On 1 October, Google CEO Sundar Pichai announced $1 billion for worldwide news publisher partnerships for a novel News Showcase product, helping them to distribute their content to a new audience.

It is an important milestone: for the first time Google will pay publishers to curate content in the Google News app (initially), and to provide unpaywalled access to articles on publishers’ websites that users can click through to.

In so doing, Google is defusing the simmering conflict with publishers in major markets, and showing policy-makers its willingness to collaborate with a news industry facing existential threats.

 

Journalism is on the precipice with more than £1 billion likely to fall off the industry’s topline. Several years of projected structural revenue decline in advertising and circulation have occurred in just the past few weeks of the coronavirus pandemic, with no letup in sight.

The UK’s rich heritage of independent journalism is at risk, with responses by Government and ‘big tech’ multinationals welcomed but ultimately inadequate. We make two further recommendations for engagement in this report.

Journalism enterprises from the small, local and specialist outfits through to national household brands will either fail or remain on a path to future failure.

In response to COVID-19 and the associated lockdown and economic crash, advertisers have slashed budgets. Online budgets are not immune.

This has clarified features of the online ad market: it is demand-driven, relies heavily on SMEs and startups, and is built on direct response campaigns.

We expect online advertising to outperform other media, and for platforms to further gain share. But with a very few exceptions, this health and economic disaster is good for nobody.

COVID-19 has sent online news surging, with publishers experiencing massive traffic uplift, as trusted news sources become increasingly important.

But the industry is still heavily reliant on print revenues, and we are seeing supply chains come under extreme pressure as core readers self-isolate and retail giants close or de-prioritise news media. Advertising—including categories like retail and travel—has collapsed.

In face of existential threats to the sector, we have written to DCMS to mobilise Government funding to sustain news provision and journalism.

Broadcast radio has maintained its reach and listening time over the past decade: younger people listen less than before, but this is made up for by an ageing population.

The challenges to radio come from changes in distribution technology in the home and in cars, and from product innovation in the online audio space.

Over the next few years, we predict continued stability in radio, but as technology brings it into closer competition with online audio, broadcasters will have to continue product innovation.

Audiobooks are growing fast, driven by smartphone adoption and better supply, as well as interest from people who don’t usually buy books, such as young men

The sector is dominated by the presence of Audible, Amazon’s audiobook publisher/retailer, which has driven growth of audiobooks but put publishers under pressure. Its strategy is a lesson in Amazon’s approach to media

Audio is an opportunity to sell to new customers, but publishers must acquire and use rights responsibly, and experiment while not letting the audio tail wag the print dog

The decline in demand in print presents trading challenges, but the more immediate pressures are on the supply side, with a 15% rise in paper prices accentuating the burden of production and distribution costs

With digital advertising growing at stubbornly low rates, UK publishers need to return to their fundamental consumer-centred strengths by switching their strategic attention towards strong brands, curation, and community

The case for specialist, branded publishing media remains robust: products, services, and consumers are still best brought together in an authoritative, trusted media environment. Advertisers and agencies (and also media) have undervalued the effectiveness of those environments, and direct-to-consumer opportunities have been exaggerated by many brands

The Telegraph, The Guardian and News UK (The Times and The Sun) will jointly invest in The Ozone Project to develop a state-of-the-art platform to sell their digital inventory

Ozone will add value to news digital inventory and seek to win back advertiser expenditure on Facebook and Google’s various properties, (indirectly) reigniting interest in placement next to quality news media content

Each JV participant operates a distinct business model, which risks friction, but this digital reboot is crucial. By 2020, Ozone could add circa £30 million per annum – not a trivial contribution to a national newspaper newsroom

Bleak prospects for digital advertising leave no choice to news publishers but to generate revenue from readers, and the lack of widespread frictionless micropayment options means there is no alternative to subscription — the vast majority of western ‘quality’ newspapers have rolled out paywalls; meters and registrations are the most promising approaches

Recent politics have increased demand for quality journalism and readiness to pay. Despite clumsy commercial models the rise in subscriber numbers is encouraging, but current price points may be too low for a sustainable digital transition. Churn is high, publishers have yet to fully develop and optimise ecommerce

The transition to an audience-centric model is a shift away from click bait, with distinctiveness, curation and news agenda hierarchy among the most important factors. Leveraging data to optimise audience engagement remains challenging

Spotify is now the world’s first publicly listed on-demand music streaming service. Its global footprint generated €4 billion in 2017 from over 70 million paying subscribers and 90 million ad-funded users across 65 countries

As it expands, the service is steadily but surely moving ever closer to profitability, with a 2019 operating profit a very real prospect

So far and for the near future, Spotify’s global pre-eminence versus competition from Apple, Amazon and Google proves remarkably resilient. Plans to build upon its differentiating features will become ever more decisive as the tech titans will continue to wield their resources and ecosystems against the comparatively undiversified company