You can build the future, and it’s going to be brand-centric

Forget audience fragmentation – media owners need to ‘reframe’ their competition, and create value and trust if they want to do well in 2007.

I think 2007 will be the year of action. Most of us have developed strategies for the future – now it’s time to build on those plans.

The big question we face is this: in a world of more choice and fragmentation, will we have to accept smaller audiences? Those of us fortunate enough to have achieved a degree of scale in terms of audience need to learn how to stay big.

Our traditional audiences are harder to keep hold of, and newer opportunities are not growing fast enough to compensate. I believe that this situation will evolve in the next two years, and you will see the large media players involved in a game of aggregation. We all need to get as big as we can, as fast as we can and on as many platforms as we can.

There isn’t a day that goes by when we don’t agonise over decisions which fly in the face of accepted practice and wisdom. But best practice from the past can be inimical, and we have to take tough, possibly revolutionary, decisions to make the necessary changes.

Working in a media company is like falling in love all over again – there’s loads of passion, lots of brilliant ideas and not enough time to do everything you planned. It is certainly never dull. Each day, the fog clears a little as we experiment with new ideas. This may sound obvious but it is worth hammering home. The future for any media company can’t lie in simply improving traditional formats and then adding a website. Those of us who start from a traditional base with established brands – such as The Sun, ITV, Sky, Channel 4, the Daily Mail, Capital Radio, and so forth – now see nothing but opportunity across three channels: the one we are already in, plus digital and mobile.

We also need to learn to look at a different set of competitors. Media brands of some scale need to learn how to “reframe” their competition.

For instance, looking at the circulation figures of rival newspapers might be very interesting, but they’re not necessarily as important as which media brand took the largest share of the UK audience last week, aggregated across all platforms.

If you do that calculation – by assuming a base where a “view” of a TV show, a listen to a radio programme, a read of a newspaper, a click on a website or a download on a mobile phone would each count as one “audience session” per week in the UK – the competitive set looked like this in November:
1 – MSN, with 73.3 million sessions
2 – Google, with 71.7 million
3 – The Sun, with 50.2 million
4 – Coronation Street, with 50 million
5 – Emmerdale, with 44.8 million

In five year’s time I fully expect to have a completely different set of competitors to those today. The interesting thing about these figures is that you see two of Britain’s traditional “deliverers of audience” being squeezed by two new entrants, which five years ago few of us had ever heard of. The challenge for clients, agencies and media owners is to try and re-appraise our media “value”.

The one thing that won’t change is that consumers will decide our fate. They decide who wins and who loses. Right now, it seems we are all pushing more and more ideas at consumers, often taking ideas to market ahead of any real consumer demand. One of the disciplines of old that we must hold on to is to put the consumer “in the room” every time.

In newer areas such as mobile, it is very easy to be pushed by technological capabilities rather than consumer demand. However, pundits say that by July this year we will see a “tipping point” in terms of both consumer demand and technological capabilities.

The big media brands of the future have to harness the power they enjoy today, in order to achieve scale in the new channels. They need to continue to reach out to consumers in their own inimitable style while learning to play a bigger cultural role.

We must discover how to behave differently in a world of niche living, not by putting the same content on every platform, but by exploiting our values and our heritage to become the trusted brands of the future.

Remember, the future it is not exclusively about the internet, it is about unifying ideas that work across all channels and platforms.

Interestingly, the biggest brands on the internet at the moment are all American. This represents a huge opportunity: The Sun will be one of the few remaining unifying points of reference for the people of Britain. Its success will be measured by more than sales, and its value will come from more than the newspaper.

Mike Anderson is managing director of News Group Newspapers.

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