Sunday 25 September 2016

What happens when media outlets go online only...

Published 21/02/2016 | 02:30

'Some of its [BBC3's] shows will still show up on BBC1 and BBC2, but it will also have the freedom to move away from the tyranny of 30-minute shows. Some 20pc of its budget will be dedicated to creating shorter more viral content that will live on-platform, but also on YouTube, Facebook and Snapchat'
'Some of its [BBC3's] shows will still show up on BBC1 and BBC2, but it will also have the freedom to move away from the tyranny of 30-minute shows. Some 20pc of its budget will be dedicated to creating shorter more viral content that will live on-platform, but also on YouTube, Facebook and Snapchat'

On February 12, Evgeny Lebedev, owner of the UK Independent announced that the last editions of the London Independent and London Independent on Sunday will be published in March, and the i - the cut-price stable-mate - is being sold to Johnston Press.

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"The newspaper industry is changing, and that change is being driven by readers," said Lebedev. "They're showing us that the future is digital. This decision preserves the brand and allows us to continue to invest in the high quality editorial content that is attracting more and more readers to our online platforms."

Cue furious hand-wringing from some media commentators. It's certainly legitimate hand-wringing in relation to potential job losses amongst the 150 staff, but let's remember: going digital only doesn't mean going to an early grave.

Hell, at this stage, you could suggest that it's the printing presses that are holding news platforms back.

After all, in almost every market ad revenue and paid circulation is down, while production and distribution costs are fixed.

The idea that a daily printed product offers unparalleled insight, entertainment and the latest news is growing less and less compelling. It's all smartphones' fault. We're emotionally attached to them, they offer breaking news from the likes of Twitter, personalised news feeds from the likes of Facebook and TV-style news from a host of video outlets.

But even if it's forthright in facing this mobile-first future, the London Independent still faces some serious challenges. It's got to carve out a share of the online voice - which will be no mean feat - diversify beyond advertising revenue and deal with the rise of ad blocking.

The first step in this is a full subscription app for tablet and smartphone, which is coming soon. Prices reportedly will range from €1.90 for daily access to €190 for an annual subscription.

Meanwhile, over at the BBC, youth channel BBC3 ditched TV transmission and went digital only last Tuesday.

Any hand-wringing? Not much. But perhaps that's because the BBC's overall structure is under scrutiny.

BBC3's online migration is part of a larger cost-cutting exercise, which may see the Beeb replace its traditional TV channel and radio station structure with a 'content first' that recognises how and where audiences now engage with content.

Regardless of the bigger picture, BBC3 (which has a weekly audience of nearly 1 million, 167,000 of whom are 16- to 24-year-olds), has now become the first ever TV station to go online only.

Some of its shows will still show up on BBC1 and BBC2, but it will also have the freedom to move away from the tyranny of 30-minute shows. Some 20pc of its budget will be dedicated to creating shorter more viral content that will live on-platform, but also on YouTube, Facebook and Snapchat.

So what can we learn from comparing the digital migration of these two different platforms?

Well, first off, let's recognise the differences.

The London Independent was a plucky challenger-brand that began life in 1986; while BBC3 is part of a sprawling corporation with a global footprint. And while BBC3's budget is being slashed from £85m to £30m, most online media outlets would kill for an annual budget that size.

We also need to recognise that the internet has had a vastly different effect on TV than it has had on print. Since the arrival of the internet as a viable channel for content consumption, TV ad revenues haven't suffered anywhere near as much as print. And while paid circulation has fallen in print, paid cable channels and entertainment packages have held their own. The shared experience of watching TV on a set top box is still a compelling proposition.

And even though more and more viewers are using catch up services like BBC's iPlayer, Sky Plus or getting their TV through services like Netflix, the goggle box still has a place in our hearts, or at least the corner of our living rooms.

A value proposition based first and foremost on news seems very limited in the online world. The value of news content is directly linked to temporal proximity to the news events themselves. Just ask yourself how likely you are to binge-watch back-to-back episodes of the Six One News.

It seems that platforms that have a multimedia DNA, where news and reportage is a limited subset of the overall output have the edge when it comes to online evolution. Successful digital natives like Vice Media and Snapchat, which do carry news content, comport themselves far more like a TV station than a paper. Their aim is to entertain and inform.

Here's a final depressing note for the newspaper industry's position in the online scheme of things. Giphy, a search engine for animated GIFs last week closed a funding round that saw the company valued at $300m.

Matthew Ingram, who covers media and technology for Fortune was quick to point out on Twitter that this makes the company that was launched in 2013, and which currently has no revenue streams worth more than the Washington Post.

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