Tuesday, November 8, 2011

How Digital Media Fails at the Washington Post

The Washington Post digital efforts illustrates why companies who once dominated the media landscape, prior to digital, fail in their efforts to convert that leadership to online and digital formats. At one time the Washington Post, and others like them, could decide for themselves what stories to develop and print, push that product to the press, place it in their distribution system and finally, drop it in your box, sling it to the end of your driveway, or fill the box on your street corner. There was no place for the their customer in that elaborate chain of events.

The Washington Post is making an attempt at conversion to digital, but failing, badly. Why? Because again, they leave the end user/customer out. We are not in the bottom of the first inning in terms of a digital evolution, yet it's pretty clear that for all of advances in the medium which the Post exclaims they can not yet deliver a simple, effective digital customer experience.

Today is a classic example, one that seems to repeat itself at the Post, and others companies of the like.

In their online sports section they have some interesting articles related to local sports. After all, this should be a core competency of the sports staff. I can get all the national sports news, information and commentary that I need from my dozens of sources.  From the Post, I am looking for that interesting story from a local perspective.

Such a story piqued my interest. The presentation online included a video about the subject of the story, a local high school athlete. When you click and engage the video, you are first met with a 15 second video advertisement for Conoco Phillips, the subject of the advertisement was the important role of natural gas in everyday life.

And this is related to the subject of the story how? Or, this fit my user profile how? As I alluded to earlier, we are several innings deep into the digital game and by now publishers know my browsing history well enough to server video ads that match my interest or they don't serve me anything. No match, no video. Forcing me, and anyone interested in this story to see the very same ad? Perhaps in 2005, but not today.

I did ignore the advertisement long enough to get to the 3 minute video feature. As I started to watch, I was interrupted every 5 seconds by the video buffer. I stuck with it for all of 20 seconds and recognized that it was not my connection. I even closed the video, opened it again to see if I had a poor connection. Nope, same staccato effect.

I abandoned the effort, left the Washington Post site and found other sources for local sports news.

The Post had two "epic fails", to borrow from the Gen Y crowd. First, they can make the effort to match my interest if they want to interrupt my online video session. I might yet be a bit annoyed, but at least I may find some value in the match. Second, and more importantly, they clearly are not monitoring the user experience on the video. I can only presume that my experience with the video is that of others. They are doing just what they did offline for 50 years, they are dropping off their content at the end of my driveway and hoping that I have a good experience. They posted the video and left it at that. If nothing else, digital media, including advances in video integration, is a more personal and engaging experience than anything in print, or even on television. How many times do you think the Post reviews the videos that it publishes for quality and reliability? Is there a quality assurance team looking across the online experiences at all times, monitoring for breakups like the one that I experienced?

The Post consistently seems to be playing a new game, by the old rules.

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