Technology

Technology empowering people

For millions of people around the world, Schibsted is already a big part of their daily digital life. By investing in technology and transforming from a media company to a technology company focused on content, we are creating opportunities to do even more amazing things, says CTO Rian Liebenberg.

We live in a world where our children learn to swipe before they talk; where you and I are constantly connected to the world and to our friends, and where digital services inform
us and guide us.

Fundamental consumer behaviours and businesses are changing as a result of advances in technology: rapid increases in processing power and network speeds, coupled with near infinite storage capacities, are contributing to great strides in areas such as artificial intelligence. These immense new capabilities will reshape our world; image recognition already allows machines to identify objects in an image more accurately than any human eye; machine learning, can produce curated and uniquely personalised content to suit your needs – and there are many more examples to be seen throughout our Future Report.

Good technology needs great content

All these advances open up new opportunities, but there are real challenges to address. Make no mistake, new technologies are enabling us to reach audiences in ways we could only dream of until recently. However, technology alone won’t do the trick. Good technology needs great content and a very deep understanding of audiences and users in order to have an impact.

When Schibsted was a startup, back in the 1800s, our founder Christian Schibsted used the latest technology of his time to create an arena for mass communication and free speech, where information, opinions, goods to sell and buy and services to exchange, found an independent and transparent home. A newspaper was born: Aftenposten, still at the very heart of Schibsted to this day.

In the 21st century we hold that independence just as high. We remain committed to empowering publishing to ensure the future of independent digital journalism, relentlessly focused on applying the latest technology to our products, to constantly improve the experience of our users across our range of products.

We are investing heavily to create smart products that make life easier for our users, combining new technologies with continuous innovation and adapting to ever-changing environments. Our constant focus is on our users’ needs and our mission to empower people in their daily lives.

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Today’s news is almost entirely digital, making ad revenues increasingly important. Yet distributing news content is still a challenge for independent publishers. The dilution of revenue along the supply chain erodes value, which in turn threatens the very existence of journalism, and, by extension, democracy. In addition, the focus of internet companies on understanding users has increased tracking, authentication, lock-ins and backlashes against privacy breaches, spawning a rapid rise in ad blockers. There are many challenges, but also many opportunities.

First: Build and open up platforms

Our mission in publishing is to strengthen opportunities for media houses to ensure democracy thrives. Crucial to this is the construction of digital platforms that can support a sustainable business model. This is something we have already started: our publishing platform is a powerful tool in newsrooms competing to attract and retain audiences.

Equally important is ensuring our products achieve the right balance between user engagement and revenue generation. Advertising will remain an important source of income, so we must minimise intermediaries and provide relevant advertising content alongside our published content.

Finally, the significant advances in our publishing platforms must be made available to the wider publishing industry. The Washington Post’s ARC platform has shown that there is a real appetite for independent alternatives that serve the needs of the publishing industry. At the same time, many other publishing alliances being formed, such as Project Juno in the UK, and Emetriq, the German Joint Venture data pooling initiative. But it’s incredible that no-one except ARC is discussing the need for actual technologies and products to turn such a fundamental and existential challenge into opportunities.

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Second: Deliver new amazing products

Advances in computing continue to evolve dramatically; storage costs per MB are tumbling, CPU and network speeds doubling roughly every two years, portable computing, infrastructure as software, and, of course, artificial intelligence. There are abundant opportunities to leverage these in creative and meaningful ways, to improve our products.

Over the past 15 years we have turned the low-priced small ads in the back of Christian Schibsted’s newspaper into a formidable global marketplace. Imagine if we could intuitively understand, or even predict, the needs of our users at any given point in time, truly realizing the relationship between users interests and objects and services.

Take the example of buying an apartment or house: if we knew enough about the products and objects associated with buying a home, we could, with reasonable accuracy, predict when our users want to look for furniture or do more elaborate renovations. We could display both marketplace content and also highly targeted ads for products that would meet users’ needs with relevant content.

We could predict when they need to engage craftsmen, or offer relevant services, for example, price comparisons, when they need another loan. We can keep our audiences engaged and active, delivering real value and empowering them as consumers.

Or imagine we could predict the FMV (fair market value) of an object when a picture is taken of it and uploaded. Accurately identifying the object in this image and predicting the optimal time to sell it could really change the game for the consumer.

Schibsted has the ad volumes and the frequency of transactions to start unlocking features like these and offering real value to users. Such comprehensive content and applied technologies will ensure relevance and decide our future.

We have the data, the content, the audiences and the reach; we just need to be smart about empowering our workforce to apply their creativity to building great things for our users.

Third: Bring talents together

A unique combination of technology, media and business strength are driving innovation today. Schibsted’s powerful history of entrepreneurship, determination and continuing passion to remain relevant has successfully carried us into the current era. Now, with well over a thousand product and tech people around the world we have an amazing opportunity to apply all of these talents to bring our users a future where they are truly empowered.

Schibsted is evolving into a technology business, one which also produces unique and engaging content. Or, in the words of Aftenposten’s current Editor-in-Chief Espen Egil Hansen, “I want us to fully focus on why we make this technology, which is to do a job on behalf of society. To inform, to inves-tigate stories that someone doesn’t like us investigating; but it’s a really important task. So, yes, we do technology, but we do technology for a purpose.”

As a successful technology business, we must pay attention to our users and create products that suit their needs, and what they need is the right content at the right time, on the right device, in the right location.

NAME: Rian Liebenberg

TITLE: CTO Schibsted Media Group

YEARS IN SCHIBSTED: 2 1/2

I'M EXCITED ABOUT: Making the world a better place, one bit of the web at a time.