• Season:

Ep. 4, Featuring Markus Robinson from Interactive One

The XWP Tonight Show — Season 1, Ep. 4, Featuring Markus Robinson

In this episode of the XWP Tonight Show, Amit Sion sits down with Markus Robinson, Vice President of Innovation and Creative at iOne Digital, to talk about how boosting ad revenue by increasing ad visibility from 30% to 80%. We also learn about the amazing success story of the founder, Cathy Hughes, the first black woman to have a publicly-traded company in the US.

Learn more about our work on iOne Digital in this episode.

Transcript:

Amit
So many publishers in the world, and one stands out with a distinctive voice for African Americans reaching 20 million unique visitors each month. That one publisher is iOne Digital. Tonight I have the pleasure of meeting with Markus Robertson, the Vice President of Innovation and Ceative at iOne Digital.

Markus, thank you for joining us and welcome to the show. How have you been?

Markus
Doing good, excited to speak to you.

Amit
iOne Digital has grown over the years and now has seven bold and powerful media brands for African Americans. It is such an important voice and interesting brand. Can you please tell me how it all began? 

Markus
Absolutely, absolutely. So in the 80s, about 40 years ago, our company Radio One at the time, was founded by a person by the name of Cathy Hughes. If you don’t know the story of Cathy Hughes, please look it up. She’s just an amazing person.

She’s still the chairman of the board to this day. But Cathy Hughes was the first black woman to ever have a publicly traded company in America. And so, back then, in the 80s, she started the company by working at the Howard University,

Howard is an HBCU, but, the Howard University radio station. She was able to then raise enough funds to acquire that radio station. And then leverage that radio station to buy another radio station and another one.

And then now Radio One is now called Urban One and consists of about 55 different radio stations across the nation. We have two television stations, TV One and Clear TV. And we also own an inner internet division, which has a bunch of websites that we hopefully will talk about later. But the interactive division, which is called iOne Digital and Cathy Hughes is just an amazing figure. And her story is just just as amazing as she is today.

Amit
That’s quite an amazing journey. To discuss performance, in real estate, it’s all about location. On the web, when location is virtual, it’s all about being found. And so much of that is performance. We’re about to launch a project together to improve the performance of iOne’s Bossip side. What do you see as the importance of performance to publishers? 

Markus
Performance is crucial. We look at it from three standpoints.

Number one, performance is important because we want to create a great user experience, right? Our users don’t want to wait on our pages to load to be able to consume the content that they come here for. So creating a user experience that is fast. Creating a user experience so that people can get to what they’re looking for quickly is important to us.

performance is important because we want to create a great user experience, right? Our users don’t want to wait on our pages to load to be able to consume the content that they come here for. So creating a user experience that is fast. Creating a user experience so that people can get to what they’re looking for quickly is important to us.

Markus Robinson, Vice President of Innovation and Creative @ iOne Digital

Number two, search, right? You mentioned in your question, search is important to us. It’s vital, and how people discover our content. And we know that Google and other search engines prioritize or like to crawl sites or have better user experience, that load faster. And so we see that as an opportunity just to increase search rank, and get a lot more traffic to our sites.

And the third is, we’re talking right now through our desktop machines, our laptop machines, but we know that the large majority of our traffic is our mobile audience. So it’s important for us to, as the devices get smaller and maybe computing size is not as great, we want to create an experience where, again, people can consume quickly, get to what they’re looking for, with as little interruption as possible.

Amit
I agree. And I think part of that is having the right hosting platform. iOne uses WordPress VIP, and this year XWP worked with iOne to upgrade from classic to the all new and shiny VIP Go. What are some of the benefits that you’re expecting to receive from this?

Markus
WordPress VIP has been a great partner, to be completely honest with you, and the VIP Go platform is just an extension of that partnership. Our expectation of VIP go is, one, it should give us a lot more control over what we’re allowed to have. One of the things about classic, it was very restrictive, no plugins, you had to go through a really extensive kind of code review before we can release.

The new VIP Go gives us the ability to add plugins as we see necessary. But we can also push code a lot faster without the time and review. And we’ve also just seen some performance enhancements as well, just from the migration.

We had to migrate a lot of sites over and your team has been very, very helpful in helping us get that process going and making it as smooth as possible. But we think from the VIP Go solution, we’re going to get faster sites, the ability to add a lot more plugins so we can add more features a lot quicker, but also release code a lot faster than we’ve ever been able to do it before in the past. So we’re very excited to be on the new VIP Go platform. 

Amit
Now on to our general engagement together. So we’ve been working with iOne for four years, our focus is always about trying to first understand the customer’s business goals. And one element that we’re quite proud of, is our support of increasing iOne’s ad revenue. Can you please tell us a bit about the custom ad solution that we worked on together? 

Markus
So working with your team, we kind of went down the platform of trying to do a couple different things. One, we had the challenge of viewability. Viewability, as we start to grow, our clients are very focused on making sure that their ads load, but they’re also loading in view. And so working with your team, we were able to create a solution that increased our viewability, from sub 30s, to closer to 80% viewability.

And so working with your team, we were able to create a solution that increased our viewability, from sub 30s, to closer to 80% viewability.

Markus Robinson, Vice President of Innovation and Creative @ iOne Digital

So it just has done great work around that. The second thing was, back to that user experience question.

It was a big important process to create a user experience, and ads should not take precedence, right? So again, my goal is to get to my content as quickly as possible. So we didn’t want our ads to block that experience from happening. So as a part of that ad experience that you talked about, we saw an increase in viewability, but more importantly, we created an experience that I think users like to come to.

They don’t have to wait on the site to load our ads to finish processing for them to be able to consume our content. So we were able to lazy load the ads as the user scrolls down. So the sites will load faster, but also create a better viewable experience for our clients. So it was a two-fold win, our users win and our clients win because their ads are now in view.

Amit
That makes sense, because as a publisher, you need to make revenue from ads, whilst at the same time giving an excellent experience to your customers. Finally, how do you see publishing changing in the future, and what are some of the things that you’re doing at iOne to keep up and stay ahead of it all? 

Markus
Yeah, great question. So we’re seeing a lot of changes in publishing.

I think that’s one of the most exciting things about the business that we’re in is that it’s always changing. So where the blog was the king, text based was the king, we’re starting to see other forms of medium kind of surface up, right? So video is a place where we’re focused on so we’re not only creating great video content for our users, but trying our best to integrate our video content with the great kind of text based written content that we’re doing on our websites right now. So there’s a big opportunity for us to win in video. 

One of the things that potentially helps us is the fact that we own two television stations, right? So we’re creating really compelling video content. And we’re creating them in a way now that they can be snackable and serviceable in social and other places as well.

The other place we see opportunity is in audio. And I know that sounds a little strange, but with the growth of podcasts, and sites like clubhouse or apps like clubhouse, we see audio as a huge opportunity. Clubhouse is basically an audio chat room that has taken the world by storm. We think there’s an opportunity for us to win in audio as well, leaning into our kind of radio roots. We have 55 different radio stations that reach hundreds of millions of people. And so we think we have an opportunity to leverage audio in a way that is compelling for our audience as well. 

So the biggest challenge is how do you integrate audio and video and text in a way that’s native and organic to our users? But also, how do you differentiate yourself and stand out from all the noise out there, right?  So those are probably the biggest challenges and changes that we see. 

And I think unlike a lot of other companies, I think we’re positioned to do very well because we do have a parent company and two sister companies that can support us in both audio and video.

Amit
Markus, it’s been a pleasure to chat with you today. We are so proud of the work that XWP does for iOne. It is such an important media publisher for America. 

Markus
It’s my pleasure. You guys have been great to work with, great partners, we’ve had a few, and by far, you all stand out against the rest. So we definitely appreciate it and, cheers to a great future.

Amit
Thank you everyone. We’ll see you next time.

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