A conversation on Mobile Content Strategy

with Mark Coatney, SVP Digital, Al Jazeera America

07 January 2014

Jodie Hopperton

Mark CoatneyThe Global Editors Network spoke with Mark Coatney, SVP Digital, Al Jazeera America and ex-Tumblr about his thoughts on Mobile Content Strategy. 

On long form vs. short form on mobile devices:

Mark reads books on his commute so he believes that long form is absolutely possible on mobile. In his eyes a 5-minute video is long form. Short form means anything that is a steady stream of consumption: 'stock and flow'. When asked if he was encompassing that theory by combining into one or splitting into two apps he replied "Two, but I hadn't really thought of it like that". One will give the steady stream of information and be more social. The other is a second screen, a companion that will give you more information, go deeper whenever a consumer wants to.

On responsive design v native app:

"Responsive is a best practice. An app allows you to do things you can't do in responsive design, it gives the user something different. It implies more commitment: someone has actually chosen it and downloaded it so it's a more personalized audience."

On revenue from mobile:

Mark believes that the more media organizations know about their readers the more they can serve them. And that's valuable. To do this needs technical expertise, and that is where companies like The New York Times are really succeeding. 

Banner adverts are 'a hard way to pay the bills'. But no-one has come up with essential advertising formats on mobile. When he was at Tumblr (before Al Jazeera America) Mark explained that an essential part of the advertising strategy was that advertisers themselves had to have a Tumblr blog. In that way the advertising content fit into the same format as the consumption. It worked as consumers were able to learn about things that they didn't even know they wanted like that flashy new car that you see on a 30-second TV ad spot, whilst in the 'consuming content' mindset they take more information on board.

Mark thinks that because of this working native advertising will become more common place. And we are all seeing that it's not the same as it was 10 years ago when editorial and commercial was like 'church and state'. There needs to be collaboration, or at least agreement on what it will look like, and what advertising content will actually serve readers. 

Any other top tips for people?

Ensure that there are touch points with your readers in every way possible. And make sure the design is distinctive: sometimes you read a great article but you don't remember where it's from. With a distinctive design, people remember where to go back to. 

On Al Jazeera America:

'We're going for quick growth'. Mark sees competition as anything that takes consumers away from the app – it's not just other news outlets, it's all entertainment. So is something like Angry Birds a competitor? Absolutely.

Now Al Jazeera America is in the Top 50 online news outlets. Impressive, just a couple of months from launch. 

Keeping the name 'Al Jazeera' must have been a discussion given the preconceptions that comes with in some of America's eyes, but Mark – rightly – comments that Al Jazeera America is not pretending to be something else. It's an acknowledgement that we live in a connected world.