Great media experiment becomes a balancing act

Marketing Week goes behind laboratory doors, where media owners are conducting a series of experiments to discover a formula that aims to create a business plan that is financially secure.

This year and probably the next few could go down in history as the period of the great media experiment, as media owners step up their efforts to find a winning formula to secure their future business.

The steady decline in newspaper sales and a battle between traditional and new media owners for advertising revenue is driving this era of experimentation. Many are testing paid content prototypes, while others are looking at fusion models, where some content is free and some is paid for. Others are adamant, however, that the free model will be the key to their success.

For brands, the changing strategies of media owners will create new opportunities, such as better advertising deals or even access to valuable target audience data.

But consumers are giving media owners and brands mixed messages about what they are willing to pay for. After years of being able to access free content online, many are reluctant to start paying for it, according to research by KPMG published at the end of last month.

The research shows that 81% of consumers say they will go elsewhere if a previously free website started charging for content. There is a strong trend for consumers to see advertising in exchange for lower prices or free content: 74% are willing to see commercial messages on websites and 56% on mobile phones.

Marc Sands, former marketing director at The Guardian and now director of media and audiences at Tate, says nothing like this has ever been seen before in the media world.

“It’s an incredibly complicated period in history, which people should really watch carefully because no one really knows what they are doing,” he says. “It is one big lab experiment.”

The Times isn’t just experimenting with a paywall for its website, which came into effect last month. “The new payment strategy will be introduced across a plethora of platforms,” says a spokeswoman at the News International subsidiary. “There is a different future ahead of us compared with what we have been used to,” she adds.

However, ComScore figures released this week suggest that unique visitors to the Times website fell from 2.79 million in May to 1.61 million last month.

Tate Media: Marc Sands, media and audiences director, is exploring how the galleries’ audience can be extended through different media. He is looking at his own mix of free and paid content. “You test and play the whole time, which we are starting to do. If website and other content is sponsored it is likely to be free for the user and if not, it is likely to be paid for by the user. Even if it is a small amount we have to get people used to paying for stuff again,” he says. Tate Channel hosts videos from artists and other podcasts. Currently artist Martin Creed talks about the Edinburgh Art Festival, in a video sponsored by Bloomberg.

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