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How Hungarian platform G7.hu engaged with its readers by turning its…

How Hungarian platform G7.hu engaged with its readers by turning its podcast series into interactive live events

The online news site used live podcasts to diversify its revenue streams and understand what content its readership was most interested in

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This case study was first published in Engagement Explained, a newsletter that brings you in-depth and practical engaged journalism case studies from news organisations across Europe. Sign up here to receive the next edition in your inbox.

In a nutshell

Through its live podcast events Hungarian platform, G7.hu, is developing a better understanding of its readership while at the same time creating new content and diversifying its revenue streams.

Background

  • G7.hu is an independent online platform based in Budapest, Hungary. Its aim is to provide in-depth, accessible coverage of economic and business topics, and to publish balanced articles on overlooked socio-economic issues.
  • G7.hu seeks to engage people who may not otherwise follow news related to the economy. Its readership also consists of business and policy decision-makers, relevant subject area experts and university students.
  • When it was founded in 2017, G7.hu had three more specific goals: to publish data journalism focussing on the Hungarian economy and its role within the EU; to carry out investigative journalism to reveal stories about the business sector in the context of state capture in Hungary; and to write explanatory articles about the everyday economy, including success stories about SME businesses in Hungary.
  • G7.hu was founded by Balázs Szentkirályi and Márton Kasnyik. Both Szentkirályi and Kasnyik had previously worked together at Index.hu, Hungary’s largest media organisation. During their careers they experienced the limiting effects of the government’s media policy and its attitude towards independent press, which has dramatically reduced press freedom in Hungary.
  • The team publishes around four to five articles a day, either in-depth articles whose content is inline with the founding aims of the platform, or shorter stories analysing international news within the Hungarian context. It also produces a regular podcast series with roughly one episode being released each week.
  • The organisation prioritises the quality of its articles over quantity. It is committed to only publishing articles which feature original, independent journalism as opposed to the ‘copy and paste’ journalism which it feels dominates much of the Hungarian media sector.
  • G7.hu publishes content directly onto its platform, which has around 40,000 real users per day. It also promotes its content through social media accounts, especially via Facebook where it has over 35,000 followers.
  • G7.hu is a nonprofit organisation. For the first three years of its existence, it received financial support from a group of socially conscious Hungarian businessmen who were either already active in the media sector or who wanted to support quality journalism. These donors provided G7.hu with capital to cover core costs on a yearly basis until mid-2020.
  • The platform is beginning to diversify its revenue streams through advertising, sponsored content and individual donations. It is hoping to soon become financially sustainable without needing to rely on philanthropy.
  • Advertising or sponsored content can take one of three different forms: advertising banners on the website, sponsored content (which is supplied by the advertiser), and sponsored content which is written by the team (these articles are indicated as sponsored content at the beginning and end of the article).
  • All content on the website is free to access, however readers can choose to support the publication by donating their chosen amount on a monthly basis or through a lump sum donation. Currently the platform has around 500 donors, whose contributions made up 6% of the organisation’s budget in 2020.
  • The organisation employs five full-time journalists and works with regular freelancers, in addition to occasionally publishing articles from Hungarian researchers and analysts.
  • Before COVID-19 made live events impossible, staff at G7.hu began experimenting with live podcast events which allowed them to engage directly with their audience and develop a new revenue stream.
Panel speakers and audience at a live podcast event in Budapest


How did they do it?

  • In November 2019, the team at G7.hu decided to transform its podcasts into live events. Before COVID-19, it managed to host four events, each featuring one or more expert speakers discussing a topic aligned with G7.hu’s core aims.
  • It experimented with location, format and ticketing each time in order to test different methods for engaging with their audiences.
  • By turning the podcast recordings into live events, G7.hu hoped it would create an opportunity to better understand its audience through in-person interaction, as opposed to being limited to online engagement. The events provided an opportunity for G7.hu staff members to have conversations with members of the audience as well as listen and take note of their questions to the speakers. The team was also able to understand the topics their readership are interested in by evaluating the varying popularity of the events.
  • Specifically, the team wanted to know who its core audience was, what they thought of G7.hu’s current content, and what content they were interested in consuming more of.
  • Transforming the podcasts into live events also had a financial motivation, as the organisation hoped it would be able to start selling tickets for attendance, providing an additional revenue stream for the publication and supporting its ambition to diversify revenue streams.
  • The topics of the podcasts spanned from the new era of public policies in Hungary, to the future of universities specialising in the study of economics, the future of the world economy and stock exchanges and the future of electromobility.
  • The first three podcasts were hosted by G7.hu’s then editor-in-chief, Marton Kasnyik, who facilitated a live interview with the guest speakers and afterwards mediated the question and answer session with the audience. The final event was a roundtable discussion hosted by a well-known radio presenter (Richard Hlavay) and featuring three expert speakers and a journalist from G7.hu.
  • Only the interviews with the guest speakers were published on the G7.hu website. The team decided not to record or publish the question and answer sessions so that the live audience could have access to exclusive content which was not accessible to those who purely accessed the podcast online.
  • The last event before lockdown had a €10 entrance fee. Unfortunately, it took place the day before lockdown was enforced in Hungary and, as a result, the attendance was not as high as anticipated. Although the staff members were still able to create a high quality podcast, they were not able to facilitate the levels of audience interaction they had hoped for and the financial outcome was not as high as they had originally anticipated.
The guest speaker at an intimate venue in Budapest


What did they learn?

  • The team experimented with different venues for each event, including small local cafes and university colleges. In the latter case, the majority of the audience came directly from the college which meant that by hosting the event in that venue, G7.hu were able to tap into a new audience. However, their most successful events were hosted in smaller, more intimate venues.
  • The most successful event was their third live podcast, which was designed to have high levels of audience engagement. This was achieved by splitting the audience into tables before the interview with the guest speaker. At each table, a member of the G7.hu team facilitated a discussion among the participants about the topic of the event (the future of the world economy and stock exchange). The table participants would then compile questions for the speaker which they presented after the interview had taken place.
  • G7.hu’s editor-in-chief, István Váczi, commented that the levels of audience engagement at this event were above what would typically be expected at such an event in Hungary. Váczi attributed this to the effort the G7.hu staff made to engage the audience in small groups at the beginning of the evening, giving them an opportunity to meet each other and discuss their ideas before presenting their questions publicly to the speaker. The team was particularly pleased that this event gave their readers an opportunity to meet and interact with other members of the readership that they would otherwise be unlikely to meet.
  • This event also had the highest turnout, with around 50 people in attendance.
  • The resulting live podcast became one of the most popular streamed podcasts in Hungary for that week. G7.hu subsequently gained new listeners and subscribers, especially on their channels such as Spotify.
  • By listening to the audience’s questions and engaging with them during the event, staff at G7.hu gained inspiration for their articles. For example, they discovered that members of the readership were particularly interested in property prices following a recent housing boom in Hungary. When the team was able to return to more regular reporting after the first wave of COVID-19, it produced articles on this topic.
  • In regards to the success of this approach as a new revenue stream, the organisation is confident that when it is able to start running live events again, it will be able to monetise the live podcasts. It believes that by getting prominent speakers discussing popular topics it will be able to justify charging for tickets which will eventually lead the live podcasts to become a new income stream for G7.hu. However, the disruption caused by COVID-19 has limited its ability to test this hypothesis fully.
  • G7.hu plans to restart the live podcasts once lockdown restrictions allow live events again.

How has engagement changed during COVID-19?

  • In the absence of live events,G7.hu has launched an opinion poll for its readers so that it can continue to pursue its mission to better understand and engage with its readership. It asked readers about their favourite topics on the site, assessing what they thought of the length, quantity and quality of the articles it produces and asked specific questions about its data visualisations. The team is currently analysing the results which they will use to influence its future content.
  • Staff also have plans in place to hold focus groups for their most loyal readers in order to understand their interests and preferences better. They are yet to be scheduled but they hope they will take place in the new year.
  • Throughout August and September, the G7.hu ran a crowdfunding campaign to help cover its core costs. The campaign was hosted in-site and was promoted with its own article (which held a top spot on their homepage) and via Facebook. The amount raised covered 6% of G7.hu’s expenses and had a better outcome than anticipated.
  • The organisation decided to carry on the crowdfunding as a regular donation feature on its website which is now advertised as a banner in each of its articles and in the website’s menu. Next year, it hopes to double the amount raised by reader revenue.
  • The team are also planning to publish its first printed magazine which would feature a selection of its most successful past articles mixed with new content. It hopes that it will be able to host a launch event for the publication where the authors featured can talk about their work. It is currently considering how it will generate income through this activity, including seeking sponsorship for the publication and considering charging a cover price.

In their own words

István Váczi, editor-in-chief, G7.hu

“We wanted to transform our podcasts into a live event, because we wanted to know more about our core audience: who they are and what they think about our work (of course we get feedback via emails and Facebook, but we would have liked to have face to face reactions) and we would have liked to know what are the more interesting topics for our audience. In the longer term we would have liked to monetize the events, because after the expiring of the first three years we have to balance our revenues and expenditures.”

How would you improve it?

“We learned a lot from these events, gained inspiration for articles and the podcast episodes stemming from these events were also popular. We have planned to continue the events in the fall, but after some time it became obvious that it is impossible because of the second wave.”

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