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What can news publishers learn from the success of the Nintendo Switch?

Modern media, to some extent, is just a series of stunts and marketing materials.

News publishers have to compete with digital outlets who, by nature of the race to scale, sell their content with hyperbole and screaming rhetoric of the sort we used to call ‘clickbait’. Even BuzzFeed, whose news wing is consistently breaking some of the biggest stories of any given week, used to indulge in this.

Switch your thinking…

Consequently even the legacy publishers find themselves dragged further towards that hysterical drive to be noticed. Take The Atlantic, the US-based publication whose work and business model other publishers look upon with envy. Last month, it appointed the arch-conservative columnist Kevin Williamson, as a stunt intended to broaden its appeal, though it was dressed up as an attempt to provide balanced coverage. Unsurprisingly,

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How publishers should approach the podcast as a medium

There have been many moments where podcasts have been heralded as having ‘arrived’: The Guardian publishing the first series of The Ricky Gervais Podcast in 2005, the founding of Midroll Media in 2014, the first series of Serial in the same year  and the launch of the GE-sponsored The Message in 2015 have all been pointed to as the moment the medium really took off.

Podcasts and radio are converging into ‘audio’ – what does that mean for publishers?

The truth, as I discussed with podcast expert Vanessa Quirk on an episode of Media Voices last year, is that there really was no moment you can point to as being the singular point at which podcasting became viable for publishers and media companies. Even the so-called ‘Serial effect’

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Cricket’s ball-tampering controversy is about bad employment practices

Out.

The ball-tampering issue is not just about cheating in sport. It is about bad employment practices.  It is about abuse of power.

For those not familiar with or interested in cricket, stick with it. There are some lessons to be learned for wider business here. Briefly, though, there was a cricket match between South Africa and Australia in which the Australian team were caught cheating. The technicalities are unimportant. The important thing is that in this case, a young cricketer, with only eight matches under his belt, was apparently cornered by a member of the ‘leadership group’ and asked to cheat for the ‘good’ of the team.

In normal employment terms, Cameron Bancroft, the man caught scuffing the ball and then lying about it, is an apprentice, or someone still serving his probation period. The player who approached him, it seems, was the vice-captain, David Warner. Let’s call him

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Diversity in the Theatre Workforce

Earlier this year The Stage reported on an arts council report which stated “BAME and disabled staff still ‘significantly underrepresented’ in theatre.”  In 2016 The Guardian reported on another arts council report with the headline ‘Number of BAME arts workers must improve.’

So why is this still a problem?

Theatre has a history of pushing boundaries and opening doors.  Broadway’s hit musical Hamilton casts black, rapping performers into the role of one of America’s founding fathers, the white Alexander Hamilton. Graeae Theatre Company champion the inclusion

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New opportunities amid falling TV ad spend

The US linear television industry has hit ‘permanent recession‘ in terms of the proportion of the total ad spend it commands, according to Magna. The rapid rise of digital ad spend has necessarily come at the expense of other areas and television, despite its reputation for delivering the best ROI of any medium, is no longer looking quite so unassailable. Mediapost’s Joe Mandele writes:

“‘National television ad sales will decline between -2% to -3% going forward,’ Magna concludes.

The picture is not any prettier for the local TV ad marketplace, and with the exception of election years, Magna does not expect any growth for local TV at all.”

The same is true to a lesser degree in the UK, where AA/Warc predictions in January put the % YOY change in television ad-spent at -2, even including the 11.4% increase in ad spend against VOD. That’s despite

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There is no such thing as ‘The Duopoly’

George Orwell wrote that jargon and obfuscating language contributes to the degradation of the English language to the point that meaningful dialogue is impossible.

One of many Google HQs

He might have had a point, too: The term ‘fake news’, which the Reuters Institute recommended should be stripped from conversation around online misinformation, was meaningless almost as soon as it was born, allowing it to be hijacked by politicians with an anti-media bent. One of the people who coined it, BuzzFeed’s Craig Silverman, has admitted culpability in that (though he can’t really be blamed for not predicting how it was to be co-opted), and I’ve been arguing it should be retired as a term since August of last year. Because it was jargon, ‘fake news’ has made discourse about misinformation impossible.


‘Millennial’, too, has drawn ire as being completely useless as a description of an entire generation’s habits and trends. It has led to

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Books: print media’s last stand

Quite rightly, there was a celebratory air to last week’s IPG conference. While the trend for most media sectors is reported as gloomy, book sales have been consistently growing for the last few years.

Stronger than they look

According to Mintel, 74% of Brits bought or read / listened to a book in 2016/17. The Publishers Association reported record sales of books and journals in the same period, rising to £4.8bn. Sales in both print and digital categories are up – with print consumption massively dominating the UK market (around 90% of copy sales).

So why are print books outlasting their physical counterparts in other media sectors? Well,

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What are the opportunities for a digital-only NME?

Old musical express

Another week, another print closure. Or, to put it in the euphemistic terms of the press releases: Another week, another refocusing on digital strengths.

The New Musical Express (NME) is shuttering its print operation after a much-publicised move to a free distribution model in summer 2015 which was designed to boost the magazine’s attractiveness to advertisers through an increase in circulation. In the announcement,

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ITV and WPP – similar problems, similar solutions

Shares in both ITV and WPP have fallen dramatically following their latest results. In both cases, this can be put down to the habitual complacency of a market leader. Neither business has been quick enough to restructure, nor trail-blazing in its digital offering. Neither have understood the major threats to their businesses through the duopoly of Google and Facebook.

Looking up?

So while there are obvious similarities in the business failings, the stories at the top of the businesses differ markedly. WPP is still helmed by its leader of 32 years, Martin Sorrell. ITV, after years of Adam Crozier’s stewardship, has a new CEO in Carolyn McCall.

McCall, the former CEO of the Guardian, has most recently been running EasyJet. She has seen advertising as both seller and buyer, and has hands-on experience of the value of data in her last role. As Simon English points out in the Standard, McCall is

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At last, good news for the entertainment retail industry

In a recent blog, we looked at the threat Brexit represents to the future of the UK creative industries, focusing mainly on the games industry – and for a very good reason: the UK games retail market is now a £3.35bn industry, its sales now almost equal to that of home sales for music and video combined.

Other cards are available

But this blog perhaps missed the wider, refreshingly positive story about the state of the entertainment market as a whole.  For many years, reports have suggested

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YouTube and ‘fake news’: The end of algorithm opacity?

There’s a predictable rhythm to the online aftermath of any sort of mass shooting. After the initial outpouring of sympathy and grief, you can expect the media coverage to turn to the reactions of the alt-right, both through morbid curiosity and a genuine attempt to explain how conspiracy theories get disseminated online. As sure as The Onion publishes its savage takedown of the Republican response to mass shootings, you can expect the exposés of reddit’s r/The_Donald subreddit to follow.

Things were no different in the immediate aftermath of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Valentines Day.

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How do you cover a problem like Facebook?

It has been [0] days since a media analyst wrote about Facebook.

Back when I was news editor for TheMediaBriefing, we had an editorial matrix designed to ensure we wrote about the different topics which our segmented audiences were most interested in. It was carefully constructed, with the sort of care you might take over a house of cards or a matchstick model, so that B2B, B2C, digital pureplays, platforms and the like all got equal prominence on the homepage.

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Trinity Mirror and Express Newspapers: Death, taxes and media consolidation

When news broke last week that Express Newspapers and its titles the Daily Express, the Daily Star and their Sunday editions were back up for sale, the sense I had was that the other shoe had finally dropped. The only linked buyer, Trinity Mirror, had been in talks with Richard Desmond’s media empire-ette about the acquisition three years ago, only for the discussions to collapse over a dispute about pensions.

Although a Trinity Mirror spokesman hedged about the exact date the £127m takeover bid would go through, saying “there’s still some way to go. This is not yet a done deal”, the reality is that those titles, plus celebrity title OK! magazine, will almost certainly be helping to prop up Trinity Mirror’s business very shortly (Friday if you believe the reports). There’s too much synergy between the two companies’ strengths and their needs for it to be otherwise.

Trinity Mirror (which happens to also be in the news this week for another, less savoury reason) still needs to make savings. At the same time it is very keen to expand its portfolio and create a genuine national-to-local appeal to advertisers, as can be seen by its acquisition of regional newspaper group Local World. And just as with Local World, a big part of the appeal of the Northern & Shell assets is that it can conduct significant backroom synergy while retaining the coverage and scale.

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Managing expectations in an age of overblown media valuations

You could argue that the most important skill of any media leader is the ability to temper expectations. Everyone’s constantly looking for the next unicorn, and as soon as some hot new thing appears suddenly everyone’s on the accelerator and nobody’s on the brakes. The next step is typically a sky-high valuation and successive rounds of VC investment – followed by a tepid or downright chilly response when the property takes longer than expected to find its feet or fails to deliver a return.

Look at what happened with Mashable, which sold for a fifth of its Spring 2016 valuation of $250m at the end of last year, and which had staked its fortune on the ability to reach a generalist audience at huge scale. When it sold to Ziff Davis in a “fire sale” price in December, much of the analysis

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How Brexit uncertainty threatens the future of UK creative industries

Last week, it was reported that there are more unfilled job vacancies than ever before in the British economy. As of November 2017, there were  810,000 unfilled vacancies in the UK – an increase of 60,000 on the previous year.

For all employers, that deserves a moment of reflection. But for employers of highly skilled workers, such as programmers, the current situation threatens to become a crisis as uncertainty over the direction of Brexit creeps in.

Global Talent Competitiveness Index.

The challenge of attracting talent to the UK is underlined by the latest Global Talent Competitiveness Index (GTCI), which shows the UK has dropped from 3rd place in 2017, to 8th place this year.  The rumours and uncertainty surrounding our future relationship with the European union are evidently making the UK a less attractive place to work.

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The Guardian relaunch underlines insignificance of print

The lack of noise – positive or negative – about the relaunch of the tabloid Guardian last week underlines just how irrelevant print is becoming to the newspaper market.

Tabloid, but not a tabloid.

Of course, it is also true that The Guardian is the last of the broadsheets – other than the Telegraph, which it seems will go to its grave in the larger format – to go tabloid or abandon print altogether. And given the perilous finances of the newspaper’s owners, GMG, this shift has been seen as inevitable after 13 years of the paper’s ruinously costly Berliner format (GMG made losses before exceptional items of £45m on turnover of £214m last year).

But the figures speak for themselves. Only 20% of the

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Journalism: young writers are being denied a proving ground

Every other week brings a new closure of some beloved digital publisher. This week, it was The Awl and its sister site The Hairpin, which announced their closure with a muted sort of triumph. In its final post, ‘Awl Ends’, The Awl made the case that it had for years delivered upon its promise of making people ‘less stupid’, and that the internet and digital publishing in general would be worse because of its absence:

“For nearly a decade we followed a dream of building a better Internet, and though we did not manage to do that every day we tried very hard and we hope you don’t blame us for how things ultimately turned out.”

Nobody could possibly blame The Awl or the many great writers who got their first real exposure on the platform for its closure, or for the growing dearth of a proving ground for young journalists online. It was an idiosyncratic site that defied definition, equal parts blogging platform, battlement for avante-garde satire, and petri dish for a form of New Journalism. Writing of its closure for NPR, Glen Weldon argues that The Awl and The Hairpin were the successors to a long line of renowned titles:

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Nintendo Labo: Innovation and sustainability in the gaming industry

Nintendo Switch has just become America’s fastest selling home games console selling 4.8m units in 10 months since launch.  This exceeded the previous record of 4m units, also held by Nintendo for its Wii.  (To blow our own trumpet for a moment, we had predicted in a previous blog at its launch that the Switch “could set the gaming world alight.”)

Nintendo Labo: DIY at its finest

Not content with that, though, Nintendo announced its innovative new IP ‘Labo’ about which the press are already writing “this latest idea is so crazy it might just work” and “how small our imaginations were, and how glorious it is to be blindsided by Nintendo again.”

So, what is Nintendo doing that other companies aren’t, and what can we all learn from them?

In short, Nintendo has

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Holding platforms to account in 2018: Part Two

Well, the best-laid plans of mice and men…

Only one week since we mooted the possibility that 2018 would be the year Facebook and Google would be held to account as publishers, Mark Zuckerberg stymies our plans for a part two by announcing that Facebook would no longer be a platform for quality news. It’s hard to imagine a neater sidestepping of an issue.

In the latest Monday note, Frederic Filloux points out that publishers in Europe have a tendency

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Holding platforms to account in 2018: Part One

Late last year a taxi drivers’ organisation in Barcelona successfully challenged Uber’s assertion that it is not primarily a transport company. The European Court of Justice ruled in the taxi drivers’ favour, throwing out Uber’s argument that it was first and foremost a digital service, noting that since Uber was central to the operation of the taxi-like service, it was more than simply an intermediary.

The ruling comes at a particularly interesting time for media companies in the UK. As Jason Moyer-Lee, general secretary of the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain, said:

“Today’s judgment made clear, as a matter of law, what everyone already knew as a matter of common sense: Uber provides transportation services, not technology services.”

Part of the problem media companies have with platforms like Google and Facebook is a clash of definitions. It’s well publicised that neither of the Duopoly consider themselves

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The most important skill for journalists in 2018

Scan any job site for journalism roles and you’ll notice the same required skills and qualifications pop up more often than not. NCTJ certified degree or equivalent. Shorthand. Self-starter with a keen news sense.

Those are all useful skills, and in the ever more competitive world of journalism successful applicants will need to tick every single box. The issue is that many of the jobs advertised that way are for generalist news reporter positions, and there’s no position more vulnerable in an age where many publishers are cutting back on editorial staff than the generalist news reporter. It’s still possible to find yourself a niche, particularly if you’re lucky enough to work for a specialist publication, but those positions are becoming rarer, especially for journalists new to the industry.

The reality is that as a result of the erosion of beat journalism in favour of creating mass-appeal general content, often journalists are distinguished less by the topics on which they are an expert and more on the way they can tell stories, whether that’s through creating video, data visualisations, social campaigns or a news game. Establishing yourself as a master of one of those disciplines is a great way to ameliorate the risk of redundancy.

But there’s an even more vital skill for journalists in 2018, one that’s related to the reasons why the generalist journalist is at risk…

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The age of ‘audience-first’ publishing needs a fresh set of metrics

At the tail end of 2017 many round-ups and prediction pieces (including my own) confidently asserted that 2018 will be the age of ‘audience-first’ publishing. It sounds an unnecessary description – surely publishing has always put audiences at the heart of their strategies – but it means something very tangible, and something that will hugely impact the media landscape over the next few months.

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2018 will see the ‘quality revolution’ for digital advertising

There are any number of predictions for media priorities in 2018 floating around. As with last year’s predictions some will be on point, some will miss the mark, and some will appear laughably naive by the time January 2019 arrives.

Almost certainly, all the predictions will be subject to Amara’s Law – that we overestimate the effect of a technology in the short-term and underestimate it in the long-term. As an example, we saw disappointment with early implementations of A.I. chatbots this year because of early hype around the technology, but the bots have been ubiquitous – and delivering significant revenue – since the middle of this year.

This year has also been the year of the ‘pivot to video’, a term that was used so widely and so often that it became

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The Fox / Disney deal a boon for Rupert Murdoch’s influence

Rupert Murdoch, like most media moguls, craves two things: money and influence.

Sweet…

What is so fascinating about last week’s proposed sale of Fox to Disney is that it demonstrates how much he values one over the other. Of course, this is not a deal that will make him any poorer – the Disney offer is strong, and Murdoch and other Fox shareholders will end up with an estimated 25% of one of the world’s largest media organisations – but this is a deal which sees him giving up a lot of control over profitable businesses, whilst retaining almost all his political influence.

As part of the deal, he is selling the Fox stakes in Sky and Sky News, despite fighting so hard to gain full control of the business. Even if Sky News is a loss-leader, Sky itself is extremely lucrative for Murdoch, earning him and his fellow Fox shareholders around £500m each year. But the deal

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Can Amazon re-kindle magazine sales?

GamesTM recently celebrated its anniversary of 15 years in print. This achievement would have completely passed me by, were it not for Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited service, as would the 12 month magazine subscription I signed up for once I’d finished reading my ‘borrowed’ issue.

A fillip for magazine publishers?

It was then that I found myself wondering whether I was looking at one possible answer to the dwindling fortunes of the magazine industry.

As one might expect, Kindle Unlimited offers users access to a large selection of books for a monthly fee – Netflix for bookworms if you will.  The number of available titles

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Lessons for media businesses from competitive platforms

As early as 2015, media companies had a sneaking suspicion that third-party platforms might not have their best interests at heart. The term that got bandied around to describe Facebook and Google was ‘frenemy’. Not even a handful of years later, the rhetoric is less ambiguous – the platforms are the feudal lords, and publishers are the serfs allowed to till their land.

App screen

Choose your platform with care

The pushback against that situation is now underway – through campaigns organised by the industry, through lawsuits designed to level the playing field, through dialogue with the platforms – but the truth is that the power balance is still skewed against publishers.

And it was a situation that the publishers should have (and probably did to some extent) see coming. Journalism trainer Adam Tinworth points out that Facebook had already done exactly the same rug-pull with marketers, but unfortunately, the promises of revenue from the tech giants ultimately proved too alluring for publishers.

Regardless of how the attempts to redress the issues with Google and Facebook go, hopefully media companies have finally learned that every other entity in the media landscape, at every step of the value chain, is a competitor. And if not, lessons can be learned from the following examples of the rug being pulled out from players in the media industry…

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How Twitter can damage your career

Of all the things 2017 can claim to be the year of, it has also been the year of the Twitter faux pas. Or at least, the year prominent media types started to be held accountable for their previous social media activity.

Josh Rivers, disgraced former Editor of Gay Times

Two of the more recent prominent career-altering social media incidents have been provided by Josh Rivers, the now-fired Editor of Gay Times, and Jack Maynard, the YouTuber-turned-I’m A Celebrity (not quite) star, who made their offensive tweets between 2010 and 2012. Whilst many deleted tweets resurface after being saved by fellow users, Maynard and River’s tweets remained active and undeleted until news broke.

The important lesson for users of social media is one that has been absorbed by media businesses over the years: that by uploading something to the internet, you effectively surrender control over how that content is used, circulated and interpreted.

As media headhunters, we know that employers do check the social footprint of their current and potential employees. A 2017 YouGov survey found

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Video-on-demand: ITV must win the UX campaign

ITV, one of the UK’s most prominent terrestrial television channels, is looking to translate its expertise in making programmes for the box in the corner to more modern screens. Following its hiring of Huffington Post UK’s editor-in-chief Stephen Hull as the new digital chief in March, ITV has announced the launch of three new digital-only news shows, presumably with the intention of broadening the reach of its international news brand as its non-National Advertising Revenue (NAR) shows healthy growthAn old CRT television

The three shows – ‘Now What?’, ‘Ask A Woman’, and ‘Young, British and Muslim’ – use existing talent from ITV’s news section, which, combined with Hull’s track record at Huffington Post UK and metro.co.uk, and ITV’s traditionally high production values, should serve to allay fears that this is ITV doing digital video for the sake of it. Instead, in an interview with The Drum, Hull noted that the shows have the mandate to “show that digital media and publishing can be grown-up, articulate and thoughtful”.

The quality of the programming is all but guaranteed to be extremely high, then – though ITV’s decision to focus on building a product before it sells sponsorship might raise some eyebrows, even if, as Hull notes: “There are loads of carcasses on the digital publishing motorway of businesses who tried to sell something before they built it.”

Presumably ITV believes the shows will add to its digital proposition, which currently includes the ITV Hub and its premium subscription option, which removes the ads for those who choose to pay it. But

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Is the structure of your business holding you back?

Spot where the buck stops….

Not long ago I spoke to the CEO of a magazine publishing business, one which has been doing pretty well by the standards of the wider market. Its advertising and subscription revenues are holding up reasonably well, but growth has stalled. One reason for this is that the business is siloed by discipline, rather than by product range – so that the editors, salespeople and marketers all sit in different reporting lines, with minimal communication between them. The publishers, the people who might be expected to come up with new revenue streams – from events to online content marketing solutions – have responsibility for their revenue numbers but no direct control over their sales teams. As a result, they have fewer levers to pull and no way to put their plans into action. The result is a dearth of new ideas in the business, while the reporting lines make it difficult to attract the kind of talent who might be able to take the business forward.

Another example is a B2B publishing company with decades of success behind it. The organisation was, for many years, organised as a set of business units whose managers were incentivised purely on profit, rather than on revenue or other KPIs. For a long time, this worked. But it also disincentivised

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The Time Inc sale threatens the primacy of brands

The dust won’t truly settle on the news that Time Inc. has been sold to Meredith Corp. for $1.85 billion in cash for some time yet, at least until we know what the owner of allrecipes and other lifestyle brands intends to do with Time Inc’s brands. The facts, as we know them, are that the deal will combine two radically different portfolios into a media giant capable of reaching, according to Meredith, a readership of 135 million with a paid circulation of nearly 60 million, as the culmination of a long-held desire from Meredith that saw failed bids earlier this year and in 2013.

In the meantime, there are plenty of unanswered questions about the acquisition, from what Meredith plans to leverage its expanded portfolio of brands to do to what it says about the state of the magazine industry.

For instance, can the Koch Brothers, who backed the deal to the tune of $650 million, really refrain from influencing the editorial and commercial direction of the new look Meredith Corp? The pair are known for their backwards views on climate change and workers’ rights, and some are worried that brands like Time, People and Fortune will be coloured by those beliefs. With just a hint of cynicism, tech reporter for the NYT Mike Isaac said:

 

koch brothers definitely bought in for a fifth of time inc in order to have no editorial control or input, i super believe this https://t.co/VEHnjA6tMr pic.twitter.com/2xcp8gcvpU

@MikeIsaac November 27, 2017

Given all the talk lately about the power of media moguls – even if, as the speculation around 21st Century Fox suggests, that power is waning, it’s likely to be a concern for some time yet.

Another question is what Meredith intends to do with the brands

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