Kampen om publikums oppmerksomhet. Om VG, multiplattformpublisering og strategiske beslutninger.
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This dissertation concerns the strategies employed by a legacy news organisation for the production of news in difficult economic times. Changes in media consumption and the abundance of available information causes altered competitive conditions and leads to the deterioration of traditional revenue models. To an increasing extent readers and users prefer to access news and information digitally and free. This positions legacy media organisations in a difficult economic and strategic position. Their traditional practices are no longer sufficient, and they need to come up with a new way of approaching their readers and users.
This dissertation examines how one legacy media house, the Norwegian newspaper VG, is approaching these difficult times. It provides a glimpse into how the organisation deals with changes in its surroundings, into the strategies developed by the newspaper to counter the difficulties they are facing, and into the content provided by the organisation. The aim is to provide a holistic account of the strategic decisions this organisation makes, and the reasons behind these specific decisions. In particular, the dissertation examines how the newspaper are adapting to produce content for multiple platforms simultaneously. The study starts from the assumption that including multiple platforms in the dissemination of the daily news is one way to approach the above mentioned difficulties.
To analyse the strategies behind multiplatform news production, the study first and foremost adopts an institutional perspective. Institutional theory enables a connection between different levels of analysis, such as the overall societal level and the organisational level. It thus provides an access point to explain the relationship between changing economic and strategic surroundings, and organisational action. Moreover, institutional theory understands human action as guided by institutional rules and routines. In this perspective, humans act the way they do because they are embedded in social structures that guide their actions in specific directions. The perspective, however, also acknowledges the role of the individual in the process. The structures are seen as both enabling and constraining human action, and to examine strategic decisions from this point of view opens up for an understanding of the interplay between the individual involved in the process and the organisational and institutional structures he or she are manoeuvring within.
The main findings of the analysis are that in particular three areas are affected by the implementation of multiple platforms. The first concerns the structural organisation of the media house, the second concerns content strategies developed for the different platforms and their associated products, and the third concerns the development of new revenue models.
When it comes to structural organisation VG seems to be engaged in two separate strategies simultaneously. One the one hand, there is a common understanding among interviewed actors that new products and platforms needs to be developed on their own, without influence from the more established part of the company, such as the printed newspaper. The idea is that to be able to take proper advantage of the technological possibilities of the platforms, it is important not to be influenced by traditional ways of thinking, by the traditional mind-set. To escape this mind-set VG has followed a strategy that includes separating new initiatives from the mother company by establishing new companies for the new products. At the same time, however, there also seems to be a focus on being integrated and taking advantage of the possibilities that comes with producing content for more than one platform simultaneously. Overall, the actors are concerned with the necessity of being dynamic and flexible, and to create an organisational structure that allows for rapid adjustments to changes in its surroundings.
The second main finding is that content strategies for the different platforms are very much related to the technological affordances of the different platforms. Moreover, it is argued, the actors approach the technological affordances in two different ways. First, they seem to be developing content strategies related to the actual affordances of the platforms. Among other things this includes the possibilities of offering instant news online and in the smart phone edition, and the use of large photos on the tablet edition.
Further, they also seem to be approaching the platforms based on an understanding of how the readers are using the different platforms. Ideas concerning when and where the readers are using the different platforms and the mode of consumption they are in when encountering them, influences content choices made for the different platforms. For example, the actors refer to the different platforms as being ‘lean back’ or ‘lean forward’ media, and are adjusting their content strategies to fit these particular modes of consumption. The third main finding relates to how the media house has approached the issue of establishing new and viable revenue models in a time of economic uncertainty. The interviews revealed that the actors no longer envision one solution, but rather acknowledges the need to benefit from several small revenue streams that together finances the large project VG.
In addition to examining strategic choices made by the media organisation, a central aim of this dissertation has also been to examine the extent to which these strategies are present in the content produced by the newspaper. Therefore, a quantitative content analysis VG’s four products, the printed newspaper, the website vg.no, the tablet edition VG+ and VG’s application for smart phones, has been conducted. One main finding from this analysis is that also here VG are engaged in two separate thoughts at the same time. The analysis reveals that the smart phone application is a replica of the online news site vg.no, and hence that these two platforms must be considered substitutes for each other. On the other hand, the tablet edition VG+ is almost identical to the printed product. These two pairs of products, on the other hand, appear different from one another. This indicates that VG wants to benefit from economies of scale and scope arising from multiplatform production, as well as being concerned with taking care of the technological specificities of each platform.
Overall, the main conclusion to draw from this project is that to be able to rapidly respond to changes in the environment, VG are developing short term strategies and a dynamic organisational structure. These strategies are, however, strongly influenced by traditional – institutional and organisational – ways of thinking.