Four Lessons UK Broadsheets Can Learn about Innovation from Netflix and Spotify

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With 2016 print ad revenues expected to be as much as 20% down, competition for readers and advertisers from Facebook and Google and a growing mistrust of media brands, UK national newspapers are facing a fight for survival. So much so, that  Guy Zitter, former MD of the Mail titles described the past two years as a near death experience for the sector.

While ad blocking  is frequently cited as the villain of the piece,from a digital design perspective,  a key problem is that newspaper brands are struggling to make a success of their digital platforms.

Meanwhile in January this year  Netflix announced its profits are up by 56% and exceeded its new customer target by nearly two million.

As digital innovators, we love to ask questions such as “how would Chris Messina approach this problem?” or “What if we designed a content service as prolific and game changing as Airbnb?” When it comes to informing, entertaining and making money from their customers, national newspapers occupy the same space as Netflix and Spotify. So, it’s not a big stretch to suggest that they try to learn from these popular digital brands in terms of how to drive deeper and more meaningful customer engagement.

Here are four insights we’ve identified from analysing Netflix and Spotify’s approach.

1. Learn about your customer – and keep learning

Netflix and Spotify use discovery and recommendation algorithms to learn their customers’ tastes and make ever-more personalised and relevant suggestions.  Netflix CEO Reed Hastings’s ambition is for the platform to get so good at recommendations that it shows consumers exactly the right movie or TV show to match their mood.

Newspapers have a vast library of content and the potential to learn a lot about their readers. An editor’s skill is all about content curation and anticipating what their readers will be interested in. When you read a piece online, most newspaper brands also offer up more articles on a similar subject.

But emulating Netflix means using digital technology to do this dynamically to ensure that recommended content is personally relevant and based on current consumptions trends specific to each customer.  This could include curating news stories to meet readers’ individual interests but also their schedules; imagine a newspaper brand which knew precisely what real-time information each reader needed at different points in their day to perform optimally in their job, avoid congestion on their way home and prepare a vegan meal for their partner, before choosing what to watch on telly.

2. Encourage a culture of experimentation and risk taking:

Netflix gives its film-makers and developers a lot of creative freedom – but they are expected to deliver. It’s an approach that seems to work given that six of the top 35 highest-ranking movies on the Internet Movie Database are Netflix original productions. A similarly empowering environment encouraged journalists at the Baltimore Sun to create this innovative slide-show showing pictures and video interviews responding to the death in custody of African-American Freddie Gray in 2015.  The Sun’s coverage attracted a huge audience, and gave it the edge over the national media. With UK newspapers facing a fight for survival, now might not seem like the right time to embrace experimentation and risk. In our experience, if run strategically, even small, inexpensive experiments can expose a variety of new ways to deliver unique and differentiated value to customers.

3. Embrace agile

A combination of design thinking, lean start-up techniques  and agile philosophy is helping businesses in different sectors become more innovative and react more quickly to customer demand and market changes. Netflix embraces many aspects of being an agile company: it has adopted an agile architecture and continually improves its product in line with customer behaviour and data.  This includes its recent major UI upgrade, introducing new user friendly features such as Download and Go (which allows content to be viewed offline). For newspapers stuck with legacy IT systems and ways of working, adopting agile may seem a bridge too far. However, as with experimentation, starting small with the right subset of people and disciplines who see the value in agile ways of working, is the right foundation on which to build.

4. Hire a micro economist

We’re used to hearing about how economists take a macro approach, forecasting and planning across a country’s entire economy. However, Spotify, Uber, and Microsoft have all hired micro economists, helping them maintain a competitive edge by monetising new insights and identifying new sources of revenue.  Micro economists analyse how a company can innovate to stay ahead. At Spotify, this includes studying how, where and for how long music is consumed and looking for ways to monetise that. With national newspapers in dire need of new revenue streams, could micro economists perform a similar role in their organisations?

Digital brands such as Netflix and Spotify excel not only at being future facing and taking calculated risks (such as Netflix’s hugely successful move into original content), but also by being 100 per cent focused on delivering a great customer experience.  In the case of Netflix this includes a constant emphasis on testing to ensure the interface and videos play well wherever they are accessed as well as collaborations with tech giants such as Google and Microsoft. For national newspapers in the grip of an existential crisis, even just adopting some elements of this approach, could provide a welcome change of fortune.

About Futurice

Futurice is a new breed of innovation consultancy that has digital values at its core. We inject life into digital solutions by designing innovative mobile apps and online software – all with a focus on user experience and interaction. We believe that the winning recipe for digital projects is happy people, happy customers, and happy users. Our customers span financial services, media, automotive and energy, amongst others. 

Founded in 2000 we are over 350-strong and growing. A Finnish company, our HQ is in Helsinki and we have offices in Tampere, Stockholm, London, Berlin and Munich. For more information, visit

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