News publishers see revenue and profit expectations under-performing at an alarming rate.
While advertising revenues are in decline in some countries, they are under-performing growth expectations in other countries. For example, the American publisher that budgeted for 2% growth is seeing 10% declines. The Indian publisher that budgeted for 15% growth is seeing 10% growth.
The growth path for news publishers involves:
- A re-arranging of assets at their fingertips.
- The expansion of revenue streams.
- The cultural co-mingling of these streams.
Several publishers have lamented the long-term advertising contraction in this way: They can continue to scale their previously uncuttable newsrooms to the revenue realities. Yet at some point, the lack of financial returns and the tipping point of no longer being able to fund Big J journalism will force them to question why they own newspapers.
Let’s not get to that stage.
Here’s a suggestion: change the rules of what determines success by expanding where we drill for revenue. Let’s find new value in the assets we have or come up with a way to create scale in the acquisition of new assets.
An intense and fascinating conversation with the CEO of a Swedish media company last week brought this idea to light, punctuated with this key question:
Why do American media companies prioritise the repair of the newspaper business model rather than perfecting the broader “mediahouse” model that channels quality audiences to more profitable digital assets?
An hour into our tête-à-tête, the Swedish media company CEO maneuvered this proverbial chess piece into the check position. My hand has hovered over the response for the past week, and I still haven’t made my next move.
Newspaper publishers in the United States have tended in the past decade to sell their extraneous assets to focus on the core: news brands and their extensions, most recently digital platforms. Today, they are trying to integrate this tight inner circle of assets to create new value.
European publishers have mostly done the same. Yet they have been clever about developing an outer ring of assets that they are maneuvering into place.
Ringier Switzerland, for example, has invested heavily in the entertainment sector such as a ticket agency and concert booking agency. It is placing big bets on e-commerce and online classifieds. It is putting a cultural premium on people who can think and act across the group, including linking back to its newspapers and magazines.
Schibsted in Scandinavia is surrounding its newspaper assets — which are performing similar to other newspapers worldwide — with online classified and other digital components and relentlessly driving quality eyeballs on its news Web sites to what we would consider non-core assets. The ancillary assets might not succeed without the newspapers — a re-imagining of the newspaper’s value proposition. As a bonus, they create internal incentives to drive traffic to sister Web site, which is the opposite of the magnet strategy employed by most publishers.
Everyone owns multiple media assets. These publishers are aiming to create synergistic multi-media in a financially kinetic turkey shoot.
In both cases, Ringier and Schibsted appear more like digital companies that also happen to own newspaper assets. Even in structural transformation, the newspaper assets may be “good enough” to create new growth paths elsewhere.
New value and new revenue models are similarly emerging across the news industry, each with their own snubbing of the rules:
- Is the Toronto Star playing by the rules by re-packaging health content that runs in its main Web site and charging much higher CPMs on a health-exclusive Web site?
- Are companies like the Denver Post, Tribune Company, and the Daily Telegraph cheating by selling integrated advertising solutions across platforms?
- Are newspaper companies that bring together their print, online, tablet, and mobile subscription packages into a single Web location bending the laws of engagement by focusing on consumer package upgrades like cable television?
- Perhaps Trinity Mirror shouldn’t have created an English Premier League Web site that now generates new revenue from fantasy football, memorabilia, tickets, and the like?
- Why couldn’t the Sydney Morning Herald have been more democratic by not focusing so relentlessly on paid iPad apps?
Maybe we can sell harder with the print newspaper. Surely, there is creativity to be had and boots on the streets that can be deployed.
Yet I would suggest that there is evidence across a broader global canvass that new revenue can be found by re-thinking the formulas associated with audience, advertising, and synergistic multi-media.
Maybe that means a strategic withdrawal of the newspaper from the center of the value circle and a re-positioning it as one of many synergistic assets.