Fairfax mobile boss: ‘The disruption we faced twenty years ago is happening all over again’

Stefan Saava

Fairfax’s Stefan Savva at the INMA World Congress

The head of Fairfax’s mobile operations says the publisher is refocusing its efforts in the mobile space, and is in the process of hiring more than 40 new staff in an attempt to make it truly “mobile first”.

Fairfax mobile director Stefan Savva told the International News Media Association (INMA) World Congress the company not only saw mobile as a “game changer” but said it faced a different set of competitors in the mobile space than it had in print or even desktop.

“Mobile has certainly changed how we think about competition,” Savva told the forum in New York. “The competitive landscape for Fairfax is a well written story – we have our competitors in print, our competitors in desktop – and by and large they sit in the same content platform as us.

“But in mobile that’s not necessarily the case,” he said.

“In mobile people are certainly open to reading something new, but that’s not the only reasons they are coming to our sites.

“People are checking their phones 50 to 100 times a day. And if thats what you’re doing – you’re checking your phone on a bus, on a train, inbetween a meeting, when your in the middle of a presentation on mobile – then the reality is that everyone is a competitor.”

SkimSavva warned the room that mobile was a major disruption to traditional digital publishing and argued it was changing the way that Fairfax dealt with not only content but also how it monetised key platforms, including its new Apple SmartWatch app Skim which formally launches today.

“For the publishers in the room the disruption that we all faced twenty years ago is happening all over again,” he warned.

“When you unpack that statement it really means that mobile changes everything – that’s the way we think about it at Fairfax Media.

“Mobile is changing every single bit of being a publisher. It is changing the way we produce content, the way we present content, the way we monetise content.”

The senior Fairfax executive acknowledged the challenges in monetising mobile advertising, particularly on the smaller screen, but said the key lay in understanding consumer interactions on mobile and especially how mobiles are a personal device that consumers regularly check.

“Mobile is changing the basic interaction model,” Savva argued. “That model hasn’t changed in 20 years – you get a webpage with links, you click a link and it take you take you to another page, click another link it takes you to another web page.

“In the mobile this looks different – you have web, you have apps, you have mobile social, you have wearable – it is changing very quickly and what that means is it putting pressure on user experience, content, design guys to be able to change in the rapidly evolving space.

“Social is an intermediary – a big threat and a big opportunity for your business. Mobile social is not the same as desktop social – it is all together a bigger piece. Your mobile is such a personal device – it has all of your photos and all your contacts, your details and nobody – nobody – shares a mobile phone.

“You share a desktop, but no one shares a mobile phone – it is integrated into the social fabric of our lives.”

Savva said the future of news is already playing out among the millennial generation who see their mobile as their primary news tool.

“If you want to see the future of news in Australia look at the under 25s and ask how them how get their news and information – the biggest platform for content – it ain’t the web, it ain’t TV and it ain’t newspapers – it is mobile/social. Mobile changes everything.

“Mobile changes everything at Fairfax Media and that’s how we think about it.”

He noted the company, which is currently cutting staff in other parts of the business, had launch a major hiring blitz in an attempt to pay more than lip service to the idea of being “mobile first”.

“So what we are doing? We would like to be a mobile first company but that’s easier said than done,” he said.

“We are actively investing in bringing 40 new people into the business. They are mobile specialists – they are in design, user experience, strategy, development, marketing, sales and they are sitting in the parts you expect but what they need to do is help us focus on a common mobile strategy where we build the knowledge, the skills and the capability to the point where we can be a mobile first business.

“A lot of people say they are a mobile first business, but they are not.

“You’re a newspaper and you’re executing on mobile, you’re a TV company and you are executing on mobile, the point we need to get to is where we are platform agnostic and where our platforms are mobile first.

“That’s what we are aiming for.”

Nic Christensen in New York 


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