Triple Trend Impact: Media Verticals, Direct-to-Consumer Strategies, and AI in 2024

by Cobus Heyl

I’ll start back to front.

Media verticals

Community-first has become a mantra but for a reason. 

Media brands focused on well-defined communities of interest develop deep relationships with their members. This is true for independent creator-led media and consumer and B2B publishers of all sizes.

It is not a new trend, but it has renewed focus following the flops of social media-era brands such as BuzzFeed. 

There is a realisation that you must own the relationship with your audiences, and tapping into consumers’ personal and professional passions serves that purpose.

At a time when publishers are seeing significant drops in traffic from social media and even search, developing those direct relationships is more important than ever. 

Expert Substacks and podcasts have exploded for a reason, which has much to do with narrowing the focus and targeting interests. 

Of course, legacy media like consumer magazines and B2B have long known the value of specialist media publishing; newspapers, too, are seeing the value of verticals, as evidenced by The New York Times’ investment into categories such as Cooking and Games and brands such as Wirecutter and The Athletic.

Within this framework, a focus on quality content is paramount. There is so much noise (feel free to replace this with a ruder word!) out there; the media should not add to it but cut through it. It requires laser focus.

Experts operating in international content licensing know this well, as their whole business builds on the value of premium content Now, more than ever, publishers should not skimp on quality.

Along with this comes trust. We cannot all be our own fact checkers all the time to make sure what we’re reading or watching is credible. We need our trusted gatekeepers, whether individuals or bigger brands.

Last year, we published two reports (one B2B and one consumer media) on innovation in this sector. They focus on European publishers, but the trends identified in our qualitative and quantitative research for the reports are universal. 


Every so often, a new revenue trend grabs all the attention, but we also know that no such single trend is the panacea. 

In recent years, subscriptions have stolen the limelight, and justifiably so after many years of free premium content online. However, direct-to-consumer strategies go beyond that and are paramount in delivering first-party data, deep relationships, and the ability to monetise in various ways.

Here, the link with media verticals becomes obvious. The more focused you are, the better your chances to develop deep data relationships and build direct monetisation strategies around them.

As an events-led media business ourselves, events are an area of enormous interest, and nothing says “direct-to-consumer” more than an in-person gathering.

We see some exciting trends here. In Q2 of 2024, we also commissioned research on the future of events with some interesting trends here, much of which highlights the desire for focus and building deep relationships. For example:

  1. Attendees across fourteen industry sectors indicated that they prefer smaller events (e.g. a hundred people) over ones attracting thousands upon thousands of attendees.
  2. Respondents listed the agenda theme and topics as crucial in deciding whether to attend an event. Focus wins. At the same time, they say post-event is the networking they most value – nothing beats in-person events for connecting with peers around your field of interest.
  1. There is an absolute limit of no more than two hundred participants to create an intimate environment to connect and converse.
  2. With our Huddles concept (basically “Meet the Expert”), we offer attendees the opportunity to arrange one-to-one consulting sessions with selected partners to discuss challenges, solutions, and opportunities.
  3. The event has a highly focused agenda with carefully selected speakers. All our speaker sessions  are off-the-record in the spirit of open, honest and valuable conversations.

Artificial Intelligence

It feels like anything you write about this space will be replaced by new developments tomorrow; the pace is that staggering!

It will, of course, be ideal if the industry can approach all of this with a unified industry voice, although, one has to be realistic here that that is near impossible due to market forces, regulatory frameworks and jurisdictions affecting organisations and brands differently.

The bottom line is you cannot stand on the road of progress, and as with any new technological disruption, there will be friction and fragmented approaches. It’s par for the course.

One of the positive observations in this whole saga is that publishers are much more proactive around AI and Big Tech relationships than they were around the Internet in the 1990s and especially the early 2000s (Google, Facebook, etc). 

There will always be those with their heads in the sand, wishing for something to disappear, but we do not see many today. 

It’s a good start when rights and content licensing are part of the agenda at this very early stage.  After all, it is not as if the model for licensing copyrighted content does not already exist!


Cobus Heyl