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A formula for success in tricky times – perhaps

A roadmap to success…

Over the last few weeks we have had the opportunity to talk to hundreds of business leaders to understand how they are adapting to the current crisis. These range from global corporates to early stage start-ups across media, information, technology and entertainment – or MITE. Even with such a broad range of organisations, there’s a common thread that unites them.

It sort of works as an equation – and though it may not offer a panacea, it may be a predictive shorthand for which companies will come out of the crisis strongest.

We think you can boil it down to this: Community + Content + Delivery = Habit.

(Reductive, we know: but this is a blog, not a book, and we only have a thousand words.)

First, let’s start with the right-hand side of the equation: the answer.

HABIT

All MITE businesses depend on habit. We need people to have

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Unreal Engine 5 and the future of games and film tech

Whether you realise it or not, you probably already know Epic GamesUnreal. It is the engine behind ‘The Mandelorian’ on Disney+ and a plethora of games on mobile, PC or console.

Epic’s latest iteration of the engine – Unreal 5 – was revealed this week. Via a tech demo running in real time on a Playstation 5 dev kit, the world finally got its first look at what the future of gaming really looks like. Along with many, I witnessed something I’ve been dreaming of since I was a kid, and something I’ve been hearing about a lot, lately.

I have spent the last couple of years talking to games industry leaders around the world. Our conversations have covered everything

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Antonio Zappulla: Media freedom must not fall victim to covid-19

The pen, being mighty

We have written many times about the importance of a free press, and the dangers of governments – including ours – deliberately undermining media credibility. May 3rd was World Press Freedom Day, and Antonio Zappulla, CEO of the Thomson Reuters Foundation, wrote a powerful op-ed piece which was published widely overseas this weekend. As far as we know, it has not yet been published in the UK other than on the digital sites of overseas media. We think it is an important piece, and asked Mr Zappulla if we could print his column in full. We are delighted that he has consented. 

MEDIA FREEDOM MUST NOT FALL VICTIM TO COVID-19

Antonio  Zappulla, CEO of the Thomson Reuters Foundation

As the world grapples with the speed and scale of the devastation wreaked by Covid-19, the need for access to trusted, accurate and independent information has never been so acute. With global mortality rates showing no signs of slowing, the world’s economy knocked off its axis, and society at a standstill, there is no precedent to this emergency. We are fighting it blindfolded. Each day is costing us thousands of lives. But without the vital free-flow of information – learnings from other countries, warnings from medics, expertise from scientists, guidance to the public – we stand no chance of fighting it at all.

A free and vibrant media is more important than ever. Yet one of most catastrophic fallouts of this crisis is that it is paving the way for a crackdown on press freedoms across the world. A dangerous pattern seems to be emerging; it sees some governments

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Arts funding in the time of coronavirus

In February, I read Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, a novel that jumps back and forth on a timeline before and after a pandemic that wipes out much of the Earth’s population. Even pre-lockdown and social distancing, it felt a little too pertinent to be a comfortable read.

One of the book’s few hopeful takeaways is its certainty in the re-emergence of Shakespeare and orchestral music, re-enforced by the refrain ‘survival is not enough,’ a quote borrowed from Star Trek.

In our own pre-apocalyptic timeline, Rishi Sunak announced our 2020 budget on March 11, a week and a half before the beginning of lockdown. On initial glance, the budget looked remarkably positive for arts funding, including a £250m fund for local, small museums and libraries, as well as a £90m Cultural Development Fund for outside of London. There is a new allowance of £25k for every primary school to invest in ‘arts activities’, and the DCMS will see a rise in their budget from £1.6bn to £1.7bn.

And, overall, this feels incredibly positive. It’s a surprising turnaround from several years in a row of cuts to arts and cultural funding. And, while not wanting to look a gift horse in its mouth, I did ask why there should be a change of heart now?

At the time, I thought these developments must reflect the changes incurred by Brexit – back when that was the all-consuming story. I assumed the budget was taking into account the sizable loss of funding from the EU at the end of the year. Most significantly, our government announced their withdrawal from Creative Europe, a €1.46bn fund for arts and heritage institutions around Europe, which has been worth €74m to 334 organizations in the UK since 2014. (Our withdrawal seem to be driven purely by nationalistic politics, given that 13 non-EU states happily participate and benefit from the Creative Europe fund.)

But now, I wonder if neither regret for the years of budget cuts, nor preparation for the loss of EU funding explains the sudden investment in the arts. Instead, can this funding have been a moment of foresight from the government? Looking to future needs, I wonder if the 2020 budget had identified how Britons would turn to the arts in the coming days of lockdown.

In the boredom and desperation of lockdown, Britons and the world are need in information, education, and entertainment like never before. Every guide to coping with the present situation seems to suggest taking this time to learn – whether it be knitting, art history, or a new language, and it is our cultural institutions who are stepping up to provide. Despite the decrease in funding in recent years, our museums and cultural institutions have adapted and stepped up to distract and guide us through isolation. The kinds of adaptations needed to continue work require new technology and funding, the kind of which they have lacked in recent years, and yet, they have managed.

Chinese museums were the first to lead the charge in making their collections available online. British counterparts are now delivering too. The Courtauld Gallery’s virtual tour is seeing 723% more visitors than before lockdown, and the British Museum’s daily average online visitors have increased from 2000 to 75 000. Its own funding status uncertain, the BBC has stepped up in new ways to inform, educate, and entertain, just as its founding DG had hoped. Artists, having lost all security, are adapting, developing online shops, and exhibiting their work for free on Instagram, uniting and collaborating with the hashtag #isolationcreation. Art, culture, and education are clearly what we are craving at the moment.

The cultural funding announced in our 2020 budget, facing this level of need, is already overextended. In recent days, the Arts Council has pledged £160m to artists, venues, and freelancers who are facing total loss of income. The Heritage Lottery Fund has announced an emergency fund of £50m for heritage organisations, as well as its Digital Skills Fund to help organisations adapt to new, distanced circumstances. All of this still pales in comparison to  Germany’s extraordinary €50bn emergency cultural fund, already being compared to a 21st century New Deal. Speaking last month Germany’s cultural minster said, “Our democratic society needs its unique and diverse cultural and media landscape in this historical situation, which was unimaginable until recently. … The creative courage of creative people can help to overcome the crisis. We should seize every opportunity to create good things for the future. That is why the following applies: artists are not only indispensable, but also vital, especially now.” In short, survival is not enough.

The real question, though, is what happens when we come to the end of emergency funding and the end of the global pandemic? Will we revert back to our usual patterns and behaviour? In our rush to repair the economy, will the artists and heritage institutions who adapted, created, and entertained be forgotten?

Even if not for their help in guiding us through a period of boredom and anxiety, or their perennial social benefits, the arts are simply good for the economy. I’m loath to justify them this way (for loftier reasons for arts funding, see this report from the Institute of Public Policy Research). The Arts Council, though once “justified in its own terms”, now publishes an annual report of the arts’ contribution to the UK economy. In 2019, the sector grew £390m, now contributing £10.9bn to the economy overall.

The 2020 budget, then, seems a small thanks for an industry that not only takes care of us when ‘survival is not enough,’ but all the rest of the time too. One of most important takeaways from Covid-19 may be clarity on how we value workers, and what brings joy and purpose. Too much of past government funding has been made to look foolish by the pandemic: it should not take such dire circumstances to recognise the value of those in the NHS who protect us, or of those in the arts and cultural sectors who educate, entertain, and enrich us.

Eleanor Morum

eleanor@trippassociates.co.uk

Martin Tripp Associates is a London-based executive search consultancy. While we are best-known for our work across the mediainformationtechnologycommunications and entertainment sectors, we have also worked with some of the world’s biggest brands on challenging senior positions. Feel free to contact us to discuss any of the issues raised in this blog. 

 

Mental Heath and Wellbeing during and beyond lockdown

Steps to help you deal with remote working and social distancing.

Since the outbreak of Coronavirus began, we have been speaking with business leaders about how they are dealing with the sudden need to change the typical working practices of their businesses and their employees.

While the logistics of remote working are challenging, the real challenge lies in ensuring the health and wellbeing of home-working employees. It is important not just for their own mental health, but also to ensure your business stays productive.  With this in mind, we have been attending webinars organised by our friends at Thrive, the mental health specialists. As a result, we were able

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Future recruitment strategies, post-Covid

Social distancing, people.

How will the current pandemic affect the way you recruit?

For most companies, this may feel like a strange question right now. After all, few people are rushing to recruit people at the moment. But it will be interesting to see how this crisis not only affects short-term thinking, but to speculate on the longer-term impact it will have. We should stress that this was written on 24th March, just after lockdown in the UK, and the situation is evolving very quickly: but these are some general themes which seem to be emerging.

It may not be the people you think

I had a long conversation with a business today, about 70 employees, but growing until the virus hit. The partners have dispersed their employees to work from home: but using a CRM, they are able to monitor everyone’s activity. The client has been

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Not worth the effort: the inertia of the undifferentiated internet

One of the most common criticisms of the internet as a publishing medium is, ironically, also one of its greatest strengths. The fact that anyone can publish inevitably leads onto the fact that many people do publish. That creates an undifferentiated landscape, where the value of any article or video is effectively the same as any other, with no consideration given to the amount of time or research involved in its production.

Less? More?

That is exacerbated by the fact that digital advertising has historically rewarded the production of huge quantities of articles instead of rewarding quality. If you’ve ever despaired at the idea that newspapers’ websites will indulge in churnalism, producing articles that are mutually contradictory, that’s the cause.

That is beginning to shift slightly, as many newspapers’ priorities change from chasing advertising revenue to limiting the number of articles they publish to better serve members and subscribers. However, for generalist titles who have little chance of developing subscription products (usually the tabloid papers), the age of churnalism is here to stay for the foreseeable future.

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What is journalism for?

The funeral of Lyra McKee

What is journalism for?

Paul Chadwick had a crack at answering this small question in the Guardian in November. His answer is nuanced, but boils down to four key elements: to “help civil society cohere”, to “facilitate democratic processes”, to “lubricate commerce”, and to “make and mix” culture. These are all valid observations, and nothing I will say below will contradict them. But I do think there is a more fundamental answer.

On the Today programme this morning there were three items which examined aspects of the same question. Jim Mullen, new CEO of Reach, defended his newspapers’ treatment of Caroline Flack and their approach to local journalism; Julian Assange’s lawyer spoke in his defence ahead of his extradition hearing; and the unlikely duo of Toby Young and Trevor Phillips spoke in defence of free speech and the launch of Young’s Free Speech Union.

It is striking that all the articles were in defence of their subject. Journalism is under attack from all sides.

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Gotta please ’em all: Nintendo and DLC

I was away travelling for six weeks from August to October. While I (mostly) had an incredible time, there was a large part of me that regretted not having brought my Nintendo Switch, if only to potentially score some points with Nintendo UK’s PR team by tweeting a picture of me playing it at Thorong-La Pass.

Three amiibos

Since I returned I’ve been playing catch-up with some games that came out while I was gone. The PlatinumGames-developed Astral Chain, for instance, is a hybrid action/police procedural with a complicated action system that doesn’t quite live up to its former titles. Meanwhile, Nintendo’s own remake of Game Boy classic Link’s Awakening has been a little joy, if a little disappointing in how little it actually adds to the title beyond new visuals and physics. Daemon X Machina is a fun action game that feels tailored to those of us missing the Armoured Core franchise.

I’ve also been playing the post-launch downloadable content (DLC) characters for its flagship fighting game Super Smash Brothers Ultimate, which recently took the title of best-selling fighting game of all time. Despite that success, and the undoubted financial contribution that DLC has made to Nintendo’s bottom line, the adage that ‘you can’t please everyone’ has proven true, as each newly announced character has polarised the fanbase in one way or another.

Its most recently released fighter – Terry, a guest character on loan from SNK’s Fatal Fury and King of Fighters franchises – was subject to criticism from a proportion of the fanbase who were a) unhappy that he was a more difficult fighter to use effectively than the rest of the cast, and b) decided that he was an obscure character who had ‘stolen’ a slot from a character who was better known outside of Japan.

Despite that, and to my surprise – given that I’d played the game to death already before I went away – it’s Super Smash Brothers Ultimate that I’ve played the most since I came back. Its smart approach to DLC – by making it absolutely optional yet supremely desirable – demonstrates that despite having made a slow entry into the DLC space Nintendo understands that their consumer base doesn’t owe them anything (a lesson developers like Bethesda should probably have learned by now).

That said, it was a hard-won lesson. Originally Nintendo locked some content behind its amiibo toys (see picture). This has the dual disadvantages of costing far more than most DLC, and being limited by how much physical stock could be found in stores as well. Notoriously, amiibo sell out far faster than they can be produced.

As regulators begin to crack down on lootbox mechanics, since it is effectively gambling, it’s worth remembering that the best performing games of last year were those that eschewed lootboxes entirely. The most highly awarded ones, like Devil May Cry V, were in fact seen as a return to the glory days when games could be released complete, and DLC was seen as a valuable add-on rather than necessary to complete a released game.


Chris Sutcliffe

enquiries@trippassociates.co.uk

Martin Tripp Associates is a London-based executive search consultancy. While we are best-known for our work across the media, information, technology, communications and entertainment sectors, we have also worked with some of the world’s biggest brands on challenging senior positions. Feel free to contact us to discuss any of the issues raised in this blog.

All change for the besieged BBC

It’s been a rough few months for the old British Broadcasting Corporation. With the many criticisms of its coverage of the general election still ringing in its ears, it has seen a surprise fall in the proportion of the British public who see it as a trustworthy source of news. The new Tory government has also been hinting heavily it will review the validity of the license fee in this new era of subscription services. Last week it drew ire for the brutal and mishandled axing of the Victoria Derbyshire show, which has been lauded over the past few years as being a bastion of the sort of public interest journalism the BBC is publicly funded to provide. And now, they have announced cutting 450 jobs in the newsroom.

Bearing bountiful challenges

Little wonder, then, that director general Tony Hall chose last week to step down – with some interpreting it as a pre-emptive move to prevent further strictures being placed on its ability to report on a sitting government.

The reality is, though, that the issues facing the BBC run too deep to be sorted with a single resignation. The entertainment and news worlds have changed, with subscription to entertainment services the norm and the manner in which we increasingly consume news fundamentally changing. Those critical of the BBC have pointed out that it has been slow to adapt – and then when it has, it has done so poorly.

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The race for the next great video format

There are countless examples of digital video genres that shouldn’t work. The popularity of unboxing videos took many people by surprise. After all, who would willingly watch a stranger open a box of toys or make up for minutes on end? Even with the depth of some parasocial relationships, who could have predicted the popularity of mukbang, or social eating, on livestreaming sites? For that matter, who would have foreseen the rise of video game streaming, and the millionaires created off the back of that hobby?

But as much as the content of some videos has shocked more traditional media companies, the actual video formats themselves have also seen some experimentation. YouTube, for instance, with the might of Google behind it, has been everything from a shortform UGC platform to a VOD service. Meanwhile Twitch, Mixer and other competitors have been at the forefront of integrating viewers’ live comments into the broadcast, and TikTok and the late lamented Vine have demonstrated the viability of shortform video content.

So, even with the aftermath of the great Facebook video metric scandal still ringing in our ears (see the recent sale of Unruly) we’re all still keenly aware that audiences are consuming more video. Consequently, the race is on to stay head of the tech trends that will change how they choose to view that video. 

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Can ads be art if they aren’t political?

The jewel of television advertising is undoubtedly the Christmas ad, which is very representative over the wider Christmas period in that it generally leads to arguments. While families row over Aunt Janice’s timekeeping or What Sharon Did In ‘94, the marketing industry tends to argue about the quality and impact of the season’s TV ads. As soon as those ads become cinematic the argument became about which supermarket was being the subtlest about its commercialisation of Christmas, but now a few years have past there’s also an argument about whether 2019’s batch match the quality of the previous years. Truly, it’s a magical time of year.

2018’s Iceland’s ‘banned’ Rang-Tan ad, which wasn’t approved for broadcast by Clearcast due to being “directed towards a political end”, caused a lot of rows in its own right. The implication, helped along by savvy Iceland marketeers and some celebrities who were generically outraged, was that this advert with its subversive message about what’s really important at Christmas was somehow more genuine and deserving of an ad slot than those of rival supermarkets. Instead, obviously, it was an advertisement for the supermarket that had co-opted a campaign by Greenpeace, which went on to market the character in a number of ways.

No room for art. 

It was effectively an argument about Clearcast’s judgment about political ads on top of an argument about which Christmas ad was the best which was itself the extension of in-fighting among the supermarkets to see who could make the most money. Now I’d like to throw another argument on top of it, and question whether the fact that ads are banned from making political messages in certain mediums disqualifies ads from claiming to be art.

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How Netflix has changed comedy forever

There’s much to be said for Netflix’s data-led commissioning system. Being able to draw circles around shows its users watch, and then commissioning new shows based on where those circles overlap, was an innovative approach to creating content a few years ago. 

Barring one or two shows that seemed like home runs but failed to find audiences – namely BoJack Horseman stablemate Tuca & Bertie – Netflix’s television output is as prodigious as it is popular. Recent figures demonstrate that while its film catalogue has shrunk by 40% since 2014, the amount of TV content has increased by 37%.

Telling funny stories.

The reality is that television, by nature of the amount of time it takes to consume a series compared to a film, provides Netflix and its competitors with content that is ‘stickier’ and keeps people coming back for longer. While this isn’t always to the benefit of the show (recall that Netflix’s collaborations with Marvel were criticised for feeling bloated and each being a few episodes too long ), it keeps people on the platforms for longer. 

As evidence of quite how valuable television content is for streaming services, remember that Netflix paid Warner $100 million to keep Friends on the platform throughout 2019, and it was seen as a bargain. The reason? When it comes to streaming services, exclusive shows and films are the jewels in the crown, and when a service doesn’t have those proven, guaranteed hits, it has to try other things. 

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Why we do what we do, and why it works

I should first say that this is an unusual blog for us: it is about Martin Tripp Associates. Apologies. It is a quick story to illustrate how we do what we do. And perhaps why you should ask other recruiters how they do what they do.

****

A few years ago, Matt and I left a client briefing, and I was gleeful.

“Honestly,” I said, “I can tell you the shortlist now.” I told him the names of the five candidates I would recommend.

All about us. Again.

“Let’s go through the process,” Matt said. “Then we’ll see.”

Matt went through the process. Alongside scores of others, he approached all five of my recommended candidates. Only one of my picks made the shortlist, and they did not get the job. The job went to someone our research team had discovered, who we had never talked to before.

****

I tell this story often at client meetings. While it obviously exposes my hubris, it also illustrates why we place so much faith in the process the company has developed over the years.

I had some good reasons for my over-confidence, I still think. The client was looking for a global

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Streaming is the future – but not for all media

Streaming content is the natural endpoint for entertainment content. The many conveniences that come from streaming outweigh the concerns about a lack of ‘ownership’ for the consumer of the media they consume, data throttling once net neutrality is a distant memory, and the quite justified concerns over subscription fatigue due to the sheer amount of streaming services on offer.

The reality is that ease of use trumps all of those, particularly for casual consumers, and as infrastructure and internet penetration improves further the proportion of people using streaming services will only grow. Last year Ofcom reported that nearly half of UK households now have access to at least one television streaming service, as the number subscribing to the most popular services “increased from 11.2m (39%) in 2018 to 13.3m (47%) in 2019”. That doesn’t take into account the number of households that also subscribe to a music streaming service like Spotify, either.

The Google Stadia proves streaming works for games – in precisely the right circumstances

However, that isn’t to say that streaming is necessarily a good fit for every medium. It works well for low-data, passive mediums like audio and television. Even Netflix’s ambition Black Mirror special, Bandersnatch, which was effectively an experiment in interactive television content in the vein of an adventure game, was possible through Netflix’s infrastructure. But the reality is that the technology and infrastructure to stream many video games isn’t there yet – despite some serious investment from big players.

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Facing the curtain: How print titles are bowing out gracefully (or not)

We haven’t seen the last of the print closures. Between falling circulations in at-risk genres like the women’s weekly, the acquisition of regional news organisations by huge companies with a reputation for cutting the fat and then some, and the bleak reality that smaller newspapers don’t have the resources to pour into making digital work, the trajectory for print products remains obvious.

The Washington Post Express chose to go out with a bang

One of the last trials faced by an editorial team, then, at the end of a losing battle to sustain the P&L of their print product, is deciding how to bow out. There will always have to be a ‘final’ last page – the short turnaround on papers and the sentiment that people have towards them would allow for nothing less. But there are ways and ways of going about setting that final masthead and choosing the language of the final headline. Over the past few years we’ve seen more than a couple.

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Future proofing news consumption for young audiences

That newsbrands have an issue with young audiences isn’t a new revelation. For newspapers particularly, much of the ‘print is dead’ sentiment of the past few years was driven by the fact that young people were not picking up the most lucrative product on offer from the media company in favour of interacting with the brand in formats where the RPU was significantly lower. As a result, the vast majority of the crisis over dwindling print revenue can be put down to newsbrands’ collective failure to make their most valuable properties attractive to young audiences. Or, if you want to look at it with a glass half full mentality, to their success in making digital content more appealing to young people.

News publishers need to stop treating young people as an invasive species

At the same time, the exhaustively well-documented usurpation of the direct relationship in digital by platforms has led to a situation in which young people have a very different relationship with newspapers and broadcasters than those media companies perceive them to have. Squaring that circle, and ensuring that newsbrands have a mutually beneficial relationship with young audiences, requires an evidence-based rethink – and soon.

The latest Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism report into how young people interact with the news demonstrates that there is currently a disconnect between what young people value from news and how news publishers are attempting to monetise them. Here are some implications from the report, with a particular focus on healing that disconnect.

Personal interests…

One of the trickiest issues for news publishers thrown up by the report is that young people interact with news through a primarily personal lens. While the perception in previous generations has been that news consumption was first and foremost in service of staying abreast of current events, today’s young consumer consumes news content for a variety of reasons. While an understanding of current affairs is certainly one facet – the report puts a lot of focus on how that knowledge transfers some prestige to young news consumers, that knowledge effectively is power, it also cites five more reasons why young people interact with news.

Those range from developing a personal identity through understanding of the context of news, to being entertained by news content delivered in a fun manner, to having a ready stock of up-to-date observations that grease the wheels of social interactions.

… with an altruistic outlook

On the face of it, that suggests that young people interact with new for primarily selfish reasons, with personal development being the primary motivator and each article being a stepping stone along the way to growth. However, since young people have been demonstrated to be more aware of issues of identity and social inequality, and to be more generous when it comes to charitable donations, it suggests that young people seek to improve themselves through news content in order to effect social change.

News publishers, then, could attempt to appeal to these young people by focusing less on the ‘if it bleeds it leads’ mentality that has defined the front page for decades, and instead focusing more on solutions journalism, as Positive News and (to some extent) the Guardian have done.

In the moment

While the edition-based system of publishing has demonstrably worked for digital publishers like The Times & Sunday Times, the reality of constant ready access to the internet and young people’s presence on social media means that today’s audiences are habituated to having news content at their fingertips whenever they need it. The report also notes that Gen-Z, tomorrow’s target demographic, will expect to have news delivered to them whenever they demand, in a more more relevant and tailored manner. No surprise, then, that we’ve seen the news publishers and broadcasters with the resources to do so investing heavily in AI tools designed to increase the amount of personalisation on offer.

However, the report also demonstrates that simply having a presence on a young consumer’s phone in the form of an app isn’t enough. The research demonstrated that no individual news app appeared in the top 25 most-used apps on average (save for reddit, which is only tangentially a news app and doesn’t necessarily have to be used as such). The implication for media companies, then, is that their content primarily has to be accessible through social media – even if the issues around brand erasure on those platforms and issues of revenue share are yet to be resolved.

Additionally, the report flags up that news content will inevitably be judged against entertainment content like Netflix and Spotify, not just in terms of price anchoring, but also in terms of how easily accessible, easy-to-use and sophisticated their content sourcing methods are.

As has been pointed out, then, tacit criticism from some publishers that today’s young consumers have little brand loyalty and are ‘promiscuous’ when it comes to news sources is retrograde and backwards in its approach to reaching young audiences. Today’s consumer is a product of the internet, with understandable expectations that the services they choose to pay for provide a reasonable value exchange on par with entertainment properties. It isn’t for young people to conform to publishers’ expectations of what a ‘news consumer’ looks like, but the other way round.

Chris Sutcliffe

enquiries@trippassociates.co.uk

Martin Tripp Associates is a London-based executive search consultancy. While we are best-known for our work across the media, information, technology, communications and entertainment sectors, we have also worked with some of the world’s biggest brands on challenging senior positions. Feel free to contact us to discuss any of the issues raised in this blog.

Sex sells: The smutty side of internet publishing

Sex has always been a cornerstone of publishing. From Tijuana bibles to Page 3, we’ve always known that erotic content is a huge draw for audiences. Just as the porn industry choosing VHS reportedly led to Betamax losing the format war, publications like The Sun in the ’70s and its red-top competitors used sex to sell their papers in direct ‘racy’ competition with one another – The Sun even had a dedicated Page 3 website.

So ingrained was it as a practice that The Sun flip-flopped on retiring the practice of putting topless women on Page 3 until January of this year (with The Daily Star following suit in April 2019). The reality of the matter is that, while Page 3 was a hopelessly outdated practice and rightly toxic in 2019, sex and pornography aren’t going anywhere in the West – it’s simply moved online.

A big part of the appeal of sites like Tumblr was its NSFW content – until it wasn’t

Sites like reddit, despite nominally being brand-safe environments, have a huge undercurrent of not safe for work (NSFW) content on the site. Even Twitter, which rightly has a reputation for being political journalism-heavy, has a subculture of people who use the platform to promote their own personal adult services

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Verification all the way down: the trouble with trust

Regulate to accumulate

In the short-term, maybe it isn’t all that bad that journalism is undergoing a trust crisis. Despite the fact that, per the last Reuters Institute Digital News report, 70 percent of people in the UK are now worried about the trustworthiness of news, news organisations aren’t even setting their sights as high as 30 percent of the public subscribing to their digital news products – and they don’t need to.

Even the fact that low double digit proportions of the public are happy to subscribe is enough to support subscription- and membership-based organisations like the Washington Post and the Guardian. For those organisations, at least, the journalism crisis is

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Mixing it up: the problem of platform choice for publishers

No sooner does a platform reach the mainstream than it’s potentially on the way out. For a few years, Twitch was in the ascendancy with its audience growth, direct interaction with live viewers, and diversified revenue generating model convincing a few of the most well-known media companies in the world to experiment with the platform. Two years ago, the features of the livestreaming platform were even a pivotal plot point in the first season of the Netflix original show American Vandal. Since then, however, the platform has been hit by a sense that it is repeating the mistakes of its direct predecessor YouTube, in not fairly rewarding its content creators, and by the departure of one of its most-viewed users, the Fortnite streamer Ninja, for pastures new.

Let’s Twitch again, like we did last summer…

That new platform – Mixer – offers much of the same benefits of Twitch with greater out-of-the-box opportunities for audience interaction. Where Twitch makes the ability for a streamer to chat directly with their audience its key selling point for both – and not coincidentally one of its central tenets when it comes to talking to advertisers – Mixer offers far more options for interaction, such as on-the-fly polls, stickers, interactive minigames and more.

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The Athletic is a bold, brash bet on reader revenue that could hurt the whole industry

For the past few months sports publisher The Athletic has been aggressively hiring UK-based sports journalists and, because journalists can’t resist a good analogy, it’s been compared to aggressive transfer window negotiations. In the past year the media company has been charged with ‘setting off a bomb‘ by purloining the top sports journalists from the BBC, the Times, the Guardian, the Mail, and many others.

Ball’s in their court

It’s an aggressive bet from a media company that sees a future in direct reader revenue and wants to be the biggest sport show in town. On the one hand that’s very heartening – any more evidence that people will pay for journalism online is very welcome. The only problem is that it’s almost certainly going to fail in its stated aims, despite all the hopes to the contrary, and could possibly stunt the chances of other publications as it does so.

As explained in this article from The Drum’s Rebecca Stewart, since its launch three years ago the “ad-free digital sports publisher The Athletic has garnered 500,000 subscribers with a reported 90% retention rate to its website and app and expanded into Canada”. In that time it has attracted almost $90 million in VC capital from, among others, Comcast Ventures and Founders Fund. As a result of that investment, it now operates in over 15 markets across the US and Canada, and plans a launch in the UK with 55 staffers primarily covering the Premiere League, having reportedly ploughed around £10 million into the launch.

Its subscription-based model will apparently cost its readers £9.99, though it will offer a discounted starting package. Considering its stated goal is to have fully one million paying subscribers by the end of the year, it is unsurprising it would offer discounts in service of that goal: the Guardian recently celebrated reaching one million paying supporters after a 3 year campaign, and it has reach and awareness far beyond that of the Athletic (so far).

Effectively, The Athletic’s plan seems to be to throw money at the problem of scale. By hiring some of the most well-known journalists in the UK and spending a fair amount on marketing that on social media, it’s hoping the allure of big names will help convince UK consumer there’s a space in the market for a new, subs-based sports site.

By throwing money at the problem, its founders hope to effectively outlast its competition in local media and become the only game in town. Its CEO Alex Mather told the New York Times: “We will wait every local paper out and let them continuously bleed until we are the last ones standing. We will suck them dry of their best talent at every moment. We will make business extremely difficult for them.” That rhetoric is likely to stick in the craw of journalists in the UK, where the straits of local news led to the formation of the Cairncross review.

However, there are many obstacles in The Athletic’s path to success, not least the fact that doubling its subscriber numbers in less than six months appears to be almost an impossibly tall order. For one thing, the UK market is effectively saturated with national news subscription products already, and some – like The Telegraph – are making sports analysis one of the key selling points for their own subscriptions. The Guardian, too, is well aware of the lucrative nature of sports and is investing a lot of money in covering growth areas, like women’s football, providing free alternatives in addition to those already offered by the BBC and commercial broadcasters.

Per the latest Reuters Institute Digital News Report, even among the relatively low proportion of people who are likely to pay for news online, the average number of digital subscriptions per person is one: “Perhaps more importantly, the average almost never exceeds one, regardless of what group you look at. Even among those who are most interested in news, the wealthiest, or the most educated, most people only pay money to one news organisation.” Perhaps worst of all, the report also found that if people could only choose one subscription product, 7% would choose news and another 7% would choose the sports content itself, suggesting that the proportion of people who would pay for sports news subscription is even smaller still.

The fact The Athletic is placing its chips on the UK market, which is almost certainly about to hit a period of financial instability and has a significant chance of entering recession that will limit its population’s incidental spending, is also a worry.

On the one hand, then, The Athletic’s aggressive move to control a niche is laudable, as it seeks to find a sustainable model for sports news journalism. However, as the economics behind its decision to launch in the UK don’t seem to add up, and its stated aim is to poach from and outlast the other local news outlets that would be its competition, its aggressive stance could end up detracting from the viability of digital news subscription rather than proving that they work.

 


Chris Sutcliffe

enquiries@trippassociates.co.uk

Martin Tripp Associates is a London-based executive search consultancy. While we are best-known for our work across the media, information, technology, communications and entertainment sectors, we have also worked with some of the world’s biggest brands on challenging senior positions. Feel free to contact us to discuss any of the issues raised in this blog.

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A client asked last week how we ensure gender fairness in our approach to a search. It’s a fair question: simply saying “we look for the best person” is not good enough.

We told the client of our pride that, as a company, we had a 50:50 gender ratio – despite the grim pictures of me and Matt dominating the website. (The office is also 30% BAME, and around one quarter LGBTQ+. Look at us, polishing our halos.) We also mentioned that we all had unconscious bias training, and always try to ensure a gender mix on every search. We felt pretty good.

But the client then asked for a breakdown of all the searches we had carried out over the last year to let them know what percentage of our searches had ended up with a woman being placed.

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Product discovery: Nike, Balmain, and Kim Kardashian-West

The motto “the customer is always right” has long circulated hospitality and retail, popularised in the early nineteenth century by retailers like Harry Gordon Selfridge. Consumer sway over brands has only increased in the age of social media, as people are able to mobilise opposition to the actions of brands they follow. In recent weeks, three big names have bowed to consumer pressure to change their products: Kim Kardashian-West backtracked on naming her shapewear brand Kimono after accusations of cultural appropriation, Nike recalled its 4th July trainers after consumers pointed out they were using a flag flown during slavery, and Balmain reached an agreement with Laura Biagiotti Group to change their logo. Which all begs the question:

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Can location data be the powerhouse of digital advertising?

One thing modern marketers aren’t short of is user data. All the efforts over the past few years to encourage users to hand over their user data – just in time for GDPR to potentially upend those advantages – have paid dividends. It’s been true for a few years now that accurate user data is effectively just table stakes for any marketer worth their salt, and media companies have been espousing the value of their first-party data even more vehemently since issues of fraud have become table talk.

Take me to your Lidl

But for marketers in particular, there has been much investment in data and less in a framework that can tie all their data points together in an actionable way. It’s been very possible to use reams of user data to target them with offers and ads in their email inboxes, and even to prevent them from taking actions like cancelling subscriptions, but in terms of actually using it to boost the effectiveness of digital marketing, there’s always been one step missing.

Now it’s looking increasingly like location intelligence data, paired with real-time information about everything from traffic and weather and combined with that existing user data, might be used to deliver on the promise of mobile advertising.

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Why is the Herald Sun incentivising click journalism in a time of news avoidance?

It’s 2019: Media companies have been aware of the negative impacts of the race to lowest common denominator digital publishing for many, many years. But it seems that not everyone is changing course as a result: News Corp’s Australian tabloid the Herald Sun is reportedly offering its journalists cash incentives for writing stories that attract readers and convert them to paying subscribers.

On the face of it, it’s just a slightly more formalised version of similar measures in place across many global newspapers. In the UK, Telegraph journalists compete to see whose stories help convert audiences to paying subscribers, and the journalist-facing analytics tool at The Times & Sunday Times also display how many subscriptions or sign-ups an individual story has led to. The danger is that, without discipline, those systems can actually disincentive good reporting – particularly at generalist tabloids – and continue the trend of a fall in news engagement across the industry.

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Protest Art and the Art of Protesting

Top hats

Throughout history, the arts have played a key role in protests. This has happened whether works of art were made for the purpose of serving protests or not: virtually anything can be utilised to serve a cause. Protest art is nothing new: during WWI the Dada movement protested against the violence of war, whilst Picasso’s Guernica drew attention to the bombing of the town during the Spanish Civil War. Protests themselves increasingly

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The interactive future for theatres

Virtually engaged

In 2019, experience trumps product. Retail outlets are retooling their spaces to make the experience of shopping, the so-called ‘retail journey’, as attractive to the consumer as the items they hold in their arms as they leave the shop. Many media companies are attempting to emulate Time Out’s food market success and transition into events and experience businesses, the better to appeal to the Millennials and cash-rich Boomers who prioritise making memories.

A lot of that is driven by the rise of consumer technology that enables brand new experiences, from portable 3D printers that let you take away a physical model of your own face at the end, to venues dedicated entirely to esports, to the ever more interactive experiences offered by theme parks. Many savvy media companies and retailers

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Why the Tories should not rush to appoint a no-deal Brexit leader

The gracious loser

We have long argued that a no-deal Brexit would be bad for business, and for the country. But the self-titled party of business seems most likely to appoint the ‘f**k business’ candidate, Boris Johnson, as its leader. If he takes a hard no-deal stance, it would be a mistake both for the country and for his party.

The great advantage of having Nigel Farage’s Brexit party in recent electoral mixes is that it has served to properly illustrate the lack of support for a no deal Brexit – despite the headlines elsewhere.

Farage points out that his voters are the people who feel ‘angry and betrayed’ by traditional politicians who have failed to deliver ‘the Brexit you voted for.’ And the fact that Farage is standing on one policy alone – a ‘no deal’ Brexit – serves as a focus for all those angry and betrayed voters. In the European and Peterborough elections, the new party polled an impressive-sounding 32% and 29% respectively, winning the first poll and coming close in the second.

But there is one unsettling fact for Nigel Farage: by-elections and European elections are traditionally great places to register protest votes, and these were the mother of all opportunities to mobilise his supporters. And yet, given that turnout for the European elections was 37%, and for the by-election 48% – both massively down on either a general election or the referendum – they still failed to demonstrate a majority appeal. The European election result indicated that, nationally, around 13% of registered voters actually voted for ‘no deal’; in Peterborough, that figure stands at 15% – in a borough that in the referendum voted 61% in favour of Brexit.

In hard figures, across Peterborough, 53,216 voted for Brexit in 2016: 10,201 voted for ‘no deal’ Brexit parties yesterday. In effect, when faced with a choice between Brexit 2016-style, and the more radical no-deal Brexit being proposed now, 80% of 2016 voters either abstained or voted another way.

The desire for an orderly exit is similarly borne out by yesterday’s figures. Both the Labour and Conservative parties stood on a platform of a managed exit (as outlined in their 2017 manifestos), and they took 52% of the Peterborough vote. The ‘remain’ parties – Lib Dem and Green – garnered 15% between them.

In the European elections, widely seen as a protest vote from which inbetweeners stayed away, the no deal vote was 34% (Brexit and UKIP), the ‘Remain’ vote 40% (Lib Dem, Green, Change UK, SNP, Plaid), and the ‘managed exit’ vote a less convincing 23% (Labour, Tory). But – if we accept the proposition mooted by Farage that the anger is so deep among no-deal Brexiteers that they would all turn out to trounce the mainstream – we can expect that their numbers will not massively increase in absolute terms in a general election. In fact, it is likely that with other considerations (education, NHS, etc), people would vote more moderately in a national election. Yet the figures are stark: 17.4m people voted for Brexit in 2016 – but fewer than 6m people voted nationally for no deal Brexit parties in the European elections – a fall of 65%.

So it would appear that what moderate Brexiteers say is true: the vast majority of people who voted Leave in 2016 did not vote for ‘no deal’: they voted for a managed exit and the ‘exact same benefits’ (or as close as can be reasonably managed) that they were promised. When the reality of no deal is exposed, they are distinctly less enthusiastic.

If the Tories rush to install a ‘no deal’ Prime Minister, they will be bowing to the constant drumbeat of around 15% of the electorate. Not only would it be an economic catastrophe for a new Tory leader to pursue a hard exit on 31st October, it would be profoundly anti-democratic. And voters would not easily forgive the party that delivered it.

 

Martin Tripp

martin@trippassociates.co.uk

Martin Tripp Associates is a London-based executive search consultancy. While we are best-known for our work across the media, information, technology, communications and entertainment sectors, we have also worked with some of the world’s biggest brands on challenging senior positions. Feel free to contact us to discuss any of the issues raised in this blog. 

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Rather than being another media company, which would have made this just another entry in the ledger of media consolidation, Sports Illustrated is being sold to Authentic Brands Group. Other than having a name that sounds made up on the fly, Authentic Brands Group is best known for its brand development operations – it oversees the management of parts of the Elvis Presley and Muhammad Ali estates, for instance.

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