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Raymond Snoddy 

All the media news apart from the Leveson Inquiry

Raymond Snoddy

The trouble with the Leveson inquiry - is that it is starting to create such a dust cloud that other respectable media stories are being obscured and seem almost boring by comparison. After all who can compete with the unarmed combat between Hugh Grant and Associated Newspapers?

It's always the same with the media. Everyone gets very excited about Tunisia and then it's on to Egypt, Libya, Syria and then back to Egypt again. There's always the latest new big thing.

One little News International story in particular deserves a bit more attention. Paywalls. Remember the days before phone-hacking when we used to get quite excited about paywalls and whether The Times would find a new funding model for newspapers?

Talk to James Harding, The Times editor, and after the obligatory conversation about Leveson and how to defend self-regulation you will find him very excited indeed about how The Times paywall is going. Maybe it's a case of wishful thinking but Harding believes the latest numbers, which came out last month, suggests The Times is onto something.

You may have missed it but the number of people paying for the digital version of The Times rose by 10 per cent in the previous three months to a grand total of 110,000 while the circulation of the paper edition fell from 440,510 to 429,554 in the three months to June.

Now why Harding is getting excited is that in circulation terms this means that the publication is in the "black" - with total circulation, digital and paper, up 3 per cent. It is the first time there has been such an overall increase for a decade. And the 110,000 paying digital customers, Harding suggests, contribute 50 per cent more in cash than the 20 million unique free "window shoppers" he had before.

The Times formats

More than 45,000 are now paying to receive The Times via their iPads and research shows they spend an average of 42 minutes a day with the material and have an average income of £109,000. Surely advertisers will also be interested in that small but growing market. It's all pretty modest but perhaps The Times paywall may not turn out to be the walking catastrophe we all assumed.

Certainly the latest numbers out today from the Daily Mail and General Trust suggest there is an economic problem to be addressed.

In recessionary times it is obviously respectable that the national titles, the Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday, lost only 2 per cent of their revenue to £862 million in the year to October. Operating profit was however down by 22 per cent, partly at least because the cost of newsprint had risen by 11.5 per cent to £174 million. And then there is the cost of the ink and all those presses and delivery vans.

Maybe there really is something in that digital delivery concept after all, with newspapers and hardback books becoming retro status symbols for the well-off in the way that iPads are at the moment.

The DMGT results throw up other depressing nuggets. The operating profits of its regional Northcliffe Media fell by 37 per cent to £17 million as revenue fell 10 per cent. Maybe it was a mistake not to sell Northcliffe in 2005 when bids failed to match DMGT's valuation of £1.2 billion.

More tellingly perhaps about the future of DMGT is that this year, no less than 74 per cent of group operating profits of £286 million came from business-to-business and only 26 per cent from its newspaper operations.

The fate of Daybreak has managed to attract a fair bit of attention this week but perhaps not enough. What looks like a decent Sunday Mirror scoop that Adrian Chiles and Christine Bleakley were being dumped off the breakfast sofa has partly obscured just how badly the GMTV re-launch was handled.

In a previous article, I wrote about the ensuing car-crash was partly about Chiles and Bleakley being the wrong people for an early morning news programme. But everything was wrong about the programme, from the studio to those who ultimately produced it. Strange that as recently as August, ITV director of television Peter Fincham, in a controller interview at the Edinburgh Television Festival, was still offering his unequivocal support for the pair.

Now ITV seems to be heading in the right direction at Daybreak with the appointment of the man who helped to make Breakfast an audience success at the BBC - David Kermode. And how fortunate that Sian Williams just happens to be waiting and available after her decision not to follow Breakfast to Salford. Let battle commence.

Sian

Now this may, or may not be important but it is certainly interesting. Lawyers are still arguing about the implications for Sky of the European Court of Justice ruling.  This was the case of the Swansea landlady Karen Murphy who showed live 3pm Saturday Premier League games with the help of a cut-price Greek decoder. There's a lot of it about and not just from Greek decoders.

In the Larne Bowling and Tennis Club in Co. Antrim, there they too are showing the 3pm Saturday games. The club used to pay Sky £4,500 a year for the right to show Sky's sports channels. It now pays £1,500 for six Premiership channels coming from Portugal - one of them in English. There's no rugby of course but everyone's happy with the bargain - they like a bargain in Co. Antrim. Apparently there are now 200 clubs across Northern Ireland now taking the Portuguese service. It may be only a small gnat bite for Sky perhaps but maybe the shape of things to come.

Even when you try really hard it is difficult to escape Leveson territory with the news from Australia that police are investigating claims from a former Senator there. Bill O'Chee says he was offered favourable newspaper treatment and "a special relationship" if he voted against a bill damaging to Murdoch interests.

When Lord Leveson is finished with us he might just fancy a few months Down Under.

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