Why Media Companies Are Moving Away From Custom CMSes and Embracing Open Source

A track is lined with hurdles in every lane, except for the lane with WordPress VIP at the starting line.

Media companies face immense pressure from a multitude of sources. Audiences are fragmenting, tech platform algorithms are changing, misinformation is rising, the third-party cookie is dying, and revenues are dropping. 

In today’s landscape, the only way to stand out from the crowd is to deliver a high-performing audience experience.

To achieve this, many media companies decided to invest in a custom content management system (CMS), finely tuned to the needs of their editorial teams, developers, and audiences. To create and manage this bespoke software, they needed to hire talented software engineers.

Budgets aside, this decision is understandable. No two media businesses are the same, and building a platform that conforms to existing workflows and audience needs seems like the right option.

However, many media companies who chose to build their own CMS still grapple with the challenges of maintaining it. Spending time and money building and maintaining a custom-developed CMS diverts valuable engineering resources away from developing new, compelling audience experiences. For media companies, custom CMSes can hinder innovation, drain resources, and limit their ability to adapt to evolving industry demands.

That’s why media companies are moving away from DIY CMSes, and embracing the benefits of the world’s most popular CMS, WordPress.

How media companies became software companies

In 2011, Marc Andreessen predicted that software would “eat the world,” that every company would become a technology company. The media industry was no exception. 

To media companies, the high margins of successful software companies were alluring. But software companies start as calculated risks: they require a great deal of initial and ongoing investment, but if successful, the rewards can be substantial.

In the low interest rate climate of the 2010s, media companies could justify taking the risk of engineering their own CMSes. Some wanted to license this software, while others hoped to gain a competitive edge by constructing their own unique workflows and features.

However, the reality of being a software company is much harder than it looks. 

The pitfalls of building and maintaining a custom CMS

The past five years have been tough for media businesses. They’ve faced fragmenting audiences, the end of the cookie, decreasing ad revenues, and higher interest rates. There’s a need to evaluate what areas contribute to their core mission of delivering engaging audience experiences, and how resources are used towards this goal.

Building and maintaining a custom CMS is a resource-intensive endeavor, requiring a significant investment of time, money, and expertise to develop and maintain. Media companies are starting to ask, “Do we really need to build our own paragraph block? Our own header functionality? Our own way of adding a list to a body paragraph? What if all that could be done by an off-the-shelf CMS such as WordPress—and we could focus on more complex problems?”

Custom CMSes can be complex and difficult to use, often lacking the flexibility and scalability to adapt to the rapidly changing needs of the media industry. As new technologies emerge and consumer preferences evolve, media companies may find themselves locked into outdated systems that are difficult and expensive to modify. This hinders their ability to innovate and stay competitive in the market. 

As a result, many media companies are re-examining where they are allocating software engineering resources. Rather than continuing to solve already-solved problems, they are learning that they can build on top of open source technologies. By doing this, engineering teams no longer have to invest effort into producing and keeping up with standard features, and instead can concentrate on creating unique and captivating user experiences.

Focus on innovation: unleashing engineering resources

Focusing engineering resources on core innovation is crucial for media companies to thrive in the competitive digital landscape. 

When resources are freed from maintaining a custom CMS, media companies can redirect their engineering efforts towards innovations like developing mobile apps, TV apps, and custom user interfaces. Media companies find these innovations are a better use of resources than maintaining a custom CMS.

For example, Vox Media chose VIP because it wanted its creative and development teams to focus on experiences instead of platforms, continuing to create industry-leading content for their audiences. 

With their engineering team now no longer having to create and maintain a custom CMS, Times Media has seen a better publishing experience with 62 percent fewer clicks and 34 percent faster time-to-publish. Furthermore, the versatility of WordPress has enabled the organization to provide extra functionality and features to the newsroom that weren’t previously available. WordPress’s extensibility has made that a more seamless and sustainable process.

By embracing WordPress VIP, media companies unlock the potential for continuous innovation, freeing up valuable engineering resources to drive growth and differentiation in the competitive media industry.

The benefits of moving to WordPress VIP

Besides freeing engineering to focus on projects more aligned with business goals, WordPress VIP offers many other tangible benefits for media companies:

  • Reduced costs: Media companies don’t need to invest in the infrastructure and personnel required to maintain their own CMS, and can benefit from the efficiency and cost savings of the WordPress VIP Platform. Read more about WordPress VIP’s 415% ROI.
  • Better audience experiences and more ambitious roadmaps: With maintenance no longer draining available engineering resources, developers can spend all their time creating new digital experiences that capture audience attention.
  • Ease of platform management: WordPress VIP can handle technology updates, streamline code across multiple properties, and unify development and publishing workflows for media companies. Developers can quickly stand up environments, product prototypes, and experiments, as well as seamlessly integrate with external data and services.
  • Scalability and performance: WordPress VIP is purpose-built to handle high levels of traffic, easily scaling to meet the needs of growing media companies. Look no further than TIME’s announcement of Taylor Swift as 2023 Person of the Year, which served over 100k requests per second, effortlessly.
  • Improved editorial experience: WordPress boasts a Block Editor that’s easy to use for content creators and editors. For instance, being on WordPress VIP has helped the New York Post speed newsroom workflow and reduce staff frustration, and Al Jazeera reduce training time requirements from weeks to hours.
  • Expert support and collaboration: WordPress VIP provides media companies access to a team of WordPress experts who can help them get the most out of the platform. PMC, for example, benefits from WordPress VIP’s industry-leading infrastructure and extensive experience in supporting enterprise WordPress applications at scale. 

Read more about why media companies love WordPress VIP.

A final word

To deliver high-performing digital experiences, media companies face numerous challenges. Critically, building and maintaining a custom, in-house CMS can be a resource-intensive endeavor that diverts focus from core competencies. 

WordPress VIP offers a compelling alternative. 

We enable media companies to streamline operations, focus on innovation, and achieve cost savings. Embracing WordPress VIP allows these organizations to overcome the limitations of building and maintaining custom CMSes and unlock new opportunities for innovation, content quality, and audience engagement.


Tess Needham

Head of Content & Brand Experience, WordPress VIP

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