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The Evolution of Media Company CMS Platforms: Third Party Integrations

In the last part of our series, we reviewed a 2011 Adweek report on the CMS selections of major media companies. Beyond media industry business changes like mergers, and corporate spin offs, why has there been so much CMS change since a 2011? One major reason: a media company CMS platform must allow for many more integrations than just a few years ago. Integrations include technology systems that cover content personalization, social media, audience analytics, and the distribution and optimization of content on mobile and other devices, among other add-on services. Many CMS platforms, especially proprietary ones owned by technology companies, were not designed for such integrations.

media company integrations
The multitude of third-party integrations that media companies are looking to integrate with their CMS platforms.

And that means some big bets on CMS went out the window between 2011 and 2015, because the platforms of that time could not keep up with the amount of integrations media companies were seeking. For instance, let’s look at Conde Nast, a well known magazine publisher with brands like Vogue and Wired. Today, Conde Nast has built digital businesses beyond print titles with a robust entertainment business including over 30 web series.

But let’s back up to 2011: the Conde Nast CIO at the time, Joe Simon, was interviewed in that Adweek report. At that time, Simon had just invested heavily in Adobe CQ5 as a CMS for the majority of the Conde Nast titles. But today, just 4 years later, only a few Conde Nast brands like Architectural Digest and Vanity Fair remain on Adobe CQ5. Most of the company’s major properties are now running on Wordpress, or on Conde Nast’s own custom created CMS which goes by the name of Co-Pilot. I was able to do some digging and find a screenshot of Co-Pilot's back end in use for the Conde Nast Traveler title. More on Co-Pilot CMS can be found here and here with a review of features.

Meanwhile, in March of 2015, Conde Nast’s popular technology and business brand, Wired, underwent a major overhaul. They launched a new Wired.com site experience in March 2015, but instead of Co-Pilot being the underlying CMS, the focus was on Wordpress and moving 17 instances of that CMS onto a single installation. It was a pretty stark change for Conde Nast to move most of their titles from a licensed software platform like Adobe CQ5 to two different platform methodologies, including custom software development and an open source content platform.

So in review, over the past 4 years Conde Nast has moved from a push for a single proprietary CMS platform, Adobe CQ5, towards fostering a diverse set of technologies. This set includes some legacy use of HP’s TeamSite, Wordpress, and Co-Pilot, a custom CMS. Just recently, Conde Nast announced they are purchasing the popular music media brand, Pitchfork. Pitchfork itself has a custom CMS, detailed here in an article from Fast Company Labs. So it will be interesting to see if Conde Nast will continue to maintain Pitchfork’s CMS work. In future posts I’ll examine the pitfalls of maintaining multiple CMS platforms at a company, and why some media and entertainment companies wound up with so much technology complexity. Obviously like the Conde Nast purchase of Pitchfork indicates, mergers and acquisitions in the media world play a big role.

In addition, I’ll detail what’s happened to media companies who have pushed forward with developing their own custom platform like Conde Nast. This includes sharing with you the behind the scenes details of big media brands’ custom CMS platforms with code names like Highlander (CBS News), Matterhorn and Project Jupiter (Disney), Thunderdome (Digital First Media), Presto (Gannett), ISIS (Viacom), and new digital media company CMSs like Chorus (Vox Media) and Buzzfeed CMS (Buzzfeed).

I should also mention that as part of my analysis, I follow particular media executives and their migration across the industry as an indicator of where CMS platform changes may come. For instance, Joe Simon was CIO of Viacom before becoming the CTO of Conde Nast. Today he is the acting CTO of Latino media giant Univision. Mr. Simon reached Univision in March 2015 when the company was already undertaking a site redesign and replatform to Brightspot CMS. Particular media executives often come with their own technology religion. So despite the fact that Univision recently chose Brightspot, I will keep an eye to see if Mr. Simon will continue to push Adobe solutions as he has in the past.

While some media CTO’s bring their favorite vendors with them from company to company, other media CTO’s favor technolgies of their former employers, which happen to be technology vendors, and not media companies. For instance, Erik Huggers was the head of Microsoft Windows’ Media Technologies division before taking over as the head of BBC’s technology team. You can read about his work at BBC here and here but one thing's for sure - he brought Microsoft video technologies with him to the BBC. The online video platform for BBC, iPlayer, was built on Microsoft’s Silverlight video technology. In 2014, CTO Colin Bodell left Amazon where he was the VP of their commerce platform, to become the CTO of Time Inc. He has brought Amazon Web Services solutions into Time Inc.

In the next part of this series on The Evolution of Media Company CMSs, I’ll examine the market for media specific proprietary CMSs like Lakana, Worldnow, Marketron, InterTech and so many others, and how consolidation among the players is forcing media companies to migrate to new platforms.

Read the first post in this series.

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