A new wave of media innovation

17 Aug 2016  |  Raymond Snoddy 
A new wave of media innovation

There is a commendable rise recently of media companies trying out new business ideas, writes Raymond Snoddy - but the tricky thing about innovation is that it doesn't always work

Tech groups have had a very nasty habit of showing media companies a clean pair of heels in the innovation race. They have just been more agile as the latest management buzz word has it.

Agile in coming up with new ideas and taking them to market quickly and effectively, but at least we can point to a few neat examples of innovation in newspapers and television in recent weeks.

Perhaps the most agile of all has been Archant, the regional newspaper and magazine group, which took only nine days to produce The New European, a new weekly to represent the stunned and still angry 48 per cent who ended up on the losing side in the European referendum.

While the experts and those elites were spluttering over large glasses of Sancerre, Archant realised there might be a business opportunity because that 48 per cent would contain a lot of readers that advertisers might want to reach.

It was a "pop-up" paper that was intended to take advantage of the steam coming out of the ears of the losers and last only four issues. Now it is ahead of sales targets, is turning a profit and is continuing on a running basis with no end date in sight.

At the very least the story, and the continuing uncertainty - if not the actual New European itself - will run for a minimum of two years and more likely five.

The paper could even become the standard bearer for a new pro-European centrist political party in the UK, with British politics still in a state of extreme fluidity following Brexit.

Launching distribution to Brussels, Strasbourg, Paris and Berlin suggests Archant are in for the longer haul.

The paper is now also printed in Portadown in Northern Ireland as well as in London and Manchester. The Northern Ireland move seems a little brave although the province voted Remain by two to one and there are many complex issues about how the movement of goods and people across the UK's only land border with the EU is going to be resolved.

The latest front page shows ambition beyond narrow Brexit issues and features the start of a three part series on David Bowie in Berlin and contributions from philosopher Anthony Clifford Grayling, Labour MP David Lammy and Victor Lewis-Smith, the film and TV producer and television critic.

Archant is also showing a spirit of innovation in its advertising sales by first auctioning off space around its What's On In Europe section and the weather and then the entire ad space for its 28 August issue.

At City A.M.they are also showing signs of innovation - controversially - in trying to increase revenue through a variant of native advertising as the specialist free paper approaches its 11th anniversary. Just reaching such a milestone has been an achievement in itself given the structural headwinds any new publication has faced in recent years.

City A.M. is opening up its website, but not the paper itself, to corporate "tenants" who will be able to rent space under the City A.M. brand to carry their own journalistic-style material.

The usual arguments have been deployed that this is an unacceptable blurring of the boundaries between journalism and the commercial side of the title but City A.M. Insists the corporate material will be clearly demarcated, and anyway new commercial ideas are vital if the business is ever going to reach regular profits.

The tricky thing about innovations is that they don't always work. For the Carlisle-based CN group it seemed like a good idea to launch a regional daily for the North West, an area outside the reach of Metro. But like Trinity Mirror's New Day the market simply was not there or not there quickly enough.

You've got to try in the search for new sustainable business ideas.

Two other current examples of innovation involving significant major online players heading for television - in marked contrast to BBC Three as it seems to be called these days.

Viceland, the new channel aimed at young adults will launch in the UK on Sky and Now TV next month. The reasoning from Vice chairman and founder Shane Smith, who will give the annual MacTaggart lecture opening the Guardian International Television in Edinburgh next week, is very clear.

Never mind the direction of travel - which gets a lot of people over-excited - 75 per cent of the world advertising budget is still spent on television and he would like to get a slice of that action in addition to digital, mobile and online.

The new channel launched in the US and Canada five months ago, under Oscar winner Spike Jonze, and already has two Emmy nominations for Gaycation and Women.

Kevin Sutcliffe, head of news programming for the EU for Vice News, believes traditional broadcasters are simply not providing the sort of programmes young adults want to see and supports the views of award-winning factual producer Liz Warner in her Bafta speech in May that traditional broadcasters are producing "risk averse, culturally bland programmes."

The Viceland channel will concentrate on lifestyle, factual and entertainment and there will be plenty of sex and music. The plan is to take Viceland to 44 countries around the world.

Twitter, the archetypal online company has also been paying serious money to add live streaming of sport to its roster, and become a different sort of communications company.

Twitter paid USD$10 million to stream 10 American Football League (AFL) games starting next month and the San Francisco based company clearly has more ambitions in the space.

But according to the New York Times, Twitter wants the additional visibility that television can bring.

Technology reporter Mike Isaac says that Twitter is in talks with Apple TV to carry Twitter's streaming app. Isaac predicts that Apple TV could enable Twitter to reach more than 1 million extra people with its sports streaming coverage.

The problem with Twitter is that millions of people have signed out and are no longer using the service. The hope is that offering more familiar material such as sport could bring back some of the missing millions.

Certainly news of the Apple TV talks lifted the Twitter share price.

They are all commendable examples of considerable agility - if not exactly in the Usain Bolt class.

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