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Robots driving digital subscription value


Problem solved: A new group wide strategy for doubling the number of digital subscribers meant local media group NTM needed to create more value to drive engagement with readers. Robots in the newsroom are part of the solution.

Anna-Karin_frilagd-tight"If you want to be successful with automated content, you have to handle it like you do reporter written articles. If you’ve identified that it has value, and subscribers appreciate it, then you need to promote it – and you will get results."
Anna Karin Tilleby, Project Manager Content Development


As one of the Swedish news publishers in the first wave of content automation deployment, local media group NTM “employed” their first robot back in 2016. As of 2020, the robots working for NTM are very much part of the group's renewed efforts around the reader revenue business. The goal is to double the number of digital subscribers over three years, and the strategy is all about proving the value of local news. That includes identifying what readers value, strengthening the relationships with them and creating habits.

“To create value for readers, you need good journalism and good employees,” says NTM Chief Digital Reader Revenue Officer Jens Pettersson. “For us, that includes robots – they are fast, focused and productive.”

One of the key benefits of the robots, is the time they free up for the 450 journalists across the 18 NTM newsrooms to produce quality journalism. What the robots do is provide fast and high volume production of routine reporting on key topics – in NTM’s case, that includes lower division sports, real estate sales, company registrations, traffic and soon weather as well. NTMs top reporter (covering topics like Covid-19 and crime) in terms of subscriber page views achieved 4.9 mi (logged in) page views in 2021. By comparison, the robots drove almost double that, 9.4 mi, equivalent to 4% of the total. With the robot content, the pattern is lots of stories with relatively few readers each, while the opposite is true for the top reporter stories.

Jens points out that it’s key to get the reporters on board with content automation. “We’ve found that it is absolutely possible to convince them by showing the data and the effect the automation has on reader engagement. They start to see it as an add-on to the journalism, allowing them to focus on what they are trained to do.”

Real estate most valuable content. “Real estate sales are the automated articles that create the most value for us,” says Project Manager Content Development Anna Karin Tilleby. “And when we’ve done deeper analyses, we’ve found this is a topic readers really care about.” NTM uses a news algorithm to determine how and where content is published on the front pages. By using the metadata of each automated article, the most relevant content can be pushed to the right user at the right time. “Expensive house sales are super popular with readers – the higher the price, the higher the interest. We’ve set a price threshold for each of our 18 markets, and any story of a sale above that price gets a higher placement on the front page.”

In addition to the articles about single house sales, the real estate content is recycled and aggregated into top ten lists, for weeks, months and years. “These lists are smash hits for engagement, and are often some of the most read articles of the day,” says Anna Karin.

Result: Conversions & Retention. In 2021, robot written articles generated:
– 952 conversions to paying subscribers, equivalent to 2.5% of the total
– 9.4 mi logged-in pageviews; 4% of the total
– Time spent per article, per reader:
Sport 17 seconds
Traffic 20 seconds
Company registrations / bankruptcies 27 seconds
Real estate single sales 31 seconds
Real estate top lists 40 seconds

Real estate is one of seven prioritised topics which are currently the focus of a redesign of the NTM sites. The goal is to give the journalism better exposure and readers a better overview of it. New features include:
– Better and easier search on the front page, as well as the possibility to search exclusively within the topic of real estate.
– Exposure of robot written content specifically on the front page
– Personalised widgets to present relevant content to each reader based on region and interest. 

“If you want to be successful with automated content, you have to handle it like you do reporter written articles. If you’ve identified that it has value, and subscribers appreciate it, then you need to promote it – and you will get results,” says Anna Karin Tilleby.

She emphasises that it’s important to invest time in optimising the use of the automated content. “We continually analyse and adjust, to work out when and where to best publish to get the most out of the robot written articles in terms of page views, time spent and conversions. And we produce an annual report on the performance of all the automated content, looking for success stories around the group, what we can duplicate and build out in the other markets.”

Jens and Anna Karin presented at the Automation Workshop at the INMA Media Subscriptions Summit in Feb 2022. Watch it here.

20211007-UR_Playbook_RealEstate_Guide_coverDownload our guide: Real Estate: Achieving reach and revenue lift-off

We’ve collected best practices, insights and guidance to help publishers get started with automated real estate content. You'll get to know the automated real estate content, understand the value it can bring you and get guidance on how to nail the strategy and work out distribution and promotion.


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