Scripps Fighting ‘Traditional Media Complacency’ With Digital


The theme at a recent industry event was disruption.

So during a day of presentations from companies including programmatic ad platform RocketFuel and social news platform BuzzFeed, it was no surprise when Adam Symson, chief digital officer of The E.W. Scripps Company, confessed to Scripps being disrupted in recent years.

Symson did turn heads, however, when he proceeded to outline how digital is helping the 130-year-old media company shift from the disrupted to a disruptor, challenging “traditional media’s complacency.”

Refreshingly Frank Perspective
It was refreshing to hear Symson address traditional media’s critics head on. In fact, he agreed with them at times.

“Convergence in an age of TV equated to someone reading the newspaper … while on TV,” said Symson. “Traditional media got used to setting the agenda, and it made them complacent.”

Symson notes the level of change taking place across media and technology today presents traditional media with the opportunity to try something new, change and ultimately succeed.

Mobile & Local News Focus
“Mobile is yet-to-be-claimed territory, and TV is a catalyst for mobile,” said Symson. “Mobile brings a level of interactivity to TV that it’s had a hard time delivering. Consumers are prompted by TV to look for more. This leads to everything from discovery to purchase via mobile, as it’s becoming a the remote control for the consumer’s life.”

Symson pointed to Scripps’ new Storm Shield app  as one example of its ongoing focus on mobile. Scripps is also focused on creating a new local news experience. It’s testing a pay wall for the website of its Cincinnati-based TV station WCPO.com.

The relaunched site offers more in-depth, on-demand content that augments the existing, more perishable TV news content. In the process, it also delivers a more targeted, more engaged audience for advertisers.

“Our local TV stations already have a strong digital presence, and we’re investing $22 million to build on this with the WCPO.com model,” said Symson. “The experience and depth of content has been well-received, now we need to tweak the economics around the model. If we don’t disrupt through digital, we’re simply stepping over analog dollars to pick up digital pennies.”

Collaboration, not Competition
Symson referenced BuzzFeed several times during his remarks, pointing to the company as a potential partner, not competitor. In fact, a potential collaboration is already being discussed between Scripps and BuzzFeed’s new video startup.

The deal could resemble CNN’s recent BuzzFeed collaboration. But don’t assume Scripps is the only one benefiting from this collaboration. Its well-established offline distribution capabilities are something BuzzFeed could use as it evolves from a social-media-fueled entertainment news platform to a destination for hard news.

The Long View
In summarizing Scripps’ plans, Symson drew a comparison to online titan Amazon. “Bezos takes the long view with his investments,” he said. “He did it with Amazon, and now he’s doing it with the Washington Post, instilling Amazon’s slavish dedication to the consumer into the newspaper.” According to Symson, Scripps is investing in its experiments and ultimately its success for the long haul.

“The key to success today is being OK with failure,” said Symson. “If you’re traditional media and aren’t permitting your employees to test, fail and learn, you’ll be extinct. There are no paths to follow to success anymore in a world changing so quickly.”

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David Germano
David Germano

David is the VP of Content Marketing for Empower Media Marketing, and runs Empower's Content Marketing division, Magnetic Content Studios. For more than 14 years, David has been helping brands develop sustained content marketing strategies and operate like media to build their own audiences. David is often speaking on the topic, and is a guest contributor to Content Marketing Institute.