.

In the news roundup the team debates why it’s so difficult to find common ground on discussions of platforms paying publishers directly, and asks if Google not serving news to Canadian consumers will shift the dial on those arguments. Did you know Elon Musk has a Brummie accent?

Here are some highlights:

The right content for the right audience

In spite of the many changes, one of the things I saw from the beginning of working with Reader’s Digest was the continued focus on the customer. And that has followed through today, all of these decades later. And I think that that’s why it’s such a successful brand. Now, not that many brands can say that they’ve celebrated their 100th birthday, but Reader’s Digest always had a focus on audience. The audience, of course, back then was all print.

I think when I came back to the company in 2014, there was not a full embracing of digital media, the magazine was really the heartbeat of the brand. They would post one article a day online. It was stunning to me. And so we started posting quite a lot more. And lo and behold, people loved it, and how interesting it is that actually the small bites of Reader’s Digest are exactly what web surfers want.

Now our traffic is at an all-time high. And we continue to grow because I think we focus on the right content for the right audience. So that is by far the biggest change in the time that I’ve worked with the brand.

A re-start-up mindset

We’re many brands – Taste of Home, Family Handyman, and now FailArmy, and the Pet Collective. I think [in 2014] what I saw was a company that really understood its audience, and what kind of content that audience wanted, but had not figured out how to monetize it more broadly. And that was really a great opportunity.

I would call us a re-start-up. We were a company that had hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue and was profitable. And yet we had to behave like we were a start-up because we were entering all new parts of the media landscape. And that’s exciting when people know your brand and love your brand, they just haven’t seen you in all the different places that they should be able to.

It took a lot of communication and a lot of transparency. I did share a lot of data when I got here and really explaining to people what the opportunity was and where we were winning and where we weren’t.

I remember at the beginning, feeling like, ‘Oh, nobody believes me.’ Then bit by bit, you have to have your proof points. And I would say it probably took about 18 months, so all of a sudden when I would be addressing the company, they would start nodding. And I think so much of transforming a company is laying out a plan, doing what you say, saying what you do and being honest about what’s happening.

Managing a diverse portfolio of brands

Each brand really has its own plan, and we look at where the opportunity is. So while you may not have ever heard of FailArmy, it’s an extraordinarily large global streaming brand. And if you were a 23 year old male, you probably would have heard about it. And so we look at the audiences that it’s serving, and just how much more content people are responding to. So I think for the Pet Collective and FailArmy, in particular, they’re two of the largest streaming brands in the US, and FailArmy is very big globally. And so we look to feed those in the ecosystems that that they participate in.

It’s no different than how we would look at Taste of Home or Family Handyman or Reader’s Digest; all five of those brands are quite different from one another. And they each have different opportunities. We don’t want them to all be the same. But we do want them to serve their audience in the best way possible.

Working with creators to source video content

The reason why we love Jukin so much is that they have a very different business model. So we have people watching videos 24 hours a day in India, in Romania, and in Los Angeles. And they are looking for the best viral videos, both for sharing as well as for any of our shows, whether it’s on streaming or on social.

They immediately connect with creators. And we’ve paid out well over $30 million in creator fees, because when we monetize that video, let’s say in a licencing opportunity, we share that that revenue with the creator. So we have a great reputation. It’s not the same as creating what you call ‘high production value’. But it is it is content that consumers really love. If you’re going to watch FailArmy video for an hour, you’re excited to watch the UGC [user generated content] that we’re that we’re delivering to you.

While we do create some original content, of course, and Taste of Home and Family Handyman have always created their own content, a big part of the Jukin and the UGC environment is to be working with creators, so we couldn’t we couldn’t do it without them.

Top story: Google blocks news in some Canadian searches

Bill C-18, the Online News Act under consideration in Canada would require platforms like Google and Meta to negotiate payments with publishers when they link to their content. In response, Google is testing blocking news in a small number of searches.

  • Google said on Wednesday that it is temporarily limiting access to news content for under four per cent of its Canadian users as it assesses possible responses to the bill. All types of news content are being affected by the test, which will run for about five weeks. Facebook’s parent company Meta has said it’s ready to do the same.
  • The bill is modelled on legislation that passed in Australia in 2021. You know what hasn’t ‘worked’ in Australia? This exact system, which is just rewarding the bigger players, still.
  • Nieman Lab’s Joshua Benton called the law that passed in Australia “a warped system that rewards the wrong things and lies about where the real value in news lies.”
  • David Skok, CEO of Canadian news site The Logic, calls it “a necessary evil in order to maintain balance in Canada’s media ecosystem.”
  • Justin Trudeau made a statement late last week saying it was a “terrible mistake” for Google to block news.
  • We at Media Voices fail to see the logic in this legislation, and think leaders need to be focusing on how tech giants will compensate publishers for content used to train AI bots, not penalising them for sending traffic to sites.

News in brief:

  • Conde Nast missed its revenue target by less than a single percent year on year, according to this write-up in the NYT. What I thought was notable here is that it’s going big on its ecommerce revenue strategy while saying advertising revenue was down more than expected – which is not what Sara Fischer reported last August when its digital advertising was up 13%.
  • Apparently Twitter shut off its internal Slack, and now ‘everyone is barely working’ in what Casey Newton described as Twitter’s equivalent of a snow day. It was said to be routine maintenance, which was described as bullshit, then that Twitter had not paid its bill, which might be true but wasn’t the reason or the shut down – apparently someone just switched it off, maybe because Elmo wanted to see if Twitter could work without it.
  • Following the news of Zillah Byng-Thorne’s imminent departure as CEO of Future, former BuzzFeed COO and Mail executive Jon Steinberg has been named the next CEO, taking over from Zillah at the start of April. It’s interesting to note that Jon is based in the US, which sends a strong signal about how seriously Future is taking its growth over the pond.

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