Improving UX, audience development are essential, says Telegraph’s product director

2024-06-19. “By going for subscriptions, we did it at the detriment of audience development. And audience development is absolutely key for what we want to achieve,” says Mathias Douchet, Director of Product for the UK’s Telegraph Media Group. “It’s clear that we need to bring more people to our journalism and bring more audience prospects into our funnels.”

Mathias Douchet, Director of Product for the UK's Telegraph Media Group, on stage in Copenhagen.

by Brian Veseling | June 19, 2024

During a round-table discussion at our World News Media Congress around product development, audience engagement and digital subscriptions, Douchet noted that while many media companies have made progress in adapting to digital in many ways, there are still areas for improvement.

Chief among these is user experience (UX).

“We have understood the product is not as important as the journalism that we create and publish. But it is extremely important for our users to engage with the brand. You wouldn’t use a product if the quality is bad. You wouldn’t use Spotify if you knew there were bugs,” Douchet said. 

The major tech companies have set a high expectation for consumers, he added, “so we need to make sure that we follow the trend, and that we keep investing in the user experience.”

Making better use of data, improving workflows and processes

Next is data, and here again, the world’s top technology companies provide the gold standard.

“We can improve how we use users’ data, and how we use the data we capture as well. If you think about the tech companies, they are really good at measuring everything you do in their products and using that to make the experience better. We are not there yet … we need to do more in this area,” Douchet said.

Then there are the areas of workflows and processes.

“I think we can be more agile. We can try more things than we are doing today,” he said.

Today’s users expect dynamic experiences

Furthermore, what publishers can at least initially expect with AI is more of what has already been in the works for some years.

As print news media companies have evolved in their offerings beyond a printed newspaper, which provides a one-size-fits-all experience, to digital products that enable publishers “to update stories as they were happening. So, not just one experience, but depending on when you come in during the day, you would have different things,” Douchet said.

“Now, with AI, I think we are moving into a complicated world where we can create a personal experience for each reader,” he continued. “And I feel like if you look at the products we’ve been talking about, Instagram, Twitter, Spotify, this is really important for them. It’s more of a dynamic approach than what we have had in the past.”

This has been steadily happening during the past 10 or so years, and there has been a massive shift in how people react to this, Douchet added. A decade or more ago, many consumers were opposed to media efforts at “personalisation.”

Today, however, after years of regularly using services like Amazon, YouTube or Netflix as well as the others already mentioned above, consumers not only accept a greater degree of personalisation but actually expect it to be part of their experience.

News importance must remain fundamental

What is essential for news publishers, Douchet said, “is that we keep a factor around news importance because that is why people come to us. They trust us for validating what is something they must absolutely know and what is less important. The news we are publishing are things that are crucial. When we talk about geopolitics or the elections, that is really important for people’s lives.”

“We have to create the best experience possible for the readers – but also keeping this news importance factor in mind – which has to be essential for the journalism we’re producing,” he added.

Read more: NYT’s Emily Withrow was also part of the roundtable with Douchet, click here to read what she had to say in this post.

Noting that innovation is often about building new features very fast, moderator Sacha Morard (co-founder, Edgee; formerly Le Monde’s CTO), asked Douchet how The Telegraph ensured rapid and effective development of news technology.

“The first thing I think is really important, is that we shouldn’t integrate it until we know what it is for,” Douchet said. “We need to think about why you want to do it. Start with your product statement: What are you going to solve? Are you going to make the user experience better? That’s the first thing.”

After that, Douchet said something that has worked well for The Telegraph has been the creation of cross-functional teams. These teams are made up of product managers, journalists, developers and marketing people, which helps in considering products and their best uses from a variety of perspectives.

“Having a group of different departments in the organisation thinking about these things together will help you formulate the right questions about the technology you want to integrate,” Douchet said.

Still seeing solid digital subscription growth

Asked by Morard if the subscription model for news publishers is waning, Douchet demurred.

“From what we’re seeing, I don’t think that’s entirely true,” he said. “We’ve been seeing growth in digital subscriptions over the past five, six, seven years. You said that when you started at Le Monde, you had 200,000 digital subscribers and now you have 600,000. When I started at The Telegraph, we had 74,000 digital subscribers, and we have more than 800,000 now. There is still growth in this area.”

“What is kind of true as well is that by going for a subscription, we did it at the detriment of audience development, and audience development is absolutely key for what we want to achieve,” Douchet added. “It’s clear that we need to bring more people to our journalism and bring more audience prospects into our funnels. It’s absolutely key.”

As a result of this, The Telegraph has stepped back from the hard paywall approach, at least in some cases.

“Now we have more of a dynamic approach, where for a reader who is less engaged, we say, ‘OK, that’s fine,’ so he can discover what we’re doing, he can engage with our journalism,” he said.

People will seek out trusted, quality journalism

In the future, people will use things based on many different factors, and news importance is an essential factor, Douchet said.

“When you come to our products, you know that what you are going to find is trusted journalism. Quality journalism that is curated, and I think that’s how we’re going to move people. It’s going to be a challenge, but I think it’s going to happen more naturally than we think.”

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