Video: Publisher’s Digital Transformation https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uA9F86R-1ik
Vision and Value Proposition: Empower publishers, advertisers, and individuals to create the most efficient digital ecosystems of websites, content, ads, products, and first-party consumer data.
The Problem(s): Consumers have a deep interest in local news, products, and information, and they expect personalization to deliver relevant experiences, but consumers also want to engage in conversation and have their privacy respected. Many publishers have all of the following problems: A. “How can we track each user relationship to all content & products across disparate systems and drive digital subscriptions at the same time?”; B. “How can we compete with big tech to deliver personalized user experiences and still deliver local news with limited resources?”; and C. “Privacy laws – we respect the privacy of our readers but these new privacy laws are demanding so much, how can we possibly comply with them and how can we target ads once third-party data is basically eliminated?”
Target Market and Opportunity: The initial target market for the company’s products center around a B 2 B market of news publishers and local media companies as well as the many technology vendors who serve these industries. These products compete well against various vendors who provide website templates, content management systems (CMS), consumer data visualizations/insights, search appliances, content widgets, e-mail services, digital subscriptions sales funnel tools and privacy law compliance tools. The U.S. market potential for these services is a relatively low $700 Million annually due to the revenue constraints on the industry. However, the greater market potential is the first-party data network that is created when many customers begin to deploy the Company’s products and the resulting network becomes a demand-side ad-tech platform, a content/revenue sharing platform, and a legitimate eCommerce network of retailers. Digital advertising alone has a U.S. market potential of $17 billion annually. Combined, these many customers form their own first-party data platform that actually owns the content and the products that provide the true value to consumers. The final evolution is the step to a B 2 C product where individuals access the network directly (in addition to through publisher products) for consumption and for direct participation through the creation and curation of their own content as they become publishers participating in the revenue share and content distribution channels of the network.
The technology was built upon the foundation of patented search and object-oriented data structures developed by Crivella Technologies that have been used to pioneer advances in the defense and manufacturing segments as well as for managing data in complex mass tort litigation. In the litigation arena, the management of an enormous corpus of e-mails allowed Crivella to map the written language patterns of 2,500 human emotions. Decades of language corpus analysis in many fields created a rich base of topical tags and revealed language patterns that are constantly expanded upon and added to established library science principles. MeSearch has brought this core technology to the publishing industry and expanded upon it to create an amazing platform upon which a fair and equitable digital ecosystem is being established.
The Team: A combination of data science tech and assets, publishing domain knowledge and assets, and business experience. MeSearch was founded in 2019 as a joint venture between Trib Total Media and Crivella Technologies with operations starting in February of 2020. Joseph Lawrence (HBAP 2021) is the General Counsel and VP of Development and Investments with Trib Total Media and also serves as MeSearch CEO and Board member. Jennifer Bertetto is the President and CEO of Trib Total Media, who has overseen the digital transformation of the company, serves on the Board of Directors of MeSearch. Art Crivella, owner of Crivella Technologies and inventor of the patented “Knowledge Kiosk”, serves at the Chief Technolgy Officer and Board Member. News and technology industry veteran, Peter Newton, serves as a consultant on product development and sales. There is a team of six developers employed by MeSearch and significant support from ten others from the development teams of both Trib Total Media and Crivella Technologies. Investment to date is $2.5 Million, the contribution of office facilities, and the contribution of licenses to IP and patents.
The Competition: There is competition in many classes of the individual MeSearch products (linked below). However, the larger idea of a first-party network has very few, but very large and dominant, competitors such as Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and Amazon. The systems of those competitors are not open to the publishers and advertisers, only the outcomes. That is, the publishers cannot take action upon the data generated from the use of their own websites based upon Google Analytics data because it is completely closed to them with the exception of using Google products to serve ads. While some of these dominant players serve products to the publishers (Google), mostly they compete against them by using the published content without (or very little) compensation and some serve ads on their websites with little compensation. This ecosystem is far from fair and is crushing the publishing industry. Privacy laws, technology changes, and consumer attitudes towards privacy will be shortly eliminating an entire class of competitors in the third-party data ad-tech industry. If this collapses, only the large dominant players will remain with the ability to deliver targeted advertising. This will further erode the advertising revenue streams of publishers. These are the reasons why a fair ecosystem of revenue sharing, and targeting based upon first-party data, is the only counterpart to a complete monopoly in advertising and otherwise the eventual elimination of the news publishing industry. MeSearch, with its decades of advanced IP in this space, is perfectly positioned to provide the platform that allows publishers, merchants, and communities, to come together in a fair ecosystem. Competitor Matrix
For Further Background: The history of the project and the need for digital transformation is summarized below.
News Industry Challenges:
In 2014, value creation was simply telling readers what they should know and value capture was only seen in two varieties: advertising (mostly print) and subscriptions (mostly print). Some publishers were experiencing losses covered by wealthy owners, but many were still profitable. Both situations allowed continued attitudes in the industry that no evolution was needed to the business models.
Aging print reader populations, and the rise of digital alternative sources of news, had been eroding subscriber bases in the industry. Traditional print advertisers had been increasingly moving marketing budgets from print to digital. The base of newspaper print advertising was consumer retail and the two were connected in an ecosystem. In some areas, retailers were still buying inserts at substantial rates in 2014 but this would change quickly.
Challenges Unique to Trib Total Media:
One small publisher, Trib Total Media, operating in Pittsburgh under the brand name Tribune-Review (the “Trib”), was not profitable (or even close). Because of price and circulation wars with its local competitor, the Post-Gazette, the Trib was more exposed than the rest of the industry.
On July 4, 2014, the billionaire owner of Trib Total Media passed away. He had made provision for the Trib in both his will and in an established trust that owned the Company, but the funds in the trust had diminished, and a family lawsuit delayed distributions under the will. Cash (and time) would run out on the Trib by early 2017 without significant change. The Board, which included the Executive Editor, took the position that no changes could be made to the business or operating model. To compound matters, the entire company was heavily entrenched into silos. While it was not unusual at that time for publishers to have a divided “church and state” mentality with respect to the editorial department and all other business functions, it was an extreme case at the Trib.
Starting in January of 2015, a series of changes resulted in a new CEO/President for the Company, Jennifer Bertetto. She had risen within the Company from an advertising representative to become the COO in 2010.
In early 2015, Bertetto commenced an innovation process to begin to reshape the culture and embrace technological change. This innovation process brought people together from all over the company and broke them into several teams with personnel from various departments. In May of 2015, Bertetto convinced the trustees of the trust that owned the Trib to form a new entity to serve as a vehicle for putting into action the ideas that would be created by the innovation process as well as to house the digital assets controlled by the Trib. The trust formed 535 Media, LLC for these purposes. She also announced that the Company would be pivoting away from its previous focus of national / international news and to local journalism.
By January of 2016, there had been a realignment of the trustees of the trust, the Executive Editor had resigned, and Bertetto became the Chairperson of the Board. Bertetto then took the, at the time unheard of, step of discontinuing printing of the metropolitan edition (Allegheny County) leaving in print only the surrounding areas and weekly publications. The concept of going “all digital”, at the time, was seen as abandoning journalism in the industry. To the company, the changes saved it from imminent failure but revenue was needed in addition to cost-cutting.
The Trib and 535media Embraced Digital Transformation:
Bertetto adopted a simple philosophical and strategy pivot. The entrenched focus had been upon itself as a publisher (i.e. what “we” think is important and how “we” think the reader should consume content and advertisers should spend budget). The pivot would be to focus instead upon the reader and react to their individual preferences and desires.
The Trib and 535media would do this by focusing upon communities attracted by common geography, interest, and thought. The companies would seek engagement from these communities to provide robust sharing of information supplemented by traditional journalism and product offerings. 535media would make investments and develop the platforms and the Trib would pioneer and beta the use of those platforms. They would jointly develop sustainable community content and eCommerce ecosystem in Western Pennsylvania that could be expanded at scale. The components to date are as follows:
In General: The Trib began investing in platforms and services to allow it to understand the user data and metadata. 535media created a marketing fulfillment center with specialized groups focusing upon creating strategy and execution for Social Media, Search Engine Optimization, Search Engine Marketing, Targeted Display and Sponsored Content. Advertising clients have become agencies and brands. Marketing automation self-service tools are being developed presently. All of this put the companies in a position to pursue the following local ecosystem:
Neighborhood News Network: The Neighborhood News Network is a digital platform based upon a mix of content from a regional news publisher (the sponsor of a site) combined with user-generated content (“UGC”) from a geographic community. UGC is filtered (or not) by the publisher sponsor and contributor are ranked as “Trusted Contributors” (who control their own pages on the sites) and “Community Contributors” (who are akin to social posters without any publisher authority). The regional publishers’ journalistic resources will be supplemented by the news from the communities. The network is combined with the High School Sports Network which covers and broadcasts high school athletic competitions on its website and through its radio and television partners. The human resources needed for this project have been repurposed from the existing development department at 535media.
At this small level, the value creation is delivering creditable community news and proving a format for participation and expression by the community itself. The value capture is from targeted advertising and connection to the eCommerce platform below.
EverybodyShops Marketplace: The “Everybody” series of content websites is a group of websites designed to pull together communities of interest. There are four beta launches including EverybodyGardens.com. They are original content and aggregation sites that also receive UGC. The scalable platform that connects all of these is being developed presently and will utilize the MeSearch capabilities to source user and aggregated relevant content. The human resources needed for this project were originally repurposed from the existing development department at 535media, recruited from outside sources, and obtained through sub-contractors.
The value creation is (1) create a connection between quality content and consumer purchases; and (2) establish a marketplace where vendors can utilize the platform to connect to relevant communities through content, self-service digital marketing and be supported by “vendor groups” established to share portions of gross sales revenue with local non-profits. In this way, a non-profit can establish a vendor group of local businesses and promote community-purposed sales for those vendors. Value capture is a 10% platform fee per transaction and gross profit on Everybody products.
Introduction of the MeSearch Idea and HBAP Curriculum:
The value creation for the ecosystem is the development of a platform for all who wish to publish or sell something and for all those who wish to find or purchase something. Publishers are as small as the individual (the “me”) or as large as a media conglomerate. Content is delivered according to the unique preferences and needs of the consumer (the “me”). Value capture is from the splitting of advertising revenue between producers, website partners, and the Company.
For this to work, however, automation and ai would be necessary. In 2019, the company set out to find technical partners and sent executives to be educated in digital transformation. The Company found exactly what it needed in the “Knowledge Kiosk” of Crivella Technologies and in the HBAP program and Harvard.