Seven years after the launch of its membership initiative, The Guardian has reached one million digital-only subscriptions

Not coincidentally, longer-term financial sustainability looks within reach, as The Guardian posted an adjusted operating profit of £3.1 million in 2021, with reader revenues making up more than half of total income

A fine-tuned governance structure and key management changes indicate better alignment between the core journalism activity and the enterprise, designed to ensure that its independence is sustainably delivered

Podcasts are a small but growing medium, and global streamers and domestic audio players alike are investing heavily in podcast content, distribution and advertising technology.

The broadening choice and diversity of podcasts available has put discoverability, exclusives and personalisation at the heart of the race to become the number one destination for audio.

While the UK currently lags other markets in terms of advertising and monetisation, increasing financial viability coupled with
healthy listener demand suggests a bright future for the UK podcasting sector.

 

Google and Roku are battling over the terms that YouTube is carried on connected TV (CTV) platforms—one of many power struggles over who gets what share of a booming CTV market.

Roku has invoked competition concerns over Google’s conduct. However, current laws and proposed legislation are unlikely to cover this disagreement, which should instead be seen as a standard business negotiation.

Various companies are looking to fill the CTV platform space, not least Google and Amazon. If Roku’s tough negotiating tactics threaten its customers’ access to content, it could find it difficult to maintain its platform foothold.

Overall radio listening remains robust and continues to make up the majority of audio time, however a worrying decline in both reach and hours amongst younger people makes further innovation necessary

Shifting audio distribution trends driven by digital and IP listening, as well as the increasing influence of smart speakers and connected devices, represent significant challenges for the radio industry going forward

Strong collaboration and regulatory support will be needed to reconnect with elusive younger listeners, prevent US tech companies from becoming de-facto gatekeepers, and preserve the public value at the core of the UK radio industry

The UK print media sector is facing escalating input cost inflation. Newsprint prices are 50% higher year on year in Q4 2021, noting that prices in 2020 were exceptionally low on soft demand. Based on 2019 rates, prices could be 25% higher in H1 2022. The squeeze on margins for print could destabilise the economics of supply overall

Newsprint inflation is being caused by soaring costs of recycled feedstock, exacerbated by the monopoly of a single supplying mill in the UK after years of attrition. Imports remain substantial, but impaired by the EU-wide crisis in the supply of paper products, alongside bottlenecks at points of entry to the UK

Although less significant a factor than paper in the cost of printing the news, electricity cost inflation is another worry for printers, noting that these costs were again also exceptionally low in 2020. Wholesale electricity prices surged by 80% in 2021 (Ofgem), due to pressure on gas supplies from Russia, and the global energy crisis, which will persist into 2022

 

 

Sky has started to reap benefits from its substantial reduction in sports rights costs in Italy and Germany, helping to grow group EBITDA by 76% in Q3, despite a slight drop in revenue.

With this change in strategy, the business model in Italy is undergoing an upheaval. Meanwhile, the UK continues to perform well, with further promise on the horizon thanks to the bold launch of Sky Glass.

This streaming TV is a future-proofing leap forwards in Sky’s ever-more-central aggregation strategy, starting the business down the long path to retiring satellite, though this is probably still over a decade away.

Netflix’s decision to launch games as part of the subscription bundle is smart business: rewarding current subscribers, leveraging its IP, and signalling that subscription is the best long-term revenue model in the games space. 

Expect technological innovation to be central to Netflix’s ambitions with games. Netflix will make it easier for different game experiences to occur, and ways to attract external developers will inevitably follow. 

For Disney, Netflix just made the battle for customers more difficult and more expensive.  Disney will need to make hard decisions about how to approach the games business—something it has shown before it finds difficult to do. 

Epic Games, maker of mega-hit Fortnite, sued Apple over alleged antitrust violations around App Store rules and Apple’s 30% tax on in-app transactions. A decision could come soon, though it will be contested on appeal.

The implications of the case could be far-reaching, as Apple and other tech companies like Google design their platforms to extract high-margin revenue from the transactions they facilitate, including news subscriptions: a five-year basic in-app subscription to The Times costs £885, of which Apple takes £158. 

It comes in the context of a flurry of debate and decisions around tech antitrust and consumer protection: new laws may ultimately be needed, but regulators in the US and UK are proving they can be creative with their existing tools. 

The press industry lost £1 billion off the topline from the calamitous decline in print revenues due to pandemic-related mobility restrictions, partly offset by gains on digital subscriptions, much harder to precisely size in revenue terms.

Trapped at home for the most part, online traffic to BBC News and news publisher services boomed. Popular news sites marginally grew digital advertising while the quality nationals attracted 800,000 new paying subscribers to reach nearly three million in 2020.

The outlook for 2021, in the transition to the ‘new normal’, is mixed. Consumer work patterns and news, information and entertainment habits are unlikely to ‘bounce back’ to pre-pandemic levels, placing free commuter titles at particular risk. Signs of confidence through online innovation are welcome.

The Premier League is reportedly seeking to roll over its existing domestic TV rights deal, in a bid to shore up its financial position given its losses during the pandemic.

A rollover would delay the risk of significant long-term deflation in the value of these rights, buying the Premier League greater financial certainty and time.

For Sky, BT and Amazon, a deal could provide even better value, and would delay any potentially-risky auction, closing the door to prospective newcomers.