“The vast majority of those aged under 35 now say that using social media, search engines, or news aggregators is their main way of getting news online. …. direct access to news websites and apps increasingly becomes confined to older and more interested consumers.”
A moving target
Reuters’ Digital News Report 2023 leaves no doubt: news audiences are changing fast and are rarely homogenous. While older readers may still be used to browsing traditional web pages on PC and tablet, the consumption of the younger demographic revolves around mobile devices closely interlinked with social media use and the search for ‘infotainment’.
To remain sustainable, successful news operations need to appeal across the demographic through a variety of channels and devices, making efficient use of emerging technologies to broaden their reach, while maintaining productivity and profitability.
AI integration - an ‘agnostic’approach
These were the considerations that guided us when we set out the specifications for a new end-to-end digital news platform – now known as Neon – that would allow customers to meet the future challenges of the news market.
The rapid evolution in consumer expectations has been matched by accelerating changes in content technologies (especially generative AI). Since these developments can only be foreseen to a limited degree, we have designed a technologically ‘agnostic’ platform using an interchangeable architecture, capable of adapting to the future advancements in AI and other technologies, wherever they may lead.
Advanced performance - OOTB
Experience of supporting complex digital news operations with our existing platforms has given us a clear idea of the kind of advanced publishing options that customers need to manage complex multi-site, multi-channel operations.
These options will be bundled with Neon as standard, out-of-the-box functionalities.
The DIY temptation
Confronted with the current technical and demographic changes, many publishers have toyed with the idea of developing their own in-house platform, hoping to attain greater agility and responsiveness. However, constructing a comprehensive CMS from scratch is a challenging undertaking, especially since it involves developing (and maintaining) advanced functionalities such as versioning, workflow management, revision tracking, and permissions.
(In the last few years a number of digital publishers have developed and then abandoned in-house CMS platforms. The latest of these is Vox Media , citing the difficulty of maintaining the platform and supporting other users.)
Our goal in developing the new platform was therefore to offer an alternative, encompassing the entire content management pipeline – from planning, content creation, digital curation and pagination to headless delivery – in a single solution. At the same time we have given priority to the integration and extension capabilities that will allow our customers to respond and adapt quickly to evolving market trends.
In short, the new digital platform does the heavy lifting of content management, while providing the flexibility to innovate and adapt.
AI – build in or integrate?
Among the most exciting new technical developments in news creation and distribution are those powered by AI and ML models. With these technologies, the choice is between building them into the core platform capabilities and integrating them as third-party tools and services.
Neon will adopt both approaches. The built-in AI capabilities will include functions to assist editors in prioritizing and scheduling news coverage, eliminating routine publishing tasks and improving strategic decision-making.
AI scheduling can also play a particularly valuable role in paywall management. By identifying which articles are best published behind the paywall (to incentivize subscriptions) and which should be freely available (to generate advertising revenue) an AI model can maximize the revenue yield of a given content base.
It does this by comparing the article profile with historical readership data provided by analytics and triggering the appropriate publishing process – behind or in front of the paywall.
Assisted authoring and pagination
Other in-built AI functionalities will use large language models within the editorial workspace to assist authors with routine tasks like summary creation, story tagging, social media posting etc. Web page composition will be handled by AI-driven routines that will automatically optimize the layout and presentation of text and media content.
An open AI interface
Many of the most powerful AI-based tools and functions are provided as third-party services, usually cloud-hosted, accessed through dedicated APIs. Our current platforms are already using a range of these to provide functions from advanced voice-to-text and NLP to specialized CRM. This trend is likely to continue and the new platform is designed to be seamlessly interfaced with the widest range of external applications and to keep pace with the rapid rate of change in the AI sector.
A headless piece of the jigsaw
The ‘headless’ approach (already deployed in our existing Cobalt platform) gives users the freedom to build their own front ends tailored to their own delivery requirements. Neon will continue this approach with powerful APIs whose generic and presentation-agnostic nature can accommodate a wide variety of destination types beyond basic web front-ends and mobile apps.
Neon will also support ‘webhooks’ – lightweight calls that trigger a function in an external app following a workflow change or publication event in the editorial space. These can not only be used to integrate our customer’s editorial flow with the necessary in-house services (e.g. billing, BI tools, etc) – they can also be used to leverage the myriad of services provided by the “API economy”, and quickly gain a competitive advantage by integrating top-class tools for CRM, newsletter management, E-commerce, analytics etc. into the core of the editorial workflow.
All of these integrative possibilities reflect a modern vision of the editorial CMS as one piece of a larger jigsaw puzzle, serving as a critical node within an end-to-end digital pipeline comprising diverse yet interconnected solutions.
What about the UI?
Neon’s user interface will be an evolution of Swing, the current mobile workspace accessible at any location through any device from laptop to smartphone.
As well as the existing editorial and workflow features, Neon will feature a powerful new content search and exploration area. Other innovations include a refinement of the versioning system that distinguishes between major, minor and ‘live’ versions.
A rich roadmap of new functionalities to be introduced following initial release will maintain the Swing UI in its position as ‘the world’s most evolved mobile authoring workspace’.
TCO, TTM and scalability
Among the benefits to publishers of the new platform is a reduction of the total cost of ownership (TCO). Covering the complete content life-cycle from planning to delivery in a single application, Neon streamlines and simplifies the operation, reducing costs through intelligent automation of many workflow processes.
The same efficiency gains reduce time-to-market (TTM) for news content. Thanks to Neon’s simplified digital publishing pipeline and modern extension approach, publishers can bring their content to audiences more rapidly, effectively reducing the journey from concept to delivery.
Lastly, the platform has been designed to provide superior scalability. Based on modern, containerized architecture, the platform is constructed to scale smoothly in accordance with fluctuating audience demands and operational growth. This scalability is not just confined to managing increased user traffic - it also extends to the efficient handling of expanding data volumes, facilitated by native support for database sharding.
Upgrading to Neon
We expect that many adopters of Neon will already be users of Eidosmedia platforms. We have therefore made ease of upgrade and integration a development priority.
Current digital-only publishers will be able to replace their Swing-Méthode-Cobalt solution with an end-to-end digital platform based solely on Neon. Changes to the authoring and editorial interfaces will be minimal.
Publishers with mixed print and digital portfolios will be able to replace their current digital solution with a Neon platform fully backwardly-compatible with their print workflows in Prime and Méthode.
Neon will soon undergo beta-testing at a number of customer sites in Europe and will be commercially released in late 2024/early 2025.