Flipboard’s Mike McCue On The Future Of Digital Media, Video Ads

With over 100 million active accounts and 10 million user-created digital magazines, Flipboard has changed the way people read and share news around the Web. The application lets users aggregate social feeds into a digital magazine, as well as follow and build magazines based on different topics, like cooking or international news.

At Wednesday evening’s ReadWrite Mix, Flipboard CEO Mike McCue laid out his vision for the future of digital media, although he couldn’t explain it without playing a little Buzzword Bingo.

“The world of TV, and the world of print, these worlds are merging,” he said. “We’re moving towards this … world where content can be atomized and reconstructed around interests or topics that someone’s really passionate about.”

In other words, you’re in control of what you want to read, and advertising still pays the bills.

Unlike other applications that use algorithms to learn your likes and dislikes to display information, Flipboard uses people and algorithms to select what’s most interesting for readers.

“As we thought about how we’d populate this personal magazine, one approach was totally algorithmic, we’d find content and sort it by keyword,” McCue said. “But we realized there needed to be a human touch here, and have people who were thoughtful about who were the best sources, and what was the best content.”

Flipboard editors hand-pick stories they think readers will find interesting. But it’s also largely in the hands of readers to build and contribute to magazine selections that can range from kale smoothie recipes to politics.

Making Advertising Pretty

Part of the personalized experience, McCue said, is advertising. The problem with Web-based news and information is that it’s surrounded by banner advertisements that people have learned to block out. There are even multiple browser extensions that serve that very purpose. Flipboard is in a unique position to provide advertisers and publishers with magazine-like advertisements—large, beautiful images—on the Web.

And it’s not just large publishers that Flipboard works with to increase advertising revenue, but smaller publishers are beginning to capitalize on the Visual Web-based ads.

“In April, we launched a program that enables smaller publishers to be able to have these full-page, really awesome brand advertisements in their content as well,” McCue said. “We want to have [smaller blogs] have an ad from Gucci running in their content…. For a range of smaller publishers, in the first quarter of this program, we were able to generate over $1 million in advertising revenue.”

Video Ads Coming Soon

Like many other social companies, Flipboard is preparing to launch video advertisements that will mirror the magazine-style advertisements the company already displays.

McCue said that video advertisements will be rolling out in September; the first advertiser on board is the fashion brand Chanel. There is already a lot of video on Flipboard, so people may be accustomed to watching them as they scroll through their digital magazine. But this is the first time the company will be presenting them as ads.

Missing Out On Developers

Flipboard is built for consumers who like to create and devour news and information around their interests. But there is one key group of people Flipboard is still ignoring—developers.

The company has done very little with the developer community so far: They don’t have an API (see our API explainer), and there’s no way for developers to build tools that interact with the app. Though according to McCue, this is going to change.

“It’s just a matter of when,” he said. Soon, other apps might be able to publish on Flipboard, and pull information from the application and present it in different ways.

McCue gave no timetable for when developers could anticipate the change.

Flipboard: Ads Still Work

Just like at printed magazines, the lifeblood of Flipboard is advertising. And it seems to be paying off. According to McCue, Nielsen studies have shown that people remember Flipboard advertisements better than television ads.

That business model isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. McCue said if there’s one lesson he’s learned from being an entrepreneur, it’s that it’s hard to make money in a bunch of different ways—once you find something that works—in this case, advertising—you should stick with it.

“We’re focused on advertising,” he said. “That is now, and will always be, our focus.” 

Lead image by Ken Yeung

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