Problem solved: With limited newsroom resources, Fædrelandsvennen (FVN) in Norway decided to test automating real estate sales reporting in order to 1. free up reporter time and 2. create more relevant content, and thereby more reasons for readers to visit the site. The content sits behind a paywall, but the page views alone generated by these articles means the project breaks even. The conversions it drives is profit on top.
“We promoted the automated real estate texts when we launched. But since then we’ve done no promotion and we’ve spent very little time on this content, and yet it generates steady traffic growth and extra revenue for us.”
Mads Ommundsen, Project Lead
There is money on the table for publishers who are willing to test content automation – even at a low level of effort. The case is proved by Fædrelandsvennen and their publication of automated real estate articles. FVN is a regional title and part of the large Norwegian media group Polaris. In early 2021 they decided to test automating coverage of single house sales, in part inspired by fellow regional title Bergens Tidende. A year and a half later this content is making the publisher a profit – and that’s just from the page views/ads. The articles are also behind a paywall. “They drive conversions, but it’s a bit trickier calculating exactly how much revenue that represents, so we can’t really comment on that. But applying our standard ad revenue per page view, we see that they generate enough for this project to break even,” says Project Lead Mads Ommundsen.
FVN’s objectives behind testing content automation included freeing up time for reporters to produce more qualified journalism as well as publishing more relevant local content, giving readers new reasons to come to the site. “In the first instance we wanted to get to a point where we were comfortable with publishing the texts automatically. It turned out the process of getting to that point was shorter and easier than we had anticipated – we were live after just four weeks of working with United Robots,” says Ommundsen.
When FVN launched the home sales articles in Q1 2021, they did do some extra promotion on the Home page. Post the launch phase, the content now has a promo box a bit further down on the page, which is simply automatically updated with the latest published sale. The exception is if there’s been a sale which has generated an alert from the robot, either due to the sales price being over €1mi, or because the seller or buyer name appears on FVN’s list of local celebrities and dignitaries. When that’s the case, it might warrant an adjusted headline or different image, and sometimes the story gets moved outside the normal promo box. “We used to write about these extra interesting sales before as well, but with the robot, the risk of missing a good story is significantly reduced,” says Ommundsen.
At the moment, FVN is not doing any automatic geographic segmentation of the real estate content – i e they have not cracked how they are going to send the relevant articles to the individual reader. Beyond the promo box, content discovery is currently limited to a search function on the site, where readers can look for the sales in their village or town. According to Mads Ommundsen, this is something the publisher is working to solve.
FVN has also recently (autumn 2022) started publishing automated business stories based on local companies’ annual reports. “That project has been even easier, as we feel secure in knowing how the process and the collaboration with United Robots works. One challenge we have though, is getting the balance right between automated stories and the journalism our reporters produce. We don’t want to flood the site with robot generated content.”
That said, Ommundsen sees great potential for local publishers. “I’m sure many small newsrooms face the challenge of having to decide what to do less of, in order to free up time for reporters to produce the important, investigative stories. And in that situation, automated content is a fantastic asset. I really don’t think you should look at it as a way to save money or cut down on journalists. It’s a complement. And even at this point, when all we do is auto-publish the texts we get from the robot, it makes us additional revenue every day.”