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Cat videos to climate justice: The changing face of Australia’s youth publishers

Nonetheless Australian-founded brands are reporting some of their strongest months yet for audience growth having sharpened their focus on issues young people care about – like gender equality, climate change and LGBT rights.

And SBS said it has drawn record audiences this year on multichannel SBS Viceland, a controversial partnership between Vice and the public broadcaster on free-to-air television.

The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age spoke to five leaders in Millennial media about their challenges and successes. The comments have been condensed and edited for length and clarity.

Neil Ackland, founder & CEO of Junkee Media

Neil Ackland, founder & CEO of Junkee Media

Neil Ackland, chief executive Junkee Media

Titles: Junkee, Punkee, AWOL

One of the things I’m super proud of about the Australian publishers in particular is that we’ve managed to fend off some big global publishers who’ve had hundreds of millions of dollars of seed funding … and we’ve had to compete on very different terms and with very small financial resources at our disposal.

Our traffic growth is really strong, we’ve had a great first four or five months of this year are up  about 40 per cent in terms of unique audience. We’ve also been leveraging our parent company. Junkee is owned by [billboard business] Oohmedia and so we we’ve had a huge campaign that has been running across those assets.

SBS Viceland Channel Manager John Beohm

Last month we screened the [movie] Fifth Element five times in a row and it was one of the best Sundays we’ve ever had since we’ve been on air.

Keeping their attention is absolutely a challenge as there are so many other options. I don’t see the other channels as my biggest competition. Now it’s any app, any show on Netflix, social media.

Pedestrian CEO Matt Rowley

Pedestrian CEO Matt RowleyCredit:James Brickwood

Matt Rowley, chief executive Pedestrian Group

Titles: Pedestrian, Business Insider Australia, Popsugar, Gizmodo, Kotaku, Lifehacker

At peak Facebook, about half of our audience [on Pedestrian] would come through there and since then it has probably come down to around about 20 percent.

The lesson learned was that you had to separate out what was traffic and what was audience, and what would disappear if someone tweaked an algorithm versus what would…come back to you because it was a voice and content that they just had to have.

As [group chat sites like Whatsapp and Snapchat] take off the barrier to share is higher because the group in which I’m sharing is a carefully curated group of people whereas in old school social you didn’t even read it, you just flicked it on to see what would happen. Now if I’m going to send it to a little group of friends I’m going to be more careful with what I’m sharing. It raises the bar for content.

Pedestrian has managed to bottle that Australian mate’s voice. It’s a very inclusive, warm tone that will bring anybody into it and it kind of makes you realise how brutal Australians can be with language.

Simon Crerar founding editor Buzzfeed Australia (2013 to February 2019)

Title: Buzzfeed Australia

Buzzfeed’s expansion plan was to look at markets with lots of Millennials and young people.

The first year we were there it was imagining Buzzfeed didn’t exist anywhere else and to create an identity that was unique to young Australians. I think we had quite a lot of success in that first year … we started to commercialise and then in the third and fourth year [it was] really growing well. And so we started having a Canberra office and a political editor and other political reporters, beat reporters, and getting scale.

There was a lot of lifestyle content but also quite quickly we got a sense of the kind of issues that young people generally wanted reported on. I still believe that you can find something cute and entertaining and have a laugh but you can also be be deeply concerned about important issues.

When Facebook made the changes in late 2017 to their algorithm where they prioritise friends and family over publisher content, publishers everywhere had really big changes in terms of referral traffic. We had by that stage already built a really huge audience in Australia, like 10.9 million people each month. We still had the ability to target market scale, but the ability to do that and get a return on that investment was a challenging environment.

Chris Wirasinha, Pedestrian co-founder and current adviser

A US media company can realistically try to hit a billion dollars in revenue, [but] for an Australian youth publisher that would mean getting to the same level of scale as one of the major TV networks. Can it be done? Possibly.

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