“IF IT’S BREAKING NEWS – WE MUST BE LIVE WITHIN 180 SECONDS” – INTERVIEW WITH THOMAS MATTSSON, EDITOR IN CHIEF AT EXPRESSEN

By June 14, 2016Uncategorized

Expressen is the second largest news publisher in Sweden. Through heavy investments in their digital and TV business, they’re day by day getting closer to their goal: beating their prime competitor Aftonbladet on all platforms. Strossle visited chief editor Thomas Mattsson to learn more about Expressen’s TV venture and their efforts to increase the reach.


Expressen has a very ambitious TV project going on, with a growing content catalogue, live streams and programs. What’s your master plan?

Expressen overall goal is to be the number one reach media in Sweden – and TV is a key component in this plan. We’re still in the first phase of our TV project, which is all about investing in people, technology and awareness. In the second phase, which we’re entering into now, we’ll focus on delivering: better programs, better studio sets and new ad solutions. The third phase will be about monetisation. But it’s very important that we stick to the tabloid soul, and avoid copying what the broadcasters do. We have the privilege of being story centric. We’re not obligated to producing a 30-minute news cast, regardless of how much we have to say, our broadcasts can be six hours or nothing, depending on what’s going on in the world. The format enables us to put the story at the heart of the production.

Still, you have partnered with one of the world’s largest linear broadcasters, CNN. What do you expect to get from them?

We’ve partnered with CNN partly because we want to learn more about TV production, but also because we want to learn more about their digital distribution. They’re very progressive on Facebook, Snapchat and other platforms. They’ve also successfully launched a number of sub brands like CNN Money and CNN Style, all competing for the leading position in their respective niches. This is very inspiring to us since we have 25-30 brands to keep track of. All in all CNN today is a quite different player than the linear broadcaster we used to know.

Naturally we also get access to a lot of great content, not least from the upcoming US election. And every now and then CNN will use material from us. If you are global media player you need to have affiliates around the world that can help you source content.

Expressen has the same owner, Bonnier, as Sweden’s largest private broadcaster TV4. Are you, or will you become a competitor when it comes to news?

Of course there are situations where we compete, but the general answer is no. If we were to challenge broadcasters through technology and staffing, we would have to go head-to-head with some very strong competitors. Instead, our advantage must be that we have an evening paper culture which means that we’re faster and have a different voice. Our goal is to be live within 180 seconds when there are breaking news, like the attacks in Paris when Johan T Lindvall left a private dinner to report live via Skype. Then it’s not about image quality, it’s about being first. Broadcasters are not used to working like that.

Your viewing numbers are growing quickly and you’re getting closer to Aftonbladet. But when I look at Aftonbladet it seems their TV numbers have been almost flat – at least on desktop – for a number of years. Is there a limit to how much TV newspaper readers can consume?

Most likely. The aggregated daily reach for Aftonbladet and Expressen is around 4-5 million people, which is already a very large part of the potential audience in Sweden. To grow we must convert more readers into viewers on the existing platforms, and add new platforms, like e.g. Apple-TV. The challenge is that you need to adapt the content to each platform to optimize the experience. On Apple-TV you only have the video media. This calls for more graphics. But video with graphics is not optimal for the mobile screen. Hence, it’s likely that we’ll have multiple streams for different platforms.

Even if you’re much more cost efficient than the traditional brodcasters, you’re still investing quite heavily in your TV. What will be your most important revenue streams when you enter your monetisation phase?

First, it’s a common mistake among people who don’t understand the media logic to break down media into its different elements and analyze the profitability. You can’t do that. If we were to launch the company “Expressen Investigative Journalism AB” it would never be profitable in it’s own rights. The same applies to our TV. Today it’s a necessary ingredient in attracting and retaining visitors. Having said that, we of course have important revenue streams from video. Today it’s mainly from pre-rolls, sponsoring and native. Skandia’s “Ideas for life” is one example where we have an integrated sponsor for a program series.

What we don’t have is paid content, product placement and operator revenues. I’ve said many years that I want paid content, but we still haven’t done it, mainly because we’re still focusing on building reach. Product placement is proving difficult because of the limited reach of each respective program. As for operator revenues I can see that happening in two ways: the first would be that operators pay us to distribute Expressen TV, like they do with VGTV in Norway. The second alternative is that we become an “operator” ourselves. We have better reach than the largest operator, so why shouldn’t we be able to drive traffic to broadcasters’ Play channels, and get paid for that?

Talking about traffic, most publishers get a growing part of their visitors from Facebook, 50% is not unusual. Now some industry experts say this is risky since publishers give Facebook to much control over the traffic and the revenues. What’s your view?

The main purpose with our Facebook presence is to increase the traffic to our niche sections. Expressen operates 31 Facebook accounts, of which seven reach more than one million users per week. In total we’re the largest news publisher on Facebook. I would have been sceptical if this growth was accompanied by diminishing direct traffic, but that’s not the case. Our numbers show cleary – at least so far – that the stronger position we have on Facebook, the more direct traffic we get. Over time we have succeeded in converting Facebook traffic to direct traffic.

We use to say that social media is like newsbills, you have control over the content, but not the way it’s displayed. That’s handled by the newsagent or gas station.

How about instant Articles, where Facebook hosts the articles and can sell the ads? Looking forward they might change the algorithms and the commercial terms, putting content providers in a weaker position.

Yes they might, but again, I like to look at them as any other distribution partner we have for the print, like the retailers and gas stations. We’re used to negotiating with third party vendors. If Facebook claims an unjust share of the revenues in the future, they won’t get anymore content. My experience is that Facebook sees us as an important partner, even though their support can be slow sometimes.

Why is increased reach so important?

I think Sweden can carry two or three major publishers. Number one will be doing well, number two will survive, and maybe number three. Our ambition to become number one has nothing to do with nostalgia [Editor’s note: Expressen was number one until 1996], it’s about having a healthy business. Also, being number one in Sweden means being number one in the world. Sweden is a very advanced media market.


Do you see a risk that you become too “click-oriented” in your efforts to maximize reach in social media?

There’s always a risk, but remember this is nothing new. Broadcasters have always designed their schedules etc based on how their viewers behave, in order to optimize their ads and revenues. And if you look at it from a different perspective: what value would our journalism have if no one read it?

Finally, everyone in media talks about the value of data – what’s your take on that?

Knowing more about your audience means that you can serve them with more relevant content and more relevant ads. The drawback is that people might miss things they should read, and just strengthen their existing world view. The big question is how much of the experience that should be personalised? I think it makes more sense to have a higher degree of personalisation in sections like sports, so you can follow only the sports you’re interested in, but less personalisation in news or politics.

By Dan Willstrand

REACH SUMMARY BY THOMAS MATTSSON:

Expressen is number one on Facebook, in print and on desktop-tv (according to the last KIA index in which Aftonbladet participated). Aftonbladet is number one in mobile and on desktop.

THOMAS MATTSSON’S FAVORITES:

  • Favorite publication: Liverpool Echo’s coverage of Liverpool FC.
  • Best book: “The Insider” by Piers Morgan was breath taking in so many ways…
  • Best TV series: “West Wing” or possibly “Yes Minister”?
  • Best artist: Bruce Springsteen, of course.