Thursday 12 December 2019

John McGee: Collaboration could offer a new way forward for media

Rumoured tie-ups between a number of UK newspaper publishers could pave the way for future partnerships throughout the media industry

'Historically, the level of collaboration within the media industry has been negligible and for lots of different reasons.' File photo: Depositphotos
'Historically, the level of collaboration within the media industry has been negligible and for lots of different reasons.' File photo: Depositphotos

John McGee

An interesting development, that could have ramifications for the media sector here in Ireland, is rumoured to be afoot among a number of the UK's leading newspaper publishers.

If the rumours are to be believed, Rupert Murdoch's News UK has joined the Telegraph Media Group, Trinity Mirror - and possibly even DMGT and Guardian Media - in talks aimed at finding a solution to the problem of declining advertising revenues that is currently keeping many industry leaders awake at night.

Had anybody suggested five years ago that these giants of the publishing world would even sit around the same table to discuss solutions to their mutual problems, they would have been deemed certifiable.

Now, however, there would appear to be a lot of substance underpinning the rumours - and maybe it's not such a daft idea after all, as print advertising continues to erode as advertisers ramp up their investment in digital.

Again, if the rumours are to be believed and if the different parties can agree, a one-stop shop for press advertising solutions would be offered to media agencies and direct clients, allowing them to buy advertising across the various titles in one fell swoop, rather than randomly and piecemeal.

For the publishers, it will also strengthen their hand when it comes to dealing with media agencies and go some way in unravelling the complex agency trading relationships.

Obviously, numerous hurdles will have to be overcome in terms of staffing, placating egos, the untangling of agency trading relationships and the structural mechanisms that need to be put in place to make it work. There may even be some regulatory issues to consider.

What is surprising, however, is that such round-table discussions haven't happened before. It's not as if the decline in print advertising sales kicked in last month or last year - they've been in decline for years.

But it's a start, and perhaps it marks the beginning of a fight-back by the industry and the heralding in of a new era of collaboration rather than confrontation.

Historically, the level of collaboration within the media industry has been negligible and for lots of different reasons.

Some of it has to do with outright hostility and suspicion as well as regulatory and competition uncertainties.

But this is 2016 and the media world has changed beyond recognition over the last 10 years and despite the best efforts of the print industry to hold its ground, the advertising juggernauts Google and Facebook continue to grow, largely at the expense of traditional media outlets.

Collaboration within the media industry should not be viewed as a dirty word or an admission of some inherent failure within an organisation to deal with a particular issue. Sure, there will always be issues along the way, but that's where the collaborative ideal kicks in and, as we know, there's strength in numbers.

Many leaders and companies around the world have long acknowledged that even their best individual and group efforts may not be enough to solve the problems and overcome the challenges their industries are faced with, especially when their backs are up against the wall. Why should the media industry be any different?

There are many examples of how once fiercely implacable competitors have overcome their difficulties, fears and suspicions by collaborating to solve a particular problem, whether it's in the software or IT sector, pharmaceuticals and, yes, even media and advertising.

Collaboration can come in many guises and involve lots of different stakeholders. What they all have in common, however, is that they swim in the same fishbowl and are just as nervous as the next fish about what lies ahead beyond their rapidly eroding comfort zone.

In the Irish media industry, for example, collaboration between the different radio stations around the country manifests itself in two separate sales houses - IRS+ and Media Central. Elsewhere, Mediaforce and Media Sales handle advertising sales for the regional and local press around the country, while companies such as Electric Media and i-Believe manage the online advertising sales for a raft of different Irish and international websites.

With a diverse and maybe over-populated media industry in Ireland, future collaboration could manifest itself in all kinds of arrangements - ranging from shared printing and back office facilities to TV and radio stations working a lot more closely with print and online titles, while magazine companies could conceivably work with other media outlets in areas such as content and reader and audience experiences and development.

While collaboration can also be seen through anti-competitive and regulatory glasses as something that may not be in the best interest of a competitive and diverse media marketplace, the reality is that this marketplace may be a shadow of its former self in 10 years' time if the industry fails to act.

Sunday Indo Business

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