News Limited is one of Australia’s largest media companies, with interests in newspaper and magazine publishing, internet, pay TV, and film and television production. The company publishes seven metropolitan and 136 regional and community newspapers across Australia in print and digital formats, as well as the news.com.au and foxsports.com.au sites. Its News Life Media segment produces magazines, such as GQ, Vogue Australia, and related digital sites. News Limited is wholly owned by News Corporation, a diversified, global media company.
In 2009, News Limited realized a need to overhaul its publication systems and processes to remain competitive in the digital age, particularly to provide content designed for mobile devices and to introduce new services, such as paywalls for premium content. The company’s ageing content management system could not support rapid publication—a critical competitive advantage in the news industry—nor could it be used to develop new digital sites quickly and cost-effectively.
After implementing Oracle WebCenter Sites as its new digital content management platform, News Limited can now publish stories in less than 90 seconds, compared to 15 minutes in the past. The company has also added new features, such as story and gallery wizards and intelligent, internal search and automated editorial-content enhancement functions that have increased the quality of content, surpassing expectations for greater customer satisfaction and higher subscription numbers. In addition, Oracle WebCenter Sites supported new initiatives, such as a premium-content paywalls and content that is customized for mobile devices.
In the past few years, the newspaper industry has undergone a seismic change, moving from print to digital as the most popular way to distribute content. The number of customers using mobile devices to access news stories also increased. News Limited averages around 700 million page impressions across its Oracle WebCenter Sites-powered news sites and attracts up to 3.5 million unique browsers each month.
To support the move into digital content, News Limited had to ensure that its editorial staff could publish material quickly and efficiently. However, its ageing content management system was not user friendly, having a convoluted publication process that impeded the company’s ability to break news before its competitors.
“We would see publishing queues—the stories lined up for publication—collapsing under the old system,” said Jason Brock, technology manager, News Limited. “Often, we would publish a story, and it would appear in some parts of the Website but not others because we had a cumbersome process for flushing old content, taking between 10 and 15 minutes for new content to propagate across all our Websites.”
Between 2009– and 2010, News Limited implemented Oracle WebCenter Sites as its new digital content management platform. The company uses the platform to generate, manage, and support content for seven metropolitan and four regional mastheads, and the news.com.au, and foxsports.com.au sites. Where previously it took up to 15 minutes to publish content, the company is now meeting an internal service level agreement (SLA) to publish in less than 90 seconds.
“We publish on average 15,000 stories and photo galleries a month using the Oracle platform,” said Brock. “Obviously, our editorial teams being the first to break a story is what gets readers out of bed in the morning—and Oracle WebCenter Sites helps them do this. The Oracle products have more efficient workflows and technical processes that allow us to get a greater number of stories approved and published, much faster.”
Oracle WebCenter Sites also provided editorial staff with the ability to quickly change page layouts without help from the IT team and without needing extensive technical knowledge.
“The metaphor I use is that we’ve given them a bunch of Lego blocks, and they can effectively build whatever they want,” said Brock.
Oracle WebCenter Sites enabled News Limited to evolve content creation workflows to increase the speed and efficiency at which it can create, approve, and publish news stories.
For example, the company added a story wizard to help staff research and write stories, a gallery-creation wizard, so it can quickly post new images and videos, and a news feed management system to monitor story updates and put new content onto Websites.
“The flexibility of Oracle WebCenter Sites puts additional tools in the hands of our nontechnical editorial staff, enabling them to quickly create content and manage the look and feel of our Websites and the day-to-day production,” said Brock.
News Limited also set up systems that automatically repurpose new stories that were created by its print publications, using Oracle WebCenter Sites, so they can be quickly published online.
“Our editorial staff has a dashboard to watch content flowing in, not only from our print publications but also from our wire feeds and news other sources,” said Brock. “They can very quickly pick up a story from a newspaper or wire feed, generate a story from Oracle WebCenter Sites, and get it online in literally five or six clicks, as opposed to the previous convoluted process.
“I’d say this streamlined content creation process has improved staff productivity by around 200%.”
Staff can also use a search feature to look for existing stories and images within Oracle WebCenter Sites to supplement new stories. For example, the editorial team can add links to related stories written a week ago as background information, and Oracle WebCenter Sites implementation will automatically suggest the most relevant related content. The Oracle platform also makes it easy to integrate with external content and multimedia providers.
“We’ve given our editorial team the freedom to choose from a range of asset types—text, images, videos—and place the assets within a story or onto a specific area of a site,” said Brock. “It’s an easy, effective way for our writers and editors to provide a rich storytelling experience for our readers.”
Based on subscription results, readers appreciate the richer content and fast updates. “We are exceeding our subscription targets, whether it is bundling a digital edition with the print edition or a straight digital subscription,” said Brock. “The positive reader feedback validates our work—if people weren’t getting high-quality content in a timely manner, we wouldn’t be meeting our numbers.”
With more people relying on the internet for news, Oracle WebCenter Sites is proving it can accommodate spikes in readers and requests for content.
When there is a major breaking news story—such as an election announcement or updates on natural disasters—the number of requests can reach more than 52,000 per second, as readers around the world access News Limited’s Websites. This readership surpasses that of the company’s nearest competitor and leads the market for the number of monthly page impressions.
“On breaking news days, the data offload also increases from 92% to 96% as national editorial teams start to channel news traffic and focus their efforts on specific digital assets that readers can download, such as photos and videos,” said Brock. “Oracle WebCenter Sites supports increases in users and requests for downloadable assets with ease.”
The Oracle platform can also quickly scale for increases in internal users. The platform currently supports 250 concurrent editors and editorial staff members, enabling them to publish content within the 90-second SLA. The number of concurrent users is expected to increase once News Limited begins moving its regional mastheads onto the Oracle platform, and Brock is confident the solution can meet the publishing demands of a large number of staff members.
Previously, editorial staff found it difficult to create content and associate it with specific news or lifestyle sections and Websites. This was particularly apparent when staff members wanted to syndicate content, such as sports-related news to other metropolitan and regional Websites.
“The user interface and interaction workflows on the old system weren’t intuitive or user-friendly—our people had to think like a computer to associate the content with a given section,” explained Brock. “In addition, if we wanted to redeploy an existing site, we would have to manually recreate it in our other masthead sites.”
According to Brock, syndication is a much simpler process using Oracle WebCenter Sites.
“We can now create clones or copies of those individual pages or sections, which dramatically reduces the amount to time to roll out new products,” he said. “Couple that with the work we have done around syndicating text and images, and we now have a centralized editorial team creating content in one spot and propagating it to any number of Websites within the same Oracle WebCenter Sites instance.”
News Limited’s legacy system made it extremely difficult and time-consuming to launch new microsites. The company had to undertake extensive programming and ended up with about 1,000 front-end templates that were very hard to maintain.
“We were not using any modern software development lifecycle approaches,” said Brock. “We were essentially copying and pasting code, meaning launching new sites was a very developer-heavy activity. There was also a lot of effort involved in moving newly built Websites or sections from a preproduction to a production environment.”
The prolonged development time hindered the company’s ability to be first-to-market for new digital sites and content. It also had to find a way to efficiently modify the sites once they were launched. In addition, finding programmers who were familiar with the old Web content management technology was becoming difficult and expensive.
Using Oracle WebCenter Sites, developing and building a new site is now up to 75% faster compared to the previous system.
“If we were still using our old system, it would take around four months to write the code, build the site, and implement it in the system,” said Brock. “The rapid build workflow of Oracle WebCenter Sites allows us to create and publish content into new sections and sites in about four weeks, depending on the amount of customized design.
“One of the first programs I participated in when I joined News Limited was redeveloping the news.com.au site. It took about one year to reinvigorate the existing content verticals and create new ones. If we had been using Oracle WebCenter Sites, I think it would have taken around six to seven months, from standing start to finish.”
According to Brock, News Limited has developed a feature that will further improve efficiency by adapting the existing site launcher function to meet news-specific requirements.
“We built a function in the Oracle platform that essentially lets us right click and create a copy of an existing site,” he said. “It will help us build new sites and get content to our readers even faster.”
According to Brock, Oracle WebCenter Sites’ version control feature has made it easier for developers to build and test new sites.
“In the past, developers could not have a local installation of the application on their desktops,” he explained. “They would all be working on a shared development environment, which was highly inefficient. With Oracle, developers can work on local versions of the site on their machines, then contribute back to a centralized code base, which is deployed into testing environments.”
In 2011, News Limited became one of the first companies in the Australian media market to erect a paywall across some of its largest online newspaper properties to offer premium content to customers. Over the course of the project, Brock and his team worked to provide new back-end functionality to Oracle WebCenter Sites.
“Because of the way the Oracle platform was architected for our implementation, we had the flexibility to apply the customizations needed to support premium and free content on our Web properties,” said Brock. “It enabled us to rapidly implement a paywall on a technology platform that was not built to distinguish between premium and free content. On our old platform, building a paywall would have been more difficult and expensive, as it would have required engineers that understood Tool Command Language.”
The complex functionality required to publish digital content behind the paywall is effectively hidden from the nontechnical personnel responsible for producing the content. Editorial staff can flag stories as premium content, report on the volume of premium content, and the percentage of premium and free content across the two properties that have a paywall: The Australian and The Herald Weekly Times sites.
On the front-end, display side of the properties, new identity management and subscription management components are integrated into the system to help manage access to paid content.
Oracle WebCenter Sites is also powering the content for News Limited’s mobile Websites, such as m.news.com.au.
“Using a single platform for our desktop and mobile properties simplifies product development and support,” said Brock. “Our engineers only need to deal with one technology stack. It’s also efficient from a content syndication perspective, because the same content is coming out of the same platform, through the same technology stack. Oracle WebCenter Sites’ functionality makes it easy to export content in a way that’s compatible with and optimized for our mobile platform.”
Looking ahead, News Limited wants to further improve workflow within Oracle WebCenter Sites to make it even easier and frictionless for editorial staff to create, package, and publish content. There is particular interest in the real-time decision making features available in the latest version of the solution.
News Limited considered a number of top-tier content management products, including Vignette and Adobe before choosing FatWire, which was acquired by Oracle in 2011 and renamed Oracle WebCenter Sites.
“What really got our attention were the solution’s site-building features, particularly the speed at which we could copy properties and build the basic foundations of properties,” said Brock.
The company also upgraded to Oracle Database, Enterprise Edition 11g and implemented Oracle Database Gateway for ODBC. The Oracle Database contains 10 years of data.
“By consolidating on the Oracle stack, we have access to people who understand our infrastructure,” said Brock. “For example, by using Oracle Database Gateway for ODBC—a code that sits between the Tomcat server container and Oracle Database—we can go to Oracle and say we want to tune our infrastructure from the database right up to the content servers, and we know that it will happen.”
News Limited started implementing Oracle WebCenter Sites in 2009 and went live in mid-2010. According to the research firm Gartner, it was the largest Web content management project in the southern hemisphere. The first Website to go live on the new platform was the Daily Telegraph site, followed by the remaining six metropolitan and four regional mastheads, and the news.com.au and foxsports.com.au properties.
“We think News Limited has the largest footprint for Oracle WebCenter Sites, globally, and I’ve absolutely no hesitation in saying that we have asked this product to do more than any other Oracle customer on the planet,” said Brock. “We have pioneered a raft of innovations that have now been incorporated into the core product that Oracle provides.”
News Limited also worked with Oracle Consulting to tune the Oracle Database. “The Oracle Consulting team was very responsive to our issues,” said Brock. “We worked with skilled engineers to stabilize the system and ensure it was rock-solid and reliable.”
Advice from News Limited
When it comes to transformational programs, try to solve the problem as simply as possible because it will minimize the amount of risk you will deal with once you put your solution or product out in to the market. The faster you can reduce risk and implement change, the further the lead you’re going to have over your competitors.
News Limited worked with Oracle Partners Next Digital and Ericsson to implement Oracle WebCenter Sites. Next Digital helped News Limited to set up the platform, stabilize it, and roll out the metropolitan mastheads.
“We were happy with Next Digital’s work on the project,” said Brock. “It was a significant project with high stakes, and the team delivered for us.”