Pivot and stay relevant – by 7awi’s Anas Abbar

7awi’s founding partner and CEO, Anas Abbar, looks at what innovation is necessary for media platforms to keep pace with a changing industry

Just like any industry, the media and publishing industries have been going through turbulent times. The innovation cycle is led by a few platforms, and publishers are at the mercy of the algorithms. This has been a vicious cycle ever since the term ‘digital transformation’ was coined, and it has meant that publishers needed to have digital presence.

This lasted for a few years and eventually technology, market dynamics, competition and user behaviour evolved faster than most of the traditional media houses could keep pace with. Print circulation became traffic on websites; million-dollar campaigns became programmatic; users opted out of reading and in to video consumption; viewability, segmentations, interests, user acquisition and leads became the currency; and user-generated content started to compete with the costly productions from media houses. We all know what the pandemic did in terms of impact on traditional media.

The contraction of attention span of consumers who are on the go became a matter of seconds. Some experts claim it is as short as three seconds. Digital publishers and content creators started to compete for budgets and attention. This is the reality of our industry, and to survive one must reinvent and pivot one’s role to continue to be relevant.

The big question is: How do you pivot and how do you stay relevant?

There is no single answer. There are many things that need to be looked into, and you need to have the courage to make tough decisions. These are calculated bets and need to be based on insights, market dynamics, ever-changing consumer behaviour, competition and other factors. Many questions are on top of my mind, including:

How is technology relevant to growth and revenue generation?

Premium content vs. user generated content?

New revenue streams to offset declining ones?

What is the new trend? Social commerce is picking up globally.

How can we repurpose our own assets to yield new revenue streams?

Do you continue to be tied to revenue streams coming from global platforms?

At the end of the day, we must work on all cylinders and must spread our bets and decision-making to cover as many potential opportunities as possible. It is a competitive world and, for small independent media platforms like 7awi, we must be ready to adapt to the new world we are living in. We must find the sweet spot that forces global platforms, brands, clients and agencies to see value in us, yet we can’t be competing with them. A world dominated by global platforms sets a runway, and we must be prepared to take off from that runway despite the visibility and the distance of the runway. Whether it is clear visibility or a short distance, we need to give it the thrust or reduce the load to operate in the most efficient way.

This is why I love this industry. It keeps us thinking of what to expect. We must outsmart the status quo and read the signals ahead of us. Indeed, the media and publishing industry could benefit from support of local regulatory bodies by demanding support from the global platforms to yield more to the local media and publishing companies, similar to what has been done in France and Australia.

As an independent media group, we can never compete with the big players, but local regulations should enforce the big platforms to reinvest in the region and help grow the local media ecosystem to continue to operate independently and thrive to innovate. Today, local media cannot maintain a budget for research and development in a way similar to the platforms without some external intervention. I am confident this resonates with many small and medium-sized independent publishers in our region.

There are so many questions on top of my mind that keep me awake at night, but I am very optimistic that our MENA region, in particular the GCC region, is the next geography that investors will target. Investors will turn to places of stability and prosperity, and in the past couple of years our region has shown that we are primed up for growth.