The Telegraph’s carefully executed outsourcing of print advertising sales to Mail Metro Media fine-tunes its subscriber-first strategy.

Consolidation and collaboration are inevitable in a highly-competitive, structurally-shrinking news industry.                           

Reader-first models have emerged as the consistent theme for quality publishers, but the trade-offs, investment approaches and executions are highly differentiated.

In a challenging media marketplace, quality online news services generated hundreds of thousands of new buyers in 2020, perhaps inching ahead of print in terms of UK household propensity-to-pay.

But reader-first models are not only about subscriptions. The UK’s first national print title to go online-only, The Independent, has achieved operating profits since reconfiguring its cost base in 2016.

The Independent defies many investor assumptions about news. Solutions for smaller businesses may diverge more from industry giants than is commonly expressed, and without distribution change, editorial, product and commercial transformation is slower.

Google is demonstrating support for news by stepping up its efforts to license content from publishers and provide unpaywalled access within its Google News app—an attempt to diffuse regulatory pressure.

The issue of incentives to sustain scale businesses that originate and distribute high quality news in the digital era is still left unanswered.

Facebook has taken an opposite strategy, banning the sharing of news in Australia on their platforms—a risky, yet calculated move.

National World Plc, David Montgomery’s investment vehicle founded in 2019, will buy JPI Media for £10.2 million, a tiny 1.7x EBITDA.

Disposals by JPI Media shifted its operating model towards digital, National World will shift this further.

This acquisition kicks off what is likely to be a busy period for M&A, though local consolidation remains hindered by the local media mergers regime.

Publisher Future paid a premium to acquire listed GoCo, the financial services comparison platform, for a cash and shares deal valued at £594 million, provided GoCo shareholders approve the deal at a vote in January.

For Future, the purchase of GoCo gives it a platform for consumers for whom the service is free, deepens its tech stack and diversifies revenues to affiliate fees earned from ecommerce.

Future's strategy of growth by acquisition has helped offset structural decline in the print portion of the business. The question is whether GoCo will generate sufficient returns to justify the premium paid

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.

 

Times Radio launches as an ad-free commercial speech radio service on DAB and online. By extending brand reach, it forms part of the marketing funnel to convert listeners into subscribers.

Radio is remarkably resilient for a traditional mass media, and this arrival will complement the strong commercial sector and the mighty Radio 4.

Timing will be a revenue challenge, but this bold, cost-effective, intelligently deployed experiment comes as the news industry is most at risk, a welcome innovation for readers and listeners—and for the sector.

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.