Are BuzzFeed And Red Bull Showing 'The Times' How To Do Media?

Three developments today could shine a light on the future of the media. One involves a national newspaper acting very strangely, another a brand known for daring stunts delivering on every guru's media predictions and the third a start-up news site that people tend to either love or hate but, you imagine, is reading the public mood for news particularly well.

Perhaps the most eye-catching is Red Bull Media House striking a distribution deal with Reuters to be part of the agency's Media Express platform from which sites can take content that is ready to publish. It's the perfect solution for hard-pressed newsrooms. Articles are there with pictures and accompanying videos and can be run by subscribing organisations at the click of a button. The interesting thing here, of course, is that Red Bull is -- as we all know -- a soft drinks brand rather than a news organisation. Gurus have been saying for several years that brands would be the publishers of the future, bringing the public engaging content devoted to related subject matter.

With Red Bull Media House, of course, this means daring stuns and adrenalin-pumping races on skis, bicycles, stunt planes, cars -- and in fact, pretty much anything that makes humans go faster. It fits in perfectly with its "Red Bull Gives You Wings"  tag line. It has already been a publisher in its own right, but striking a deal with Reuters takes this to the next level.

So on the day that we hear of Red Bull Media House's latest deal, we also get the new site and app for The Times and The Sunday Times. The odd thing here is that the site is now ditching rolling news for 9 a.m., midday and 5 p.m. editions. Seems odd, doesn't it? That in the world of 24-hour rolling news, arguably the country's best known newspaper should go for three updates per day. It would mean that morning commuters could be reading last night's news and those travelling home late will receive news that has not been updated since dinnertime.

Another odd decision is its layout. Now I know the long single front page is beloved among mobile marketers, where a single entry point serves many potential channels to delve further into. But the front page of the The Times and The Sunday Times site and app now appear to no longer serve niche interests. It will come as little surprise that I used to read the media section of the business news. Today, there is just business news. No further speciality sections are offered.

Keeping readers with a professional interest in a particular field engaged must surely be higher up the papers' agenda than simply offering all that day's business news in one lump. The alternative is to look through previous business issues, but where has the "energy" or the "media" section gone. To me, this is a massive mistake.

Which brings us to BuzzFeed. Now, I know that for haters of the listicle and clickbait all over the world, the news brand may be a dirty word. However, as it now offers an app dedicated to the UK for the first time, you can bet your bottom dollar it won't only be updated three times a day. It will be the living embodiment of rolling news -- albeit with a large amount of native advertising and some unappealing invitations to find out the "17 secrets of the wealthy" and so on. However, there will be some interesting "you've got to see this" viral videos in there alongside regularly updated news that will have huge appeal.

Now that 4G is available in most built-up areas, newspapers are going to have to ask themselves if the broadcasters and the start-ups, like BuzzFeed, are not going to become the de facto resource for quickly checking the headlines. With headlines constantly updated and typically supported by video or audio, it is hard to make a case for paying to subscribe to a site that is print-heavy and only updates three times per day and which appears to have done away with its niche pages as a way of serving those with special professional or personal interests.

I'm at a loss to know what The Times is trying to achieve today, other than to compete in a tough media world with fewer and fewer staff -- I suspect that headcount reductions are playing a major role in the shift away from rolling news. Perhaps its latest move is a sign that a quality news organisation cannot keep pace with start-ups that get content of varying quality for next to nothing from writers all around the world. It may be a sign that quality news will take a step back and set the agenda rather than chase the latest up to the minute headline?

Whichever it is, today is interesting for showing us all three trends. Quality retreating away from real-time, start-ups quite happily filling that gap and brands proving they can be as adept in the content game as making soft drinks.

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