Hearst’s New Central “Operating System” Powers a Digital Company

Whatever happened to the newspaper empire William Randolph Hearst founded in 1887? It has grown out of newspapers almost entirely, and now has 350 different businesses in 150 countries.

According to Troy Young, President of Digital for Hearst, half of the company’s content will be video soon. Young, who joined the company four years ago from Say Media to help build a platform that could guide the legacy print publisher into the 21st century, has not had an easy time trying to align a company focused on siloed magazines and newspapers around a single digital objective. Hearst is actually still moving from its old content creation processes to what it will be — a centralized, platform-driven content factory that rolls out creative assets to whatever brands wish to run it and collects data.

To get from where Hearst was to where it must be for the future, the company had to learn new ways of generating content, new ways of editing, and new ways to interact with its audiences, wherever they happen to be.

Four years in, Hearst has had a 350% increase in its audience, both on and off the site, and its revenue has almost tripled. It has the most brands on Snapchat of any media company, and it makes good use of Instagram.  And while Young does admit that anyone in the digital media business must be “ruthlessly efficient,” he says Hearst’s profitability is the best in the business.

The change started with a unified digital platform called “media OS,” and the centralization of many processes around that core technology. Today Hearst has about 40 services detached from a specific CMS that allow people to edit content, fix photos,  manipulate video, all culminating in a front end with the needs of advertisers in mind. The digital Hearst is like a gigantic content library managing all the company’s digital assets from GIFs to text, to video and all the data associated with that content..

The platform handles data not only from Hearst’s publishing businesses, but also its TV business, and some businesses that Hearst does not even own. That data can be used both by editors and by advertisers. This is where Young thinks the future of the digital media business will be, with platform builders who can server multiple businesses.

That’s different from a fancy-named proprietary CMS, Young says. Hearst’s MediaOS includes advertiser data,  native advertising, data that helps them rank all the content, all the video pieces and all the syndication across brands, and bundles everything up into a package that can be distributed to all Hearst’s end points.

Not only does the new system handle all the back end processes you would expect it to handle, but the company now has a horizontal approach to its newsrooms as well, and reporters collaborate to product content for more than a single Hearst brand. A central news team is on point for breaking news and distributes it out to any editor who plans to cover that piece of news. No editor is obliged to take the content created by the central organization, because the most important part of each business is still its brand, but if they were planning to cover it anyway, why use different resources for each brand?

To us, this seems like a very forward thinking approach to maintaining a unique editorial brand and still being able to capitalize on shared resources. Hearst is a mighty ship, and it has turned in a decidedly different direction over the past four years.