Saturday, March 27, 2010

The Times They Are A Changin'

News International's bombshell that it is to charge for online access to The Times and the Sunday Times websites has elicited widespread derision.

The company is a media powerhouse and I'm sure that it's done its sums before taking this bold step. The reality is that Google has taken so much money from the advertising market that it is strangling the content production market. The double whammy of the recession and the move by agencies to behavioural targeting means that there is no value in premium of targeted content on the web any more.

But what are the drivers ?

1) The content must not be available elsewhere - oh dear, NI are in trouble on this score; most users posting online seem to be happy to switch to guardian.co.uk, telegraph.co.uk or the BBC.

2) The quality of the content makes it command a premium - FT, Wall St Journal or The Economist perhaps, but not The Time, which is often little more than a mouthpiece for Murdoch's politics.

3) The content must be exclusive - but the tricks that NewsCorp has long deployed with sports in its television properties does not translate into news print.

4) Timeliness - the most important factor for me in news is that it is on the moment, but newspapers seem so sloooow in the Twitter world.

I'd expect the The Time to get 20 - 30,000 subscribers, which indicates a potential revenue of around £2m a month. But the hit on their advertising will be tremendous.

With rumours that NewsCorp is looking to buy out the stake in BSkyB that it does not own, what chance that we will see more cross-over of content between paid for company sites ?

But this move is not only bad for consumers, it is bad for advertisers who have failed to support quality content online. The myopia suffered by most media buying agencies over online media buying is staggering and is as threatening to their own existence as NI's move is to their own company's balance sheet.