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Ripping off the plaster: Job cuts and sustainable journalism

In the red

Last week was a terrible week for digital journalists, with well over 1000 job cuts announced across a swathe of the most popular digital publishers. BuzzFeed announced up to 250 job cuts, which seemed to disproportionately hit BuzzFeed UK. Verizon is looking to cut 800 jobs, or 7% of its global workforce after its CEO announced that each of its three strands – which includes its media properties such as Huffington Post and AOL – should be sustainable in their own right. And Gannet cut 20 jobs as part of a restructuring ahead of a rumoured buyout.

Reactions to the cuts have been emotional and frequently incendiary. Media Twitter has been awash with journalists expressing condolences and wishing the best for their peers, with many editors advertising potential positions within their own organisations. On the other side of the spectrum, former BuzzFeed staffer Jason Sweeten used BuzzFeed’s own platform to create a quiz lambasting the organisation for letting so many

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How much does an Oscar nomination cost?

What would you spend to win an Oscar?

This year’s list of Oscar nominations for best film is notable for a number of reasons – but primarily for the inclusion of two new entrants to the category: Marvel Studios for Black Panther, and Netflix for Roma. But the two illustrate very different business models.

Black Panther – nominated for seven Oscars – cost an estimated $200m to make, and has taken $1.3bn so far at the box office. That’s an earnings ratio of 6.5x (excluding marketing and distribution costs). This is good, even by Marvel’s money-making standards: the previous five Marvel films had average budgets of $250m, and takings of $925m (3.7x budget).

Roma cost $15m and took, er, $217,000 in a limited cinema release, an earnings ratio of 0.014x production costs – or, more straightforwardly, a loss of $14.8m. It is estimated that Netflix has spent an additional $25m on promoting the film ensure an Oscar or two. Clearly, Netflix has a different ambition in mind rather than profit: it wants to be taken seriously as a filmmaker, and it wants

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Brands, ethics and controversy: Gillette, Nike and Greggs

There has been a lot of hot air surrounding recent advertising controversies – but, beyond the guff, there might also be valuable lessons for employers.

In the wake of #metoo and TimesUp, we have seen an increase in advertising campaigns focused on supporting progressive social change. The release of Gillette’s latest advert followed in the footsteps of Nike’s 2018 campaign faced by Colin Kaepernick: “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.” Nike’s ‘sacrifice’ amounted to

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Three TV Trends for 2019

Broadcast is changing fast – but not necessarily in ways we might have expected a couple of years ago. Here are three trends to watch for in 2019.

Change that model

VOD apes traditional media

Streaming services are working hard to steal eyeballs from traditional broadcasters – and they certainly seem to be succeeding. Netflix obliterated analysts’ expectations by adding 7 million new subscribers during the third quarter of 2018. And it is willing to spend some serious money to continue that trajectory.

It is no secret by now that the reason Netflix, Hulu, etc. are investing so heavily in original content is that the studios are looking to withdraw their proprietary content from these platforms in order to launch their own services (eg ‘Disneyflix’). Netflix have indicated that they are allocating 85% of their new spending on original productions, according to Variety.

They will also be looking to capture the heart-of-the-nation market from linear broadcasters – think ‘Great British Bake Off’ or ‘The Bodyguard’ (the latter of which they own the international rights to). There has certainly

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Will in-game advertisements backfire for video game companies?

The most recent statistics from the Entertainment Retailer’s Association reveal that the UK video games industry outperforms the music and video industries by a significant margin. Combined physical and digital sales of games reached £3.86bn for the year, a significant improvement on last year, where physical and digital sales for music and video achieved £1.33bn and £2.34bn respectively. That effectively means that games are responsible for over half of all UK home entertainment sales for 2018, a testament to the increasing numbers of the public who have grown up with games as a medium.

Macho nachos.

Monetisation opportunities around games have similarly increased as technology has enabled more ways for consumers to support game developers and publishers. Where once one-off purchases were the only way to support a game, the rise of free-to-play (F2P) games and paid-for downloadable content (DLC) have paved the way for many other models. Despite publishers being ever-more hungry for sources of incidental revenue from their titles, one potential form of revenue – in-game advertising – has never really taken off in the West. But that could be about to change.

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Can broadcasters pull together in a show of united strength?

We all know what’s happening with adspend. Digital advertising spend represents all net growth in adspend, and three big players are in control of that flow of cash. It’s an issue that isn’t going to be solved any time soon, and in the meantime the competition for the squeezed remainder is only getting fiercer.

As part of that various broadcasters, platforms and advertisers are reappraising the metrics they’ve traditionally used to demonstrate their superiority (or otherwise) compared to their competitors. In the US, for instance, the television and radio broadcast network CBS has failed to come to terms with the measurement company Nielsen, leaving the broadcaster without one of the most-cited measurements. As Variety’s Brian Steinberg explains, part of the issue is that broadcasters like CBS argue that Nielsen’s metrics fail to take into account viewing across a variety of platforms. The rise of VOD and the diffusion of television content across different devices means that – at least in theory – more people are being exposed to television content than ever before:

“TV networks have long based their advertising rates on Nielsen’s measure of linear TV audiences, which have slipped as consumers embrace Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime and other streaming and on-demand options. In such an environment, TV networks believe Nielsen’s overnight ratings are no longer the critical yardstick of viewership they once were.”

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Finding its voice: What’s the future of news on smart speakers?

Audio content is having a mini Renaissance. Between radio’s strong showing in adspend predictions for 2019, the steady maturation of the podcast market and the strong showing for audio as a secondary activity, there is a strong case to be made that audio content is a sure bet for media companies.

That’s helped significantly by the mutability of audio content. Music, radio shows and podcasts tend to bleed into one another, with each existing alongside the others on Spotify, DAB and any number of streaming services.

That makes the relative lack of success of news content on connected devices and smart speakers all the more marked. Emarketer’s predictions suggest that the number of smart speakers in US households is set to rise from 16 million to 76 million between 2016 and 2020, based on “stronger than expected uptake” of the devices.

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Women will be the future of technology

Female founders got just 2.2% of Venture Capitalist Funding in 2018, the same percentage as in 2017.

Okay. TimesUp, Starting Now.

This woeful figure is actually an increase on the 1.9% offered to female founders in 2016, and comes despite female founders raised a record amount of VC funding, at $2.3bn in ten months. This is an issue on both sides of the table: 74% of US Venture Capitalist firms have no female investors. These figures are a stark reminder that whilst the tech industry looks to the future, its decisions are being made in the historical, male-dominated model.

Female-headed businesses have a real potential to make societal change in ways perhaps different from those headed by men. Whitney Wolfe founded Bumble after leaving Tinder and filing a lawsuit against Tinder for sexual harassment. Bumble, where women have to make the first move and start the conversation, has led a revolution in how modern women go about dating, making

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What Noel Edmonds can teach us about Brexit*

Lord of the Jungle.

It is slick programming by ITV to have Noel Edmonds featuring in this year’s I’m a Celebrity….. Why? Because the phrase “Deal or No Deal” is suddenly assuming a sickening relevance. And on December 11th, two days after Celebrity… reaches its climax, MPs will vote on whether to accept or reject the withdrawal agreement the government has agreed.

Let’s be clear: the deal is problematic. Its description of future trading arrangements is necessarily scant, due to the EU’s insistence that those cannot be discussed until after the Brexit deal has been struck; the Northern Ireland backstop plan is imperfect (though overblown by trumpeting politicians); and, yes, the

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The business case for making UK media less homogenous

Last month Channel 4 announced it had chosen Leeds as the location of its new second national headquarters, with around a quarter of its London-based staff making the move. Though Leeds had been on the announced shortlist as far back as June, the announcement managed to take media twitchers by surprise, as it was seen as having the longest odds compared to other shortlisted cities like Birmingham and Manchester.

The national channel also announced it will open creative hubs in Bristol and Glasgow, each with around 50 staff, as part of a plan to increase the amount Channel 4 spends on programmes outside London by £250m over the next five years.

Speaking at the time of the announcement, Channel 4’s chief executive said the move would involve more “people from across the UK and supercharge the impact we have in all parts of the country”.

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Why challenges to China’s games industry matter in Europe and the US

Games industry

Your Tencent’s worth?

China’s games industry is experiencing its slowest growth in at least a decade and a half, despite evidence that the country’s gamers are spending more of their time playing games (see graph below).  The world’s largest games market, worth some $32.5bn a year, is in the midst of a huge shake-up.  Beijing has sought to limit the industry, alluding to growing concerns

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Lessons in print success from digital-only publishers

It’s undeniably been a bad week for print in the UK:

Shortlist Media (now rebranded as ‘The Stylist Group’) announced that its flagship men’s lifestyle title Shortlist was to go digital-only as the company prioritises Stylist magazine instead. If a circulation of over 500,000 isn’t enough to sustain a free title, what hope is there for the smaller titles? Especially, as Shortlist alumni Terri White pointed out, when the advertising market simply isn’t there to support them?

Shortlist commanded a huge share of the free titles

Esquire also announced plans to go bi-monthly rather than monthly. In doing so it is increasing page count, page quality and the number of sections, in part to refocus its business model around the core audience of ABC1 men who it is betting will pay to support a doubly-luxury title and its new suite of events. In the light of what’s happened to the once-thriving “lad’s mags” market, Esquire has always tried to set itself apart – but in the face of falling print ad revenue has been forced to change itself once again.

And in the most earth-shattering news, the bell finally tolled for Johnston Press plc, which despite the success of flagship titles like the i and The Scotsman, was forced to go into administration to help wipe the debt it had accumulated over the course of being a regional news publishing powerhouse. It took the newly-formed JPIMedia to provide some much-needed surety against the uncertainty, with the Independent’s Chiara Giordano reporting:

“In a statement, JPIMedia offered reassurance that the acquisition of Johnston Press “secures jobs and [the] future of its brands and titles”.

“JPIMedia’s shareholders recognise the vital role that local and regional media plays in the communities they serve and remain committed to protecting and enhancing the value of the business in the future,” it added.”

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Have Amazon, Facebook and Google learned anything from cases of data misuse?

After the Cambridge Analytica scandal earlier in the year, you’d expect that platforms like Facebook would be rather more careful about how it exploits user data. Research has shown that consumer concerns over misuse of user data is one of the primary reasons why people choose to use ad blockers, and since user data is effectively the commodity on which the platforms operate, any further scandals are likely to have a cooling affect on their business models. Earlier this month a study from Pivotal Research Group found that people were spending less time across Facebook’s platforms (though it couldn’t say if that was specifically due to associaion with Cambridge Analytica).

Unfortunately Facebook has now been implicated in yet another potential misuse of user data: It registered a patent that uses geolocation to provide friend recommendations to people who are physically close to you. Or, as Lisa Vaas put it for Naked Security, “Facebook wants to reveal your name to the weirdo standing next to you.”

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The best way to tackle bullying and sexual harassment in the creative industries

Homo alpha, expelliarmus!

For some time now, commentators have been noting the wave of change finally brought around regarding female representation in the creative industries, including us in our blog on #metoo. On our screens, this has been playing out with the notable increase in women in prominent roles: Claudia Winkleman and Tess Daly made the first prime time female presenting duo in 2014, and this year Jodie Whittaker became our first female Doctor Who.

This change is starting to be seen behind the scenes as well. Of 201 men who have lost their jobs following accusations of sexual harassment in the past year, 43% of those who have been replaced have been replaced by women. The NYT has put together a handy list. But has enough been done? How far do we still have to go?

Well, only 36% of jobs in the creative sector are currently filled by women. At a senior level women are even less represented, making up only 11% of Creative Directors or equivalent across the sector. In TV, only 17% of output in a recent survey was helmed by female directors. This

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Video advertising: future models, previous mistakes

No doubt you’ll have seen the latest Facebook controversy (no, not that one): the social network didn’t let news publishers know about a bug that discounted people who watched less than three seconds of video, thereby artificially increasing the statistics around how long people were consuming videos on average. As a result, some people are claiming that Facebook effectively created the pivot to video that saw newspapers and magazines shed tons of editorial roles in favour of video teams, to cater for this new audience demand for video content. Some are even suing Zuckerberg’s brainchild over it.

Due to all the broken promises and missed expectations that came with news publishers’ rush into video, it’s easy to forget that the reasons behind the drive to produce more digital video were sound: consumers are viewing ever more video online across OTT services like Netflix, user-generated-content platforms like YouTube, and livestreaming sites like Twitch. Even if the figures around view time were skewed, the trend is undeniable – one of the worst affected companies, Mic, even claims that the inflated metrics weren’t even a consideration in their own change towards digital video.

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What Jamal Khashoggi’s death tells us about attitudes to journalism

It seems increasingly likely that Jamal Khashoggi met his death in the Saudi embassy in Istanbul. It also seems likely that what brought about the journalist’s torture and murder was his antipathetic coverage of the Saudi regime. And it seems likely that the Saudi regime felt empowered to act with impunity because of the pusillanimity of the international community.

Protests in Turkey. It shouldn’t need saying.

Since 1990, more than 2,500 accredited journalists have been killed around the world for carrying out their work. Some of these cases are high profile: Khashoggi, Daphne Caruana Galicia in Malta, Marie Colvin in Syria,  Terry Lloyd in Iraq, Martin O’Hagan in Northern Ireland, and on, and on. All are tragedies. But the vast majority go below the radar. And even those high profile cases have rarely been met with appropriate sanctions.

When did journalists’ lives become so insignificant? Sadly, it is not a new phenomenon. Reuters keeps an “In Memoriam” book, which commemorates those journalists

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The challenges facing Thomson Reuters spin-off

 

The numbers look daunting

One of the biggest and longest-running media deals of the year finally closed earlier this month. Thomson Reuters has spun its successful Financial & Risk business out into a new company, backed by Blackstone and rebranded as Refinitiv. They’ve been making quite a lot of noise about it (including, excruciatingly, in a rap.) In doing so, the business has joined the likes of Acuris and Ascential in replacing a valuable and well-known brand with something vaguely techy-sounding but completely meaningless – both to the market and in English. While the new business contains many hugely talented people and some excellent brands (including the likes of Lipper and WorldCheck), dispensing with the TR name could leave it with a serious brand recognition problem in a highly competitive market.

From the point of view of what’s left of Thomson Reuters, the decision is perplexing. Anyone who’s been following B2B media over the last few years will know that the real long-term growth is in high-value subscription-based information and data products. While Thomson Reuters will retain

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Ethical consumerism and the power of the millennial pound

According to the headlines (and backed up by recent studies) millennials are killing industries: the divorce industry, the diamond industry, and the oil industry, to name a few. For young consumers, it is appears that ethics trumps other concerns when looking for brands to support. This impacts where they invest, what they watch and where they work, with 14% of millennials saying they would not want to work in the oil and gas industry, the highest of any sector.

Kneel. Diamond.

Nike’s Colin Kaepernick campaign saw a 3% dip in its share price, which would initially appear to be a red flag for the brand. However, a closer look reveals

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Can UK newspapers regain their bite in the face of falling circulations?

Newspapers’ influence is often measured by the number of people its articles reach. You see it in everything from the prominence given to circulation figures, or the raw addressable audience that is afforded by the platforms on which they exist. But the purpose of the fourth estate has to been to hold power in check – and arguably it has been failing in that mission over the past two years. Journalism is reaching more people than ever before, but it’s having less impact than ever.

It’s an issue that’s felt more acutely in local media. The director of local news group the Bureau Local Megan Lucera said: “We’re not hearing stories on the ground. Issues were not being raised at a national level. It came down to a wider identity crisis for news… and local journalism has taken a particular hit.”

More in hope than expectation…

However, it’s also true at a national level. Two stories that broke about the purpose of journalism this week brought that dichotomy into stark focus. The first – the left-leaning Observer publishing an op-ed from the UK prime minster Theresa May – was

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Diversity in recruitment: why AI might not be the answer

For a few years now, AI has been proffered as the future of cost-effective and efficient recruitment, allowing users to screen millions of CVs in a matter of seconds. More interestingly, there are claims that it allows users to pinpoint the biases which exist in their overarching hiring process or even within the job listing itself. Studies of recruitment diversity have shown that more masculine words can dissuade female candidates from applying, and it is true AI could detect and replace this language with something more gender neutral. So could AI be a silver bullet for killing off hiring prejudices?

Garbage in, garbage out.

Recent attention has centred on the potential for unconscious algorithmic bias. That is, if you have biased data – no matter how much of it – the output is going to be biased. For example, a reliance on postcodes and schools will inevitably intersect with race and class. And if machine learning draws inferences from an already homogenous group of people,

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The battle for Sky reveals television’s content concerns

This week the long-running saga of who will take ownership of Sky has reached a definitive conclusion, with US-based Comcast splurging billions for control of the London-listed pay-TV provider. The battle for the company had been waged for long months between Comcast and Twentieth Century Fox, both of which saw in Sky opportunities to fortify their foothold in a highly competitive market.

So why would the two compete and, ultimately, why would Comcast buy Sky? £17.28 a share (plus £30.6bn in equity) is a huge amount of money for what is effectively a pay-TV company that exists primarily in a saturated market, so what does its purchase add to the business, and how will it change the market?

It had been argued that Comcast was the better fit in terms of synergies, with both companies simultaneously offering both content packages and internet/communications infrastructure – but it appears to have been the former that convinced Comcast execs to up their bid for Sky. That in turn led Fox to ‘throw in the towel’ and admit defeat, its ambitions to own the European pay-TV market abandoned.

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WaPo’s Platform-as-a-Service strategy is brilliant – and irreplicable

The Washington Post is a unique media company for a number of reasons. Its close affiliation with Amazon provides it with strong ecommerce potential; its subscription potential was bundled with Amazon Prime long before rebundling was a glint in other media companies’ eyes; and it has always bucked the trends surrounding digital video.

PaaS the buck.

Perhaps more importantly, it is making a significant run at Platform-as-a-Service revenue – and might be the single best-placed media company to do so.

If you’ve ever used Google Drive to collaboratively edit a document, you’ve experienced a PaaS. Chances are that you’ve also recognised the benefits of doing so. But the potential of PaaS is truly realised at a macro level: licensing a platform for developing and publishing apps without also needing to build the infrastructure behind it is freeing for media businesses and allows easier entrance to the market for start-ups.

For companies engaged in the production of journalism (or its backwoods cousin, ‘content’), that can be a god-send. The tricky process of building a back-end is enormously expensive at the best of times – let alone in a year in which the vast majority of legacy publishers are trying to scale back costs through consolidation and the sharing of talent and tech.

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Is brand differentiation enough to save publications?

This week saw credible rumours of the closure of the Glamour magazine brand in the US. For those that knew it (or had at least seen its marketing material) Glamour was the luxury lifestyle brand, perfectly pitched at people who needed expertly curated product recommendations and interviews with today’s most relevant celebrities. This, of course, was also the pitch for many of its contemporaries and, regardless of which title was your particular favourite, that led to issues surrounding differentiation in a shrinking marketplace. Its decision to transition from a print-led to a digital-only title is, in part, to escape that shrinking space, but the danger is that online lifestyle content is an even more crowded space.

Last week also saw the effective closure of The Outline. The Outline was a two-year old digital culture publisher that had a strong brand, a memorable visual identity and had seemingly been doing well, having raised $5.51 million in VC funding in May of this year, putting it

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What is the future of branded content?

Building brand success

Branded content – native advertising, paid-for content, advertorial, creative solutions, call it what you will – has been around for over a century. Contently point to Theodore MacManus’s famous story on “The Penalty of Leadership” for Cadillac in 1915 as one of the early examples of the art. But there is no denying that there has been a recent rush to exploit the form, as media companies have sought to diversify their revenues and fight back against declining revenues from traditional advertising.

Now, pretty much every large digital or print publisher has their creative solutions team beavering away and finding synergies between their audiences and client brands. Many have

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Where are media companies investing their tech dollars?

Media has always been a tech-driven business, exploiting, over centuries, the development of papyrus, paper, printing, radio, TV and the World Wide Web. The key to each of these revolutionary technologies is that they made the distribution of content fundamentally easier. 

While content is the bedrock on which media companies are built, the adage that ‘context is king’ is undeniably true. It doesn’t matter if you’ve invested in an award-winning team of journalists, or that you’ve spent millions on a world-altering piece of data journalism if nobody sees it and it doesn’t benefit your bottom line. The problem is that when there is so much content, so widely distributed, it’s tough to find your audience. 

Media companies have been investing huge amounts in building or licensing proprietary tech solutions in order to counter those pitfalls. News UK, for instance, is approaching the end of a trial of a new tech solution designed to reduce subscriber churn as it tacitly admits it cannot grow subscriber numbers forever, while Schibsted is investing in a new techstack across its many titles which allows for greater personalisation and the surfacing of content relevant to its audience.

Who’s looking at you, kid.

The same technology that can be used to tailor content to individual users can also be used to deliver more targeted advertising, which is seen as one way to avoid the race-to-the-bottom nature of most digital display advertising.

Additionally, as the push for more ecommerce revenue continues in the face of squeezed display ad spend, publishers are finding they have to invest significantly in the tech and skills behind such transactions. Writing for Digiday, Max Willens points out that where ecommerce retailers are unwilling or unable to share data on transactions, it’s often up to the publishers themselves to make up that deficiency:

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Why apps are becoming central to consumer publishers’ strategies

Media companies – consumer-facing publishers in particular – are reportedly looking to reddit for inspiration. An article on Quartz about the self-described “front page of the internet” states that points out that reddit has consistently been ahead of the curve when it comes to its strategy around user engagement and personalisation, and that it’s seeing success that other media companies can only dream of as a result:

“As a quantifiable metric for the supremacy of the site’s popularity, the amount of time the average user spends on Reddit per day is greater than any other social media site in the top 50. Clocking in at just under 15 minutes per user per day, it goes far beyond Facebook’s 10 minutes and 37 seconds and Twitter’s 6-and-a-bit minutes.”

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NewTV, but same old challenges

Small but perfectly formed

The entrepreneurs behind the imaginatively-named NewTV, Jeffrey Katzenberg and Meg Whitman, will be feeling encouraged by their recent round of investment having closed at $1bn. The service promises entertainment providers an avenue onto the world’s billions of smartphones, being specifically designed for mobile use with short-form series of 10-minute episodes. And it seems they have Hollywood and Wall Street convinced, according to Variety:

“Backers include a who’s who of Hollywood studios: Disney, 21st Century Fox, NBCUniversal, Sony Pictures Entertainment, Viacom, AT&T’s WarnerMedia (formerly Time Warner Inc.), Lionsgate, MGM, ITV and Entertainment One. Tech investors include Chinese internet giant Alibaba Group; strategic investors include VC firm Madrone Capital Partners, which led the round, along with Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase & Co. and John Malone’s Liberty Global. The funding officially closed July 31.”

Encouraging, sure. But will it really be enough for to penetrate an already saturated market where similar offerings have since failed? Securing $1 billion from such famous brands is no mean feat but

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Travel: A safe harbour for business information companies?

We have written before about how niche media businesses are bucking the downward trends. It seems to be an approach that is working for consumer as well as

Broadening the mind and growing the top line

B2B businesses. More evidence of this comes with the recent publication of Centaur’s latest interim report, which confirms that its Travel & Meetings portfolio reported revenues of £5.7m (2016: £5.0m), up 14 percent year on year, led by its Business Travel iQ business information brand.

Also mining the travel sector, Skift has been one of the biggest success stories in the business information sector over the past few years – its success stands in contrast to other media startups which rely on VC funding. In fact, its founder Rafat Ali has spoken many times about why going ‘narrow and deep‘ in high-value niches is the biggest opportunities for media companies.

So why does this sector seem to be returning dividends for publishers?

Well, travel is one of those rare verticals that seems to thrive no matter what. For one thing, the travel and holiday industry seems to be resilient – despite

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3 Key Trends for Media Companies from Ofcom’s Communications Market Report

The Ofcom Communications Market Report is a pretty good bellwether of changing consumer habits. And, like boats reacting to the tide, those changing habits dictate how media companies will act over the next few years, as they change their priorities to benefit from shifting audience attention.

Here are three key takeaways from the latest report that shine a light on where media companies will lie over the next few years.

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