Emma Callaghan, Press Account Director fills us in on some of the key themes from the recent Mediatel ‘Future of National Newspapers’ event.
The Mediatel ‘Future of National Newspapers’ event has become quite a sombre affair over the past few years. The same recurring debates circle the room – publishers defending their business models and their declining circulations, difficult questions, jokes about the death of print, generally negative language when talking about the future of newsbrands… This year’s conference started out this way but picked up in the second half when the panel turned the conversation to growth, profit and positive business stories.
In fact, why are we so down on publishers? There are some great stats flying around, did you know that newsbrands reach more people today than ever before? And that actually, newsbrands have never had a better relationship with, or a better understanding of, their audiences? And when it comes to the important matter of data, newsbrands have more than ever at their disposal. Publishers are all following different models, from the News UK paywall to a metered approach like the Telegraph or simply free content and mass scale like Mail Online and the Guardian. They’ve faced criticism for choosing to work differently, but actually, they are mainly posting successful results and growth, even though they’re following conflicting business strategies.
The Telegraph has grown its audience and made money out of it. Following the New York Times model, the Telegraph is working to the rationale that it can keep presence in the market, but also monetise some of the content. Mail Online is now one of the biggest global news sites, followed closely by the Guardian. The Mirror is also growing fast, reporting over 5m daily users in September. The recent news agenda has seen all publisher sites deliver record numbers last month as the referendum, the Ebola outbreak and ISIS dominated the news. The Times might not have the same mass scale but it does have a specialist network of high-worth individuals who are arguably engaged if they’re happy to shell out up to £39 a month to access Times and Sunday Times content. All very different business stories, but all posting positive results.
So what did I take away from the ‘Future of National Newspapers?’ Well firstly, that newspapers are actually still a significant channel, reaching over 20m people daily (NRS Jan-Jul 14). There is a still a consumer and advertiser demand for print and that isn’t changing just yet. Publishers are constantly adapting and evolving, creating sub-brands and new revenue streams and with the growth of their digital platforms, are reaching more people than they ever have done before.
It was a point raised about influence by Dominic Carter at the end of the conference that really struck a chord with me. The Sunday Times ran a poll on the Scottish referendum which was the first survey to show results favouring the YES vote. This resulted in the cancelling of Prime Minister’s Question Time as the three party leaders hot footed it straight up to Scotland. The authority and significance of a brand like the Sunday Times, which is able to influence political events and figures, is undeniable. Twitter may have millions of voices, but it isn’t necessarily as trusted or influential as our national press. As Chris Blackwood from ESI said, “no one has won the Pulitzer Prize for a tweet.”
Jim Freeman sums it up very nicely in his blog about the conference, “it will (hopefully) be a long time before I hang up my boots in this business but, before that moment arrives, I hope to turn out on a media panel and be asked: “Why is it that your industry continues to be so successful?” I whole heartedly agree with him. You can read more here: http://www.thedrum.com/opinion/2014/10/04/telegraphs-jim-freeman-news-brands-are-leading-search-audience-measurement-so-why