Broadsheets battle it out to win global race

Global media “moguldom” is not a term lost on all those watching Rupert Murdoch’s successful $5bn (£2.5bn) acquisition of Dow Jones and its flagship brand Wall Street Journal. And rivals are doing more than take note of Murdoch’s global spread and ambitions – they are heralding the successes of their own brands. Pearson’s Financial Times chief executive John Ridding refuses to let the Murdoch WSJ takeover worry him. But it has at least prompted him to enthuse loudly about the brand’s global recognition among the well-heeled, in contrast to the US-centric WSJ.

According to Ridding, the FT does know one thing about his audiences, and that is “a certain commonality of interests and spending habits worldwide” of the so-called “C-suite” of CEOs, CFOs, COOs, CTOs and CMOs. “Globalisation is a tectonic force,” says Ridding and the FT must ride upon it. This is a force that the Guardian Media Group (GMG) also understands. The GMG is on a mission to become an international news provider, as it prepares to position itself in the US through its popular website. GMG chief executive Carolyn McCall said this week that she is looking to turn the media group into a 24/7 global news and comment provider.

This is not the first time that McCall has signalled her intent to cross over the Atlantic. GMG and McCall have always maintained that engagement with users is essential if publishers do not want to be mere content providers for online news aggregators.

The consumer experience of the explosion of media channels and the increase in choice these provide has pushed the need for delivering innovative news content. The threat from Murdoch’s billion-dollar media empire – that already includes more than 100 newspapers worldwide, satellite broadcast operations, the Fox television network and the social networking website MySpace – will, therefore, prove to be more than just an irritant to the competitors.

The nervousness is almost palpable at the Pearson headquarters. Chief executive Dame Marjorie Scardino had to underscore the value of FT within the group at the recent interims announcement. The Penguin books and FT owner has been shrugging off calls to break up the group and insists that the Murdoch-Dow Jones deal does not put on any renewed pressure to split.

Ridding refuses to lose sleep just yet and continues to be high spirited about the media revolution. He says it is the quality of readership that enables him to go after extra revenue. This is illustrated by the 2% rise in FT’s circulation in the June ABCs, despite a recent 30p cover price increase to £1.30. The subscriptions to ft.com, which cost about £99 a year, are up 12% year-on-year at 97,000. The investment online extends to Alphaville, a blog about hedge funds and private equity firms, and improved video content that produces 60 videos a month, including interviews with top business leaders.

This all bodes well for FT’s optimism, based on the valuation of its brand, but, now that Murdoch has put a price on first-rate financial publishing asset the WSJ, the FT might well start drawing out predators.

Sonoo Singh, News Editor

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