Newsbrands to tell a different story
A change in the way newsbrands are measured to shift the narrative away from 'print decline' and to show the market's true, multi-platform reach has been on the cards for a good while.
Now, the industry has agreed upon new ABC measurement options, which would allow newsbrands to hide their bad print news and boast of other metrics.
For the first time in 33 years, and no doubt accelerated by pandemic forces which have seen the daily market's circulations plummet -36.6% during the lockdown, the ABC has said it will stop issuing monthly newsbrand reports, will allow for additional metrics to be reported, and will also allow publishers to hide their ABC certificates from public view.
The idea is to "create a balance" in how national newspapers "tell their story of growth to the market", while ensuring agencies and advertisers have access to trusted circulation data.
Of course, The Telegraph had already pulled out of ABC reporting altogether, but on Thursday, News UK, publisher of the Times, The Sunday Times and the Sun, said it was no longer going to feature on the ABC data hub, but the privately audited ABC figures will continue to be available to all publishers and agencies who sign up to the ABC's new confidentiality agreement.
In its place, naturally, PAMCo - which gives multi-platform readership and 'true brand reach' - will become the primary measurement currency.
"News UK is a multi-platform business with brands that reach more people than ever before via mobile, web, apps, video, radio stations and podcasts, alongside print," said News UK chief operating officer David Dinsmore.
"While print remains a vitally important method of distributing our editorial to readers and meeting our advertisers’ needs, it is logical that the way we measure our audiences reflects the way the world works today."
The narrative of decline that has rightly irked publishers for the last decade - and has only accelerated during lockdown – could now change, and perhaps with it public and advertiser sentiment.
"The publishing industry is not exempt from the need to manage perceptions of how they have fared for the past two months," Jacob Bellworthy, head of publishing at Total Media, tells Mediatel News.
"With latest circulation figures frequently used to further the narrative of declining circulations, projected large onto the industry as a whole while ignoring digital trends, ABC faces a more difficult challenge than many."
The "piecemeal approach" to certificate release that ABC has adopted should work to avoid the doom-and-gloom summary stories that often come with monthly releases, Bellworthy says. And allowing inclusion of optional additional metrics will also allow titles to shine a light in the direction they want people to be looking.
"This private option could significantly shift public conversations around newspapers if uptake is strong. However, it won’t stop these conversations in the industry, and could add further divides between publishers when the tide had been moving increasingly towards collaboration."
Bellworthy also adds that what has been offered this week is only a short-term solution that addresses some current concerns. He does not believe much headway has been made on bigger issues – and argues it has also made for a more complex landscape at a time when the message to advertisers is it's simplicity that's key.
There is another wider, perhaps unforeseen consequence, that could also play out: how will competitive media feel about such a move?
As Research the Media's Richard Marks notes, if ITV’s big new drama flops, we all know about it by 9:30am the following morning when the headlines are written.
"Might TV and radio be envious of this privacy option?" he wonders.
"Up to now the principle of shared measurement is that we understand the whole market. If the idea gets traction that elements of a measurement system can be redacted, then where does that leave the growing consensus around the need for transparency?"