Zaobao.sg bags $200,000 as Singapore winner of Google innovation challenge

The Chinese digital news platform zaobao.sg has been awarded over S$200,000 (US$150,000) in funding from the Google challenge for its innovative proposal to increase engagement with readers. It aims to attract more users to sign up for and read news
The Chinese digital news platform zaobao.sg has been awarded over S$200,000 (US$150,000) in funding from the Google challenge for its innovative proposal to increase engagement with readers. It aims to attract more users to sign up for and read news using a new gamified membership system.PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

SINGAPORE - Zaobao.sg, the digital news platform of Chinese daily Lianhe Zaobao, has emerged as the only Singapore winner of the first Asia-Pacific Google News Initiative (GNI) Innovation Challenge - bagging $200,000 in funding for its proposal to increase reader engagement through gamification.

The platform currently has 2.3 million monthly users, and runs on a "freemium paywall model", where some articles are free for all to read, and others are reserved for subscribers only.

It aims to attract more users to sign up and read news using a new gamified membership system.

Under this system, non-subscribing guest readers to zaobao.sg will gain access to premium content by performing gamified, non-monetary based actions to accrue points for premium content access or gifts.

"For instance, readers could watch a video advertisement, or read a certain number of free articles in order to 'unlock' access to subscriber-only articles," said Singapore Press Holdings (SPH), which publishes Lianhe Zaobao and also The Straits Times.

The project is slated to roll out by the fourth-quarter this year, and zaobao.sg hopes to drive reader revenue by increasing the visibility of quality journalism, gaining a better understanding of its users, and building reader loyalty and engagement.

Ang Yiting, editor of SPH's Chinese Media Group Digital, said: "There is a saying that 'what you don't know, you don't miss', so this means that our non-subscribers may never come across some of our best journalistic pieces behind the paywall. By introducing innovative ways to help non-subscribers unlock these premium content, we hope they will constantly discover and engage with the best stories that our journalists can offer, grow to love them, and eventually become a part of our community."

Separately, Google noted that it received 215 applications from 18 countries within two months of opening up the Innovation Challenge - 23 projects were eventually selected, with S$4.3 million in funding provided.

Launched by the GNI, which seeks to help journalism thrive in the digital age, the challenge focuses on projects that enable the generation of new reader revenues, and are evaluated based on their impact on the news ecosystem, levels of innovation, feasibility, and inspiration.

Google added that several themes emerged from the applications reviewed, including: building or renovating membership models, leveraging machine learning and AI (artificial intelligence) to surface more engaging content, and gamification to create community-wide sharing.

Stephanie Davis, country director of Google Singapore said: "Quality journalism has always mattered, including now, in our digital age. The GNI allows us to support newsrooms around the world by elevating reliable and accurate content. We are glad to work with SPH to help realise their goal of using technology to innovate new business models for sustainable growth, and remain committed in continuing our collaboration with the news industry to build a stronger future for journalism."