Tag Archives: News International

GNM’s Brooks: Times to keep 10% of readers would be ‘breathtakingly successful’

Publishers looking to paywalls, mobile or the iPad to singularly replace lost print revenues are set to be disappointed, according to Guardian News & Media’s Tim Brooks.

“There is no silver bullet,” warned the 52-year-old managing director who is, like the rest of the industry, following News International’s paywall experiment with great interest. But, he believes, unlike this week’s reports that claimed The Times retained two-thirds of its online traffic, actual readership is likely to settle at a fraction of that.

Brooks said: “We did our own calculations around paywalls in the early part of last year and the indications we’ve had is that the assumptions we put into our model are actually similar to the assumptions that they’re working on.” Prior to erecting the paywall, John Witherow, editor of The Times, appeared to be under no illusions when he admitted it could cost the brand more than 90% of its audience. But Brooks said “to keep 10% would be astronomically brilliant”. He explained: “If you think about click-through rates and you think about conversion rates on click-through rates, and that’s what marketing people are used to dealing with, and then you multiply that by an order of magnitude for the fact that you’ve got a strong brand like The Times. 10% would be breathtakingly successful.”

GNM’s leader has tried to avoid being drawn on the actual number he believes his rival is looking at, but goes on to use the example of evaluating the loss of 95% of readership. Brooks suggested the Murdochs have a more ambitious strategy in mind than generating online subscriptions and pointed to James Murdoch’s MacTaggart Lecture last summer, in which he stated his belief that there’s only one media market now. e also mentioned News Corp’s move to buy the 61% of BSkyB it does not currently own as soon as David Cameron came to power. He said: “You can see a picture that they may be painting of the future where they have a sort of ‘walled garden’ of Sky / News [Corp] wholly-owned content offerings, including their newspapers.”

 The Guardian remains open to paywalls

For his part, Brooks remains decidedly pragmatic about the possibilities around paywalls. Unlike The Guardian’s editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger, there’s no talk of Rupert Murdoch “sleep walking to oblivion” or philosophical musings about the “democratisation of the web”. For Brooks, the equation just doesn’t currently fit with GNM’s goal. He said: “We looked at the difference it will make to our net revenues, and we looked at the loss of over 90% of our audience for the gain of a very small percentage of additional revenue.

 “For News [International], journalism is a means to an end, and the end is profit. For us it’s different, journalism is our end. “It’s not a means to anything… and you would need very powerful journalism arguments for us to close our journalism off from 95% of people who are accessing it currently.” Interestingly, this altruism does not appear to extend to GNM’s other outlets, including the newspaper itself or its iPhone app, which achieved more than 100,000 downloads in its first 10 weeks and, at a cost of £2.39, raked in more than £240,000.

 Brooks reasoned it is because of the open nature of the web: “You have to think about the nature of the platform that you’re trading on. So if you think about newspapers, typically, it is a closed platform. “That is one reason why we felt confident about charging for our iPhone app, the habit of paying for things through iTunes is an established habit.”  But those who believe that the Guardian is somehow a devout champion of an open, free internet should take note. If expectations were to shift, GNM’s leader has no qualms in changing direction.

 Noting Google’s trialling of “newspass”, a system that promises micro-payments as well as long-term subscriptions through a friction-free paywall, Brooks admitted: “If the ecology of the system changes, we’ll change our behaviour. We’re not King Canutes here. “We just believe at the moment, people don’t expect to pay for things on the web, by and large won’t pay for things on the web, and we’re not a big enough animal to change people’s behaviour.”


The Times and The Sunday Times unveil new-look websites

The Times and the Sunday Times have today unveiled their new-look websites ahead of their conversion next month to a paid-for access model. The revamped websites, Thetimes.co.uk and Thesundaytimes.co.uk will replace the combined site, Timesonline.co.uk.

The move marks the first time The Times newspaper brands have boasted separate sites and comes amid a battle among newspaper publishers to monetise their digital offerings. The websites will be accessible for registered users for an introductory four-week period, before the paywalls are put in place. Registered users must be 18 and over before they are permitted to access the sites.

The sites boast new features, which the titles believe will give them stand-out from rivals. These include live interviews on The Times site, and a fast-track booking site on The Sunday Times site. The two new websites have a more conservative look than the Times Online site, which will be phased out.

From 1 June, a charge of £1 a day or £2 a week will be introduced for access to both sites. Access to the digital services will also be included in the seven-day subscriptions of print customers to The Times and The Sunday Times.  Articles on The Times and Sunday Times’ sites will not appear in searches by Google and other search engines. The sites will only display their respective homepages and not the articles, to search engines.

News International has not disclosed specific subscriber targets, though it is undoubtedly prepared for a major drop in user numbers of its websites.  Payment for the sites is to be made by direct debit and the £2-a-week charge will auto-renew, which is not the case for the daily charge. James Harding, editor of The Times, said: “The site will include live interviews with the people who shape the news and exclusive video – giving readers the opportunity to get more from their favourite sections.  This is just the start. We will continue to add new features to ensure that the innovation that has been central to The Times for 225 years, continues into the future.”

Separately, Roger Alton, the former editor of the Observer and the Independent, is to join the Times as joint executive editor. Alton left the Independent last month (May) following its purchase by Alexander Lebedev, the Russian millionare.


FT becomes first major publisher to withdraw from ABC e-audit

The Financial Times has become the first national newspaper to withdraw from the monthly online audit conducted by Audit Bureau of Circulations. The move away from the independent ABCe audit comes amid increasing scepticism and discord over the metrics currently available to advertisers and their agencies for online magazine and newspaper brands.

Last month, News International took the controversial step of withholding its monthly ABCe figures for its entire portfolio ahead of Times Online erecting a paywall next month. But despite the move, News International “continues to work with ABCe” as members, under the proviso that its sites must be publicly certified at least once within the next year, as stipulated by JICWEBS – the UK committee that defines the auditor’s standards.

The move by News International had already raised concerns about the future role and viability of ABCe, an organisation built on transparency and accountability since 1997.  The decision now by Pearson to completely pull out of ABCe membership could result in a complete review of the current auditing process in the UK. An FT spokesperson said: “The FT no longer participates in ABCes as volume traffic measures have become less relevant to our advertisers and clients. We do not intend to compete on volume, rather the quality of our registered and subscriber readership.”  

The announcement comes in the same month the business newspaper launched its own audience measurement system, called the estimated Average Daily Global Audience (ADGA). Conducted with independent assurance from PricewaterhouseCoopers, the model measures the number of people globally who, on an average day, read FT journalism in print and online. ADGA uses a combination of sources including syndicated national and regional readership surveys, unique user and browser data, FT research based on large samples of its reader/user base as well as ABC circulation figures.

Duplicated consumption is also removed in an attempt to more accurately track numbers of actual people as opposed to computers.
Anita Hague, global research director at the FT, is convinced the new measurement offers advertisers a new way to better understand and quantify audience in a multi-platform environment, and hopes it will be adopted by other media owners.

“We are happy to make the methodology available to any other interested party,” she said. “It responds to the demands of media partners seeking more comprehensive and relevant audience analysis.”  The new system and its claim of greater accountability already has the backing of James Jennings, joint managing director of WPP media agency Maxus.

He said: “On and offline can no longer be treated as silos or disparate disciplines. The FT’s recognition of this need, with a clear and transparent approach, should be seen as an important step forward, as well as a sign of confidence in their continuing ability to deliver the right audience across multiple touchpoints.” Ben Hughes, deputy chief executive of the Financial Times, called it a “ground-breaking move”, adding: “It’s the first time that a single measure has been developed that takes into account a global digital and online audience.

“Traditional measurements (ABCs and readership surveys) focus on one or the other and are not consistent across the globe. It’s the quality of our registered and subscriber readership that matters to our advertisers, rather than volume.”  Hughes also reveals the FT is also developing an audited global paid-for circulation number, which counts everyone who pays to consume FT content.

Richard Foan, managing director of ABCe, said: “Innovation in digital continues apace. Almost 300 companies are now part of ABCe and the delivery of industry approved standards for digital measurement. “These globally applied standards are already used by Nielsen, comScore, Google, Omniture, Webtrends, Nedstats and many other analytics providers of course. “These standards were first delivered in 1997 and have been regularly reviewed and evolved ever since, to ensure they continue to be relevant to our industry as it evolves”


Guardian editor forecasts ‘vault of darkness’ for The Times

Alan Rusbridger and John Witherow sparred over their respective free and paid-for online journalism models last night, but were united in saying their current printing presses will be their last.  The rival editors were participating in a BBC Radio 4 debate staged only weeks before The Times and Witherow’s Sunday Times begin enforcing an online subscription regime of £1 per day and £2 per week

According to Witherow, the new Sunday Times site will be free for a month before the paywall goes up between internet users and the editorial.   Witherow admitted the move, instigated by News Corporation chief Rupert Murdoch, would decimate the Times’ online readership by “easily” more than 90% but argued it would be “perilous” to continue to rely totally on online advertising revenues.

The free model pursued by most newspapers, including Rusbridger’s Guardian, would lead to “poorer and poorer” journalism in the long term, Witherow claimed. “The point of [charging online subscriptions] is to make money so we can invest in journalism. Pay journalists decent salaries, send them places, get better reporting,” he said, having earlier pointed out it cost The Times a million pounds per year to maintain a Baghdad correspondent.   “The danger of this other model is that gradually the journalism will diminish, it will get poorer and poorer, you won’t be able to afford things, you won’t be able to do things and so everybody is poorer as a result.”

However, Rusbridger questioned the significance of the revenues the Times and Sunday Times could make from what he guessed would be in the region of 60,000 to 100,000 online subscribers compared to Guardian.co.uk’s 32 million users. “That’s two or three weeks’ revenue in terms of cover price. That’s useful revenue, I can see why people are trying it, but it’s not a game changer. It will be interesting if it succeeds but we shouldn’t kid ourselves that this is going to be the panacea.”

Rusbridger’s prediction elicited the response from Witherow that he would be “disappointed” with 60,000 subscribers, but the Sunday Times editor refrained from giving his own estimate of the number of future paying users. Witherow later said News International was “going full out to make it work” and did not yet have a plan B if it did not. For his part Rusbridger professed that while staying free was the best way forward journalistically for The Guardian, he welcomed the experimentation from The Times.

“The truth is that nobody knows – John doesn’t know, I don’t know – how this is going to end up. It’s a good thing that he’s experimenting so we’ll try different models and end up learning something from both.” However, though claiming it would be crazy to be “fundamentalist” about staying free if The Times succeeded, the Guardian editor went on to nail his colours to the mast by saying “if you erect a paywall around your content you kind of go into a vault of darkness”. He believed openness to and collaboration with the wider internet “ecosystem” were key assets in future journalism.

Rusbridger bolstered his argument by claiming The Guardian’s digital advertising revenues were up around 100% in a year, in contrast to Witherow’s admission of falling revenues. The Guardian editor warned The Times faced competition not just from other newspaper websites but from specialist free websites such as News Corporation’s own Book Army.

“The competition isn’t from the bundled newspaper sites, it’s from the people who have a much lower cost model who are going to do it for free,” he said. “The moment we get behind a paywall, they’re going to say ‘thanks very much, that’s what we were praying for’.”

Rusbridger also noted that Murdoch’s Sky News website would still provide free news competition, memorably saying: “Rupert Murdoch is having it both ways at the moment and he would as readily stab you in the back as the front.”    

One issue the two men did agree on is that neither newspaper group will need new printing presses. Rusbridger said: “I would miss print … but if it means that print goes and Guardian journalism continues digitally, that’s not the worst thing in the world.”

“Our last printing presses [which were installed in 2005 with the switch to the Berliner format] – I had a feeling in my bones that they might be the last printing presses.” Pushed by host Steve Hewlett for a date by which The Guardian will not exist in print, Rusbridger said: “I was thinking 20 years at that point. I think that might be telescoping quite dramatically now.”

Witherow seemed to suggest a longer timescale, albeit a similar sentiment: “We’ve got new presses [installed in 2008] that were supposed to last 30 or 40 years. We rather assumed the same thing, that these would be the last. Things are speeding up now and for us to predict how long print will be around is very difficult.

“My theory is it’s going to be a considerable time, especially with something like the Sunday Times, which has magazines and is a tactile experience.” An edited version of the debate can be heard today on Radio 4’s ‘The Media Show’ at 1.30pm


Murdoch’s Times to offer daily energetic and purposeful mass debates behind its controversial paid for firewall

The Times is to offer daily live debates and discussions as part of a range of incentives to encourage readers to pay for access to its website. News International contacted preview subscribers this week to disclose a few of the new features it plans to bring in when it introduces paywall barriers to the websites of The Times and Sunday Times newspapers in June. In addition to daily discussions with political, cultural, business and sporting figures Times Online, which will be relaunched as Thetimes.co.uk, will offer greater interaction with its reporters. The planned launch of a stand-alone website for the Sunday Times will see it introduce a “culture planner”. The interactive feature promises weekly events calendars, critics recommending “must-sees”, video previews, a ticket booking facility and remote TV recording through the site – presumably with a link to Sky’s set-top technology. In the promotional material News International also said its new Times website would allow readers the opportunity to “become part of the debate and engage with the news”. The publisher said it will also allow readers to “ask our journalists about their stories” while an OpEd Live feature will let “columnists and contributors bring their comment pieces to life online” however it does not go into detail on how these new features may work. News International announced last month that from June readers would be charged GBP 1 for a day’s access to the websites of its quality newspapers or GBP 2 for a week’s subscription. Payment will allow access to both websites


Times Online blocks news aggregator

News International is blocking the news aggregator NewsNow.co.uk from linking to Times Online content.

News International has told the aggregator that it may no longer link to any content on Times Online, and imposed a technical block by altering its robots.txt, the file through which a website can ask search engines not to index its pages.

“News International has for some time been indicating to us that it would like us to refrain from linking to their content,” said Struan Bartlett, managing director and chairman of NewsNow, who is sponsoring a campaign called right2link.

“We have been trying to solicit from them their reason for wanting us to stop, but not other search engines. They haven’t given us a reason that we understand.”

The move seems to be part of Times Online’s preparation for moving its content behind a paywall. News Corporation chief Rupert Murdoch declared his intention to charge for newspaper content online last August, and the scheme is due to start with the relaunch of Times Online in spring.

Another online cuttings service, Meltwater, is currently taking the Newspaper Licensing Agency (NLA) to a copyright tribunal over whether or not newspapers can control the use of their links. The NLA is owned by eight national newspaper publishers, among them News International and Guardian News & Media, which publishes MediaGuardian.co.uk.

In December 2009, NewsNow decided to pull links to many national newspaper websites from its subscription service following attempts by the NLA to impose a fee structure. But its free news aggregation site, newsnow.co.uk, continued to include the links.

Yesterday the NLA announced that it is suspending invoicing for the new web licences for end users that it brought into effect as of 1 January. “We are confirming that licensing is effective from January 1 2010 and that charges will be incurred from that date – but we are suspending invoicing until the tribunal has ruled,” Andrew Hughes, its commercial director, said.

News International has yet to comment about any plans it may have to block other aggregators.


Greg Dyke calls for end to BBC Trust and rightly ‘puts the boot’ into ‘laughable’ James Murdoch

Greg Dyke, the former BBC director-general, has launched a scathing attack on the UK TV establishment, calling for the BBC Trust to be abolished and condemning James Murdoch’s recent criticisms of the BBC.

Delivering the Royal Television Society’s Christmas Lecture, Dyke said the decision to form the BBC Trust was ill-founded and instead a public service broadcasting regulator should be formed.

Labelling the BBC a “500 pound gorilla”, Dyke said “quite a lot of us did warn that this system of governance [the BBC Trust] wouldn’t work at the time it was created”.

 He added: “The truth is the Trust is unduly slow and bureaucratic, expensive to run and creates inbuilt conflict within the organisation. It has left the BBC without a supportive board or chairman and the Director General without the “cover” any chief executive needs.”

Dyke believes “logically Ofcom should become the regulator of the BBC” but he added that an “of-PSB” could be created and take responsibility for regulating the BBC, Channel Four and any other public service broadcasters.

Meanwhile, Dyke did not relent when reviewing the state of the rest of British TV. Referring to James Murdoch’s now infamous attack on the BBC in his MacTaggart lecture at the Edinburgh TV Festival, Dyke said Murdoch’s assertion that the BBC operated as a state sponsored media was “laughable”.

He said: “James finished his lecture by saying ‘the only reliable, durable and perpetual guarantor of independence is profit.’ That has to be a joke coming from someone running an organisation where every single one of its 175 newspapers around the world supported the war in Iraq. Where’s the independence there?”

However, Dyke did state support for Murdoch’s plan to start charging for content online. He said he agreed “with a lot of what James said in his MacTaggart. He is right about the threat of piracy, I hope News International’s bold move in charging on the internet works and pays off.”

In a wide-ranging speech on the state of the UK media sector, Dyke warned that Five’s future was uncertain. He said that Five has “no real chance “of surviving as an independent channel, adding that it is “just a matter of who buys it or who it merges with and when”.

However, he predicted good fortune for Channel 4, which is searching for a new chief executive to replace Andy Duncan. He said new chairman Terry Burns “will add a degree of stability at an unstable time” but warned the big challenge for Channel 4 “will be to work out what Channel 4 is and what it’s for in the new world”.


Murdoch thinks he can ‘do another Sky’ with his paid for content online charging plans

Media Week’s Steve Barrett hits the spot with regard to Wapping’s very  own modern day Australian version of King Canute when he argues:

“There must have been some groans at Wapping in May when Rupert Murdoch pronounced that his newspapers would be charging for online content within a year.  Whether that was the News Corporation chairman’s plan or not, Alex Ferguson at Manchester United and Tony Blair at Number 10 have shown that revealing self-imposed deadlines in public can make you a hostage to fortune and is invariably counterproductive.

Hence, it was no surprise when Murdoch admitted last week he “can’t promise” the deadline will be met, although he wasn’t forthcoming about the reasons why. My understanding is that News International is trying to set up an online pay platform to bring together content from third-party providers in addition to material from The Sun, News of the World, The Times and The Sunday Times.

The service will mirror online what Sky, in which News Corp is the biggest shareholder, does on its TV electronic programme guide. The EPG provides access to Sky TV, as well as channels from other TV firms. TV media owners pay Sky for a listing on it, encryption and regionalisation. Sky pays the media owner a fee for every subscriber signed up and a share of revenue if it sells the advertising.

Users would buy News International content and add on other packages as desired. So you might buy The Times and The Sunday Times, as well as The Daily Telegraph, which News International has been in discussions with. The system works because it avoids multiple pay platforms, which dilute the user-friendliness of the purchasing process and don’t exploit economies of scale.

The downside for third-party media owners is that News International owns the customer relationship and will presumably be able to market further services to the user base, which is no doubt complicating negotiations and technical integration.

Other media consortia are looking at similar group charging initiatives, so no wonder it is taking more than a few months to put together. My sense is that News International and its competitors’ online charging efforts will be one of the biggest rolling media stories of 2010 – but the offers won’t be trivial to put in place.