In this exclusive interview with Carlos Núñez, President and CEO of PRISA Media, for the new WAN-IFRA Leaders section, we discuss topics such as the evolution of digital revenues, audience measurement, the commitment to innovation and the new partnership agreement between PRISA Media and OpenAI, among others.

WAN-IFRA: Can you give us an idea of how your business strategy has evolved and where it is today?

Carlos Núñez: The business plan we presented at Capital Markets Day in March 2022 is evolving as planned. That plan established that we were going to grow in audience, market share, advertising, and digital subscriptions (the latter is only for EL PAIS) in the main markets where we operate (Spain, Colombia, Chile, Mexico, and the United States – Latin American community).

All of this is evolving according to plan: we have increased our advertising market share and the number of digital subscribers – 350,000–  (a number that exceeds the one established in the strategic plan). In less than four years since the launch of our model in Spain, we have the newspaper that captures by far the highest percentage of paying subscribers.

In addition to this, we are implementing a subscriber audit process in Spain, so we will soon be able to provide a transparent and reliable overview of how newspaper subscriptions are working in our country.  Just as we do with the printed copies we sell.

From the audience point of view, we continue to be leaders with our franchises in the countries where we operate in the quality metrics that really interest advertisers.

In the past three years, we have developed two major business areas related to what is called the asynchronous content consumption: podcasting and audiovisual content.

Regarding the podcast production, we are proud to have become the world’s leading producer of audio in Spanish and second in the world only behind iHeart Media.

On the video side, we are innovating in new formats, we are developing products for third parties, we are generating more and more audiovisual inventory on all our channels (web and social networks). Last year we produced more than 823 hours of live content.

How do you foresee advertising revenues and your advertising model evolving in the future?

Núñez: Advertising is our main revenue stream, and we are actively working to diversify, with digital subscription being the main channel for this.

The advertising market has been radically transformed in the last ten years and the main advertising operators today in Spain and in the world are the platforms, social networks and search engines.

In Spain, without going any further, in 2023 almost 50% of advertising investment was theirs. And now new audiovisual operators are developing and generating audiences and will therefore seek to monetise them through advertising.

In the case of Meta, it has more scale and more data. Meta has been fined by the Irish Data Protection Authority for unlawful use of data to sell digital advertising.

In Spain, as you know, the entire media sector has filed a lawsuit demanding 550 million euros from Meta for unfair competition for the unlawful use of data to sell advertising. 

I would like to link this with the ESG criteria because quality media contributes to democratic sustainability, i.e. a democracy is not conceivable without media with good journalistic practice. That is what I mean by quality media.

As we know, ESG is a regulatory and strategic externality that has been introduced to condition the behaviour of companies, beyond pure economic profit.

Until now, sustainability has only been focused on vectors such as climate change and environmental preservation, good corporate governance and the social impact of companies’ activities. However, it seems that the sustainability of democratic systems is being left out, and the role of sustainable and independent media is vital to guarantee democracy.

Currently, to maximise audiences and increase profits, the algorithms of some platforms favour “click-bait” and low-quality content in the detriment of rigorous and in-depth information.

This gives them a competitive advantage over traditional media as advertising showcases, but at the price of opening the doors wide to fake news, hate speech and the polarisation of democratic societies.

As a result, quality information generated by credible media loses its momentum in the digital ecosystem.

First, because trying to find out the truth is much more costly than fabricating hoaxes. And second, because explaining complex realities with rigour is much less attractive to large audiences than biased, divisive, and unverified content.

Our proposal is to consider democratic sustainability within the sustainability criteria of ESG factors. Once this is considered, companies will have an incentive to invest in quality media.

In other words, companies that invest in advertising in quality media, i.e. that promote democratic sustainability, should see their ESG profile improved, with all that this implies, especially for their shareholders. The future model for advertising should move in this direction.

The second element is that digital advertising revenues are a magma where multiple intermediaries appear, aggregating the advertising inventory of media and other players to obtain a remarkable, but indiscriminate, volume.

It all gets mixed together. It is important to note that in the digital world it seems that everything is quantifiable and measurable, but the reality is that “real” measurement in digital, especially in advertising, is increasingly uncertain. Bots, click-buying, uncertain delivery of impressions, … do advertisers really know where they are spending their advertising?

In this sense, fraud in digital advertising can be very important because, on many occasions, there is no real and consistent traceability of advertising campaigns, and therefore, what is operated through intermediaries and not through the final media. In short, I am almost certain that on many occasions advertisers don’t know exactly where they are investing.

The success in advertising relies on everyone working together, ultimately the goal is to create a transparent, efficient advertising ecosystem.

Advertisers, media, agencies, and technology providers all have a role to play. Each of us generates value, but that value must be distributed fairly and transparently, according to the role that each of us play.

This has not been the case for many years now, which calls into question business models, especially in the media. We generate and develop verified and contrasted content to attract quality audiences, with the associated cost that this entails: journalists and journalistic processes, i.e. travel to the field, time to do the work of contrast, verification and content creation.

What subscription model/models are you moving towards?

Núñez: In our case, the model will are evolving towards is the establishment of different subscription tiers, defined according to the added value that our subscribers find in each one of them.

At EL PAÍS we have recently split our subscription into two: a basic and a premium subscription, which includes access to the economic and differential content of Cinco Días, reception of the quality newsletters we generate in different areas, availability of several accesses with the same account and access to the pdf versions of our products. And we are working on new applications and products that will enrich each level of subscription.

The key to our model is to increase the propensity to pay for the subscription, and that means acting on three levers:

Editorial content must be of exceptional quality. People do not pay for propaganda or for undifferentiated and low-level content.
Usability. You cannot overwhelm the reader with advertising.
Experiences and other products associated with the subscription should create a sense of belonging to a community for the reader.

What do you think about measuring digital audiences?

Núñez: The measurement of digital audiences in Spain is a very relevant issue, because the key to what is to be measured and for what purpose has not yet been found.

Generating digital audiences is relatively simple: it can be done through clickbait or the aggregation of third-party content, or even by buying clicks on the content generated by each media outlet. It can be done by moving under the radar viral content, easily propagated, but with dubious subject matter and which in any case, distorts the value of the journalistic brand.

In short, it is enough to understand how this measurement is developed and to act accordingly in order to appear in noble positions in the ranking. And use that to demonstrate the importance and influence of the medium. But is that real?

The key is what is measured and what it is measured for.

In Spain, the industry has changed its official measurer in recent years and the same practices continue to be reproduced, perverting the whole system and undermining its credibility.

We should make a deep, sectorial reflection on how we have to measure ourselves as media in all the channels where our audience interacts with our content, not only in the digital versions of our newspapers, but also with our presence in social networks and in the channels we have open in each platform.

The main problem is that we do not all play the same game: is it relevant for an advertiser a user who has entered a media outlet only once in a month, for example, because of a viral content on mobile that has been pushed by a search engine, or is it more relevant the average time spent by each reader on each content of the media outlet? What does the advertiser look for in the audience of a media outlet?

If it is advertising effectiveness that is sought, there is not much room for debate: advertisers know which media work for them and which do not, based on the capacity to serve quality impressions by each medium. Moreover, advertisers know the prescriptive capacity of editorial brands.

On the other hand, it is also essential to measure our digital subscribers. Let’s not forget: they are readers who pay to access our content. And that is an undeniable metric of media quality.

At PRISA Media we have promoted the digital subscriptions audit, which will be released in the coming months.

Our 350,000 subscribers are subscribers because of the content.

From that point of view, our metrics are even more powerful than they were before. That’s why it’s in our interest to audit and provide transparency measures on how our audiences, both paid and unpaid, are performing.

At Capital Markets Day you mentioned that you are concentrating on audio and video production for third parties, putting value on your IP. Can you tell us in more detail how this new line of business works?

Núñez: One of the keys to managing the media business is obviously the monetisation of what we do, which is the generation of original content. Content that we make on a daily basis. For our readers and for our listeners.

This generates a unique IP library that allows us to economically exploit that content in other formats and channels, both for the incremental audience it can generate and for the value of that IP to be developed by third parties.

We are working along these lines with products such as El Silencio Roto, El Enemigo and Los Papeles de Bárcenas, in which we are trying to convert our IP into other products that we can monetise both on our own channels and on other streaming platforms.

PRISA Media has won several awards with various innovative projects that include, among others, the use of AI. How do you encourage innovation?

We are very proud to have won the award for Best Audio Product of the Year at the INMA Global Media Awards with Victoria la voz del Futbol. This is a recognition of PRISA Media’s commitment to innovation and technology applied to information.

Meanwhile, VerificAudio, PRISA Media’s pioneering tool for the detection of fake or deepfakes generated with synthetic or technologically altered voices, has been nominated for the WAN-IFRA Digital Media Americas Awards.

We have also just received an international award from Adobe as a benchmark company in digital transformation, for the implementation of methodologies and tools that allow us to better profile our digital audiences.

We see innovation as an integral part of our day-to-day operations.

In this regard, we have consolidated all technological and digital innovation in a single division that cuts across all media.

This allows us to do two things: on the one hand, to aggregate scale and ideas in order to have a privileged relationship with the major platforms and technological players around the Spanish language and the quality of our content; on the other, to detect opportunities for innovation associated with each medium, both for vertical implementation and for export to other media in the group.

How is PRISA Media approaching the work with IAG?

Núñez: JJoining forces with OpenAI opens new avenues for us to engage with our audience. Leveraging ChatGPT’s capabilities allows us to present our in-depth, quality journalism in novel ways, reaching individuals who seek credible and independent content.

This is a definite step towards the future of news, where technology and human expertise merge to enrich the reader’s experience. This is a new chapter in Prisa Media’s digital journey, where we are continuously improving our position as the largest Hispanic media company.

By working hand in hand with OpenAI what we are doing is contributing to ensure that the information on which LLMs are trained is verified from the outset, as the best antidote to fake news is the quality of our news products.

How do you nurture talent within the organisation?

Núñez: In order for talent to develop, it needs to find the right working ecosystem that promotes transparency, meritocracy, ownership of projects and the development of skills and opportunities for growth.

For us it is essential that our teams are motivated, and in this respect the issue of ownership is fundamental. It is important that the teams have the capacity for autonomy and action on the projects and that they are allowed to make mistakes. What is more, they must make mistakes. Risks must be taken, obviously always in a controlled way, and the company’s management has an obligation to promote this.

It is also important that the teams have a defined, defined, visible and actionable project.

This requires clear communication, helping to set expectations and defining the appropriate follow-up. When teams are aware of the objectives and goals, they can work together more effectively to achieve them.

Finally, promoting continuous feedback among peers and with leaders in a transparent manner, which allows talent to be made visible and encourages internal promotion, which is paramount.

The media business is vulnerable and unpredictable. Do you have any tips to share with the audience on how to stay sustainable and relevant?

Núñez: We must not deny either the present or the future, and we must take advantage of the opportunities presented by the new disruptive technological environments to continue doing what we have always done, which will continue to be more necessary than ever, which is to produce quality information.

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