Newsbrands debate strategies as they square up to Facebook and Google

19 Sep 2016  |  David Pidgeon 
Newsbrands debate strategies as they square up to Facebook and Google

L-R: Rob Lynam, Will Hayward, James Wildman, Jamie Dunlop and Scott Deutrom

Trinity Mirror's chief revenue officer has renewed calls for the creation of a "unified [sales] platform" to help the publishing sector square up to the "duopoly of Facebook and Google."

The UK national newspaper industry has already appointed Steve Booth, the founder of Arena Media, to lead an investigation into the viability of moving rival commercial operations more closely together.

However, before Booth concludes his report, Trinity Mirror's James Wildman warned that without a new strategy in place digital revenues will continue to flow away from those bearing the costs of creating content towards businesses that merely curate it.

"The main challenge for us is that we don't have a unified platform," Wildman said during the Future of Newsbrands conference on Monday (19 September).

"The Google and Facebook duopoly is taking 90 pence in every pound of incremental money spent in digital, and that has a phenomenal gravitational force around it.

"The truth is, the market isn't rewarding context, or professionally created, quality content. That's not to say it never will, but we're having to compete on price with these platforms that are curators without the cost associated with creating."

Wildman said that the cost of employing 2,000 journalists across 160 different national and regional newsbrands was an "absolutely enormous and brilliant resource", but it left the publisher commercially compromised when it goes "toe-to-toe with companies that don't have anyone creating content, but are taking all the revenue."

Wildman was clear, however, that Facebook was still useful to Trinity Mirror, with 75 million people around the world reading its content on the platform. He also said the publisher still made money through the social media platform.

"It's not true to say there is no commercial value," he said. "They are still driving people back to our own platforms...but is it worth enough?"

Campaign reports that Trinity Mirror, TMG, GMG, News UK, Daily Mail & General Trust and Northern & Shell have all confirmed they are involved in the investigation to move competing sales operations closer together.

It represents a major turning point given the famous history of commercial and editorial rivalry between UK newspapers. However, as Rob Lynam, head of commercial development at DMGT's Mail Brands, said during Monday's conference: UK publishers are operating in "very difficult" times.

"Growth in display advertising has been plateauing and no one is seeing the sort of growth they were three or four years ago.

"Most of the revenue in the market is being eaten up by Google and Facebook and that's a major problem for publishers."

Some of the contributing factors include the fact it is deemed to be much easier to do business with the online giants. They have well-known tools for advertisers, global reach and vast quantities of data.

As Buzzfeed's ex-VP for Europe, Will Haywood - now CEO of JOE media - pointed out: "Facebook is winning because they have amazing advertising products that work incredibly well."

Not everyone thinks the idea of a unified sales platform is necessarily the right solution, however.

Jamie Dunlop, head of publishing at Total Media, warns that although exploring the idea is worthwhile, it would do nothing to actually offer publishers any extra scale given they will remain individual platforms.

"My advice would be to work with [Google and Facebook], rather than against them. I understand the idea of there being safety in numbers, but competition breeds innovation and I think the market needs that."

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