Journalism in Digital Age: How companies like EssentiallySports and SmartNews are envisioning the future of ever-changing media landscape

Aayan AnsariUpdated: Friday, April 08, 2022, 04:25 PM IST

Digitization of media and entertainment is not a recent phenomenon. In the past decade, we have seen a sturdy growth of digital-oriented strategies in the industry. ‘The five industries at the centre of the Digital Vortex – Media & Entertainment, Retail, Telecommunications, Technology Products & Services, and Financial Services – have remained unchanged since 2015’ – IMD Business School Digital Vortex Report 2021

During the Covid-19 pandemic, several new-age companies were able to flourish even in adverse conditions. Their digital-first model and out of the box approach were instrumental in their success.

SmartNews, a Japan-based news curation platform, was able to stand its ground in the digital news and media market. The website was able to overcome stiff competition from heavyweights like Facebook News, Apple News and Google News, with its USP of delivering “impartial, trending, and trustworthy” news.

They claim to aggregate stories from across the world and use their proprietary algorithms to discover and deliver top stories to their global audience. In the past few years, it has made it to the list of top downloaded apps in the Google Play Store in the ‘News and Media’ category in the USA and Japan.

NewsBreak, another news aggregator, made an impact on the market with its unique approach. The company’s USP is focused on hyperlocal news and events. It not only publishes global, national and trending content but emphasizes the events happening around you. In the past Covid-19 infected years, their hyperlocal news coverage made them a household name.

EssentiallySports, a born-digital company established in 2014, has become a significant player in the digital sports media business. Despite being an upstart in a field full of heavyweights with multi-decade legacy, their digital native strategy seems to have given them a competitive advantage in a crowded market. In 2020, the company grew exponentially and multiple new sports like NASCAR, MLB, NFL and Olympics were introduced. Over the course of their journey, they recently crossed A Billion+ Lifetime Pageviews riding the wave of post Covid-19 spike.

This feat is even more impressive considering that the COVID-19 plagued year saw every major company gasping for breath and operations coming to a halt across the world.

Similarly, ClutchPoints, a website that started in a dorm room of UCLA, has scaled new heights. The website which focuses majorly on NBA and NFL is now looking into other sports as well. Also, in the past few years, they have released multiple docu-series and have moved towards a mix of news articles and video clips.

In a short span, these companies disrupted the market and carved a niche for themselves with their formula of digital-focused strategies along with their user-centric themes. This shows how journalism is changing in this environment where users are always connected and this necessitates media companies to stay up to speed with the trends.

So, the question is, what did they do differently?

The effects of the pandemic mostly sheltered born-digital companies like EssentiallySports, SmartNews, etc, because of their forward-thinking mentality. As per reports, SmartNews was able to reach out to 40 million + users in over 100 countries and even reached a valuation of over 2 billion dollars.

On the other hand, EssentiallySports not only grew its core user base of Tennis and Formula 1 viewers but added new users across verticals like E-Sports, MLB, NFL and NASCAR. (As per their website)

The key to thriving in these ever-changing environments is to stay on your feet, prepare for any possible challenges, and respond before the market reacts. There are many similar success stories of new-age companies sweeping the market when bigger companies were clueless in the face of the pandemic.

The company’s vision clearly shows how they have forecasted the long-term implications of the digitization of the industry. They understand the importance of social media and emphasize utilizing it in the best possible manner.

The company’s co-founder Suryansh Tibarewal talks about the impact of digital media on the journey of EssentiallySports in a podcast. He emphasizes the fact that technology is at the centre of this transformation of the media industry and the company has always kept it a priority. From Google Stories to Podcasts and Apps, the company seems to be on point with the changing technological landscape.

Riding the Media 2.0 wave

With the rise of information technology, every industry has seen multiple disruptions and media isn’t any different. Technology has enabled smaller creators and regional players to make an impact. And have ended the monopoly of big media houses.

EssentiallySports, is one such company. In a highly competitive sports media business with giants like ESPN, CBS, NBC etc they are putting quite a show with their coverage. They moved beyond the conventional news reporting to achieve a unique style of coverage called ‘The Fans Perspective’. This allows them to garner over 30 million users every month from over 150 countries and rank among the top 50 sports media companies in the US.

SmartNews acknowledges this change as well. They claim that their award-winning apps curates content from 200+ sources across the world to bring out quality content for the users.

With great power comes great responsibility

Media 2.0 has set a new direction for the industry to grow. But it does come with some never seen challenges. Fake News is on the rise. We can see fake news and forged information creeping into the news and social media alike. And it is becoming more and more difficult to establish credibility. However, companies like SmartNews have taken a hard stand against such practices and have successfully established themselves as a source of good quality content.

Talking about the rising risk of information overload and substandard content making its way into people’s lives, the company states on their website, “News should be Trustworthy. Our algorithm evaluates millions of articles, signals and human interactions to deliver the top 0.01% stories that matter most, right now.”

Similarly, media houses like EssentiallySports state that they have set up multi-level scrutiny systems to detect and correct factual errors. Also, a strict code against the use of fake news and unreliable sources is applied to serve the users with only the truth.

The industry is catching up to the trends

As mentioned earlier, the increasing impact of digitalization on the media and entertainment industry is not a new phenomenon. Despite that, many major players haven’t really kept up the pace. Media and entertainment companies’ digital marketing budget dwarfs in front of many brick and mortar industries like retail and healthcare. However, after a difficult 2020, the spending on digital is set to be one of the highest for media companies.

How’s the future outlook?

It’s been 2 years since the inception of the Covid-19 pandemic. More and more traditional media houses have realized the need for a digital outlet and are actively working towards gaining their lost supremacy. However, companies like SmartNews, EssentiallySports, etc, continue to thrive. These companies have grown in size and userbases significantly.

The data shows that these upstarts have capitalized well on the events of the past two years. It looks like EssentiallySports and Smart News are on a stable growth path despite many new and traditional competitors jumping in the fight.

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