Study Tour with the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation

By Oliver Haugen, Head of the swissnex Boston New York Outpost

The traditional media industry is facing great challenges nowadays: the rise of new technologies has significantly changed the way audiences consume media, forcing traditional outlets to adapt their business model to reach a younger audience (the millennial generation) and to create distinctive value.

From January 11 to 14, the New York Outpost was delighted to welcome a delegation of six senior executives from the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation (SRG SSR).

View from thomson reuters

View from thomson reuters

The Swiss Broadcasting Corporation is the largest electronic media organization in Switzerland, with 6,100 employees, an annual turnover of around USD 1.65 billion, 17 radio stations and seven television channels in four languages, as well as complementary websites and teletext services.

The delegation was composed of Adrian Zaugg (Head of Corporate Strategy at SRG SSR), Martin Spycher (Head of Innovation Multimedia at SRG SSR), Arno Dagani (Head of Web Content at RSI, the Italian-language arm of SRG SSR), Bernard Rappaz (Head of TV News at RTS, the French-language arm of SRG SSR), Bernard Bearth (Senior Producer at RTR, the Romansch-language arm of SRG SSR) and Martin Oswald (Head of Digital Content at SRF, the German-language arm of SRG SSR).

The aim of this study trip was to visit New York-based traditional media companies that are facing the same challenges as SRG SSR, as well as fast-growing digital, non-traditional media outlets, to gain insights into new technologies and innovations in the media industry. The main focus was on areas of media tech, data analysis, virtual/augmented reality, video content, and mobile content offerings.

We started the study tour with a visit at Thomson Reuters in the heart of Times Square, where we were welcomed among others by the Chief Transformation Officer, the VP of Strategy, and the Global Head of Customer Retention. Among several strategic topics evoked, the speakers addressed the continued importance of financial and legal news, but also the transformative power of mobile content for the future of Thomson Reuters. Following the discussion, we were invited by the Consul General of Switzerland in New York, Ambassador André Schaller and his wife Brigitte Schaller-Schoepf to have lunch at the Swiss residence. Katharina Pompilio, Deputy Consul at the Consulate General of Switzerland in New York attended as well.

At the residence of the consul general of switzerland in New york, ambassador andré schaller

At the residence of the consul general of switzerland in New york, ambassador andré schaller

After lunch the group traveled by subway to the Art Deco gem that is 30 Rockefeller Center, headquarters of NBCUniversal, one of the world’s leading media and entertainment companies, to discuss how traditional media organizations should adapt internally to be able to publish news and information faster.

On Tuesday morning we visited the Huffington Post, a news aggregator and blog, which is a source of breaking news, commentary, entertainment, features and lifestyle content, as well as a platform for a highly engaged community of opinion and conversation. The Huffington Post’s mission is “to inform, inspire, entertain, and empower.” The delegation discussed video strategy, mobile offerings, and how content must be adapted to each platform. It is in fact very important to understand how people behave on each of those platforms. Interestingly, people tend to share what they don’t read and to read what they don’t share. In addition, Huff Post believe, traditional media should challenge the notion that “good news is not news.” With the emergence of social networks, new communities are being created and people like to share positive articles among their friends.

We then headed to Pypestream, a startup that offers a mobile messaging app designed to connect businesses, brands, and organizations with their customers and employees via real-time chat. So far, millennials have been reached mainly via social platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and snapchat. However millennials spend a lot of time on such messaging apps as iMessage and WhatsApp: these represent the increasingly sophisticated content delivery means of the future.

Afterwards we visited Dataminr, a company that transforms real-time data from Twitter and other public sources into actionable signals, identifying the most relevant information. The demo of the product was fascinating because of Dataminr’s ability to anticipate news stories and trends before they become available elsewhere.

The last meeting of the day took place at AlleyWatch, a media organization focused on the New York technology, startup, and entrepreneurial ecosystem with a global readership of highly affluent and educated individuals.

On Wednesday morning we headed to Columbia University, where we had a meeting at the Brown Institute for Media Innovation, a collaboration between Columbia and Stanford Universities designed to encourage and support new endeavors in media innovation. The Brown Institute’s sister organization, the Tow Center for Digital Journalism, was represented as well, The Tow Center is a research and development cluster for the media profession as a whole. We had a very interesting discussion on the future of journalism and storytelling with the Director and the Deputy Director of the Brown Institute as well as with the Research Director of the Tow Center.

In front of columbia university graduate school of journalism

In front of columbia university graduate school of journalism

Afterwards we visited Upworthy, a digital media company that focuses on video offerings, virality and social media to promote stories, engaging a total of about 50 million people each month. The mission of Upworthy is to make the most important and meaningful stories shareable. Upworthy’s co-founder, Peter Koechly told us that “digital video is the most important battlefield in the war for attention.”

We then visited Mic, a news and media company that focuses mainly on college-educated millennials. The idea behind Mic is simple: Young people deserve a news destination that offers quality coverage tailored to them. Mic reaches more than half of all college-educated millennials in the US and 30 million people around the world each month, and has a higher composition of 18- to 34-year old readers than any other millennial-focused new site, including BuzzFeed and Vice.

Thursday was the last day of the SRG SSR study tour. It started with a breakfast with our colleague, Dr. Felix Moesner, Swiss Consul & CEO of swissnex Boston. We then headed to NowThis, a video network built from scratch for people who get their news on mobile devices and through social streams. We had a very insightful conversation with the Senior Strategist for Emerging Media and with the VP of Product and Technology on how NowThis tailors video for each social platform.

The last meeting of the study trip took place at Refinery29, the largest independent fashion and style website in the USA – and the fastest growing media company on the 2013 Inc. 500 list. Faithful to its motto, the company delivers “nonstop inspiration to live a more stylish and creative life.”

The key takeaway of this study week was how traditional media organizations need to adapt their business model in order to engage today’s younger audience to news, and to gain the trust of millennials. The various visits provided us with valuable insights into how the media world is developing towards more and more online streams, and how new media outlets capitalize on unique voice, brand, digital storytelling, and data analysis to reach a new generation of consumers of news.

We would like to extend special thanks to Thomson Reuters, NBC, the Huffington Post, Pypestream, Dataminr, AlleyWatch, the Brown Institute for Media Innovation, the Tow Center for Digital Journalism, Upworthy, Mic, NowThis, and Refinery29 for the warm welcome, as well as to the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation.