Sunday, 24 February 2013

London Calling - interviews with media icons in the U.K.

The beginning of the year has been quite a busy time for my research: a good number of interviews has been conducted with media executives in Finland, Sweden and the U.K. I have also continued my literature review and writing of the theory chapter about audience evolution and media consumer behavior for my PhD thesis. 

Key findings from the international interviews will be reported in the next few blog posts during the spring. 
Below are only some of the highlights from the discussions in London in the past week. A deeper analysis will follow later when all the interviews have been properly transcribed.

The interviews in London focused on picking the brains of media executives and strategists at The Economist, The Financial Times and The Guardian, with a particular insight of their 'Digital First Strategy'. All of the publishers have been actively developing a multichannel publishing strategy with various apps for smartphones and tablets. However, whilst The Guardian and The Economist have a like for "native apps" the 125-year old Financial Times is reporting success with its web app. The FT is quite progressive with investment into its digital platforms and sees the future of the newspaper as digital without the shade of a doubt.

Although the circulation for the printed newspaper has been sliding down the FT has its largest readership ever and FT's audience is comprising of wealthy and powerful people across the globe. According to Jon Slade, Commercial Director, FT provides "actionable content" to a quality audience. The FT has a combined print and online average daily readership of 2.1 million people worldwide and a combined paid print and digital circulation of more than 600,000 according to latest public figures presented on the FT website. Digital subscribers now represent a larger portion than the circulation of the printed newspaper. FT reported that 15% of the digital subscriptions had come from mobile platforms which accounts for 30% of all traffic. App usage is growing particularly fast among the 25-34 year old people, which is good news with regard to the future of readership.

Measurement of audience behavior with regard to job title and personal interests is of particular relevance to FT, allowing consultancy to advertisers utilizing an analytics tool called 'Deep View'. In this way FT can help advertisers to direct the right story to targeted audiences at the right time. However, print is not dead, as the FT still provides a good platform for premium advertising with its print subscription base of 275,375 as of January 2013. In a subsequent article in The Guardian reporting on FT owner Pearson's financial results it was stated that "advertising was generally week with poor visibility into the future, but the FT increased its market share in mobile, luxury and business education. Digital revenues benefited from the launch of FTSmartMatch, which automatically generates tailored content from the user while they are reading FT news stories."

The screen shot below is of the FT app on my iPad on the date of the interview. 

I also enjoyed the interviews at Guardian Media Group (GMG) and The Guardian Media Network. GMG boasts what I would like to call a 'portfolio strategy' of content available in multiple channels and a website based on an open model. The Guardian still believes in an open website i.e. there is no 'paywall' in place. The website is one of the most popular for news in the world with its approx. 70 million monthly visitors. This gives "good advertising income" according to Matt McAlister, the former Director of Digital Strategy and now responsible for digital business at GMG. A large portion of the visitors to the website are from the U.S., where The Guardian is not available in print at all. A full set of well designed apps are available for all smartphones and tablets, and The Guardian's content is also available on news aggregators like Flipboard, as well as an app on Facebook. 

The Guardian has also been a forerunner in crowdsourcing of content and data journalism, its open days have been much appreciated. Now the focus is on development of new apps including crowd curated content - these will be reported on as and when they are released.

On Thursday of this week I had the pleasure to take part in a panel discussion regarding new subscription models arranged by +Chris Smith, Content coordinator at The Guardian Media Network. The Guardian Media Network is a resource for the media and technology professionals, offering commentary and dynamic community engagement e.g. live panels and the annual "Changing Media Summit". This year the Changing Media Summit takes place on March 21-22 in London, and can be followed live on the Guardian Media Network.

The discussion about new subscription models and 'paywalls' was a very useful experience and my first live panel on Google hangout. You can watch the panel on YouTube by clicking the link to the discussion. This was also a good opportunity for networking. I hope to see more of this kind of international hangouts - The Guardian is very good at arranging events for various professional audiences and the Media Network is a good example of this.

Another interesting discussion took place with Nick Blunden, Global Digital Publisher at The Economist. The publication is quite an institution, established in 1843. It took The Economist 160 years to get to 1 million print subscriptions and only 9 more years to reach a total of more than 1.5 million subscribers (latest publicly available figure is 1,554,949 representing the total average print and paid digital editions circulation from January to June in 2012). The Economist hope to reach 2 million in total subscriptions "in the next few years". Focus has from the very beginning been on international affairs and trade, a sound base for the interests of a global audience today. As mentioned in a recent interview with Andrew Rashbass, CEO of The Economist Group, 'trust' and transparency is the core of the content of each issue. 

The Economist presents impressive numbers for its special content in the digital ecosystem: 9.5 million online visitors per month, and already approx. 660,000 active weekly app users for the mobile platforms. The Social Media sites show quite high figures for the likes and followers of The Economist. Digital income represents a significant proportion of total revenue at approx. 30% for The Economist Group. The share of print is declining, but Nick is still rather bullish about the future of print and thinks The Economist will still have a print edition in 10 years time.

As to audience measurement The Economist tracks downloads, but behavioral tracking is not yet done in depth. However, reader panels are conducted on a regular basis. For the near future top priorities include development of the mobile web and new apps to guarantee availability on all relevant mobile platforms. Advertising is becoming much more a targeted process, according to Nick Blunden, who has a background of heading an advertising agency prior to joining The Economist a few years ago. Advertising seems to work rather well on the tablet editions for premium advertisers, e.g. Intelligent Life magazine published by The Economist is free on the iPad sponsored by Credit Suisse.

The screen shot shown below is from The Economist special report on The Nordic countries, February 2nd 2013.

At the end of March I will interview leading U.S. publishers like Hearst and The New York Times. I will also deepen my understanding of 'Media Audience Evolution' and the concept of 'audience autonomy' with a little help from Professor Philip M. Napoli, a media researcher and Professor at Fordham University. Hope to get more food for thought for my theoretical part of the thesis, as well as practical findings on media development in USA.

In the meantime have a nice springtime - I hear it's just around the corner although there's still snow here in Finland. Today was actually a great day for cross-country skiing. But that's another story.

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