Old media is proving it can be the driving force behind digital

The belief that old media people can’t be at the forefront of the digital revolution because of a ‘mental handbrake’ to change is not in evidence

We all know the Scandinavians have been at the forefront of embracing multi-media, but when they start telling us how to do our jobs, it’s difficult to take. This happened to me just the other day. An expert from Schibsted was adamant that you can’t launch into mobile and online with newspaper people. They won’t move fast enough, he said, they will resist change, they will have a “mental handbrake”. Assuming he included me and News Group Newspapers in that description, I thought there’s nothing like being told you can’t do something for your motivation. 

It’s true that News Group is doing a lot in digital that makes many of us feel uncomfortable. But being uncomfortable is good. It means we are changing and we are moving closer to our ambition of turning The Sun and News of the World from established newspapers into effective multi-media brands.

Next month, for instance, we are launching a mobile 24-7 football service in conjunction with Sky. We have distribution deals in place with the big five operators – Orange, T-Mobile, 3, O2 and Vodafone – to offer subscription and pay-per-view users premier league highlights and “in game” goal alerts plus other content targeting a football-hungry young, male audience. The mobile product together with our online presence and newspaper supplements – Goals in The Sun and Score in News Of The World – mean we can offer football fans a brand experience on three platforms. Was it simple setting up such a deal up? Of course not. New technology, new forms of advertising, new distribution partners, new audiences to measure – all of it is challenging. Ultimately, we are positioning our newspaper brands as content providers for the mobile platform, a channel that we all know is growing. If we don’t tackle that market now we will have no chance in a few years’ time when there is serious revenue and audiences to play for.

While the cultural change is difficult and the demands on staff are great, I believe we will be successful in future-proofing the brands in digital media. Our golden rule is that everything we do in digital must reflect a truth about our brands. The same has always applied to brand extensions/ remember Virgin Cola, for example? What’s its market share, close to zero? It should have left the zero to Coca-Cola.

Some media brands have done well extending their brands. Sky has some of the most successful websites and is already a player in mobile and broadband, utilising its reputation for innovation with technology and home entertainment while leveraging its credentials in entertainment and football in particular. Heat magazine is another brand to watch, as it ventures into mobile and online with Heatworld. If it sticks to its core content it should be successful. Channel 4 is doing good things too, moving multi-channel and integrating its websites with programming neatly; and it certainly makes the most of Big Brother across its media platforms.

Closer to home at The Sun, the online bingo product has been a hit. We found the right technology and partners and marketed the proposition within and outside our existing products. But the key has been the brand’s 30-year heritage in bingo. Similarly, show business and celebrity content is a major part of our brand identity and the area experiencing fastest growth in Web usage is our Bizarre section. We hope the same will be true of our multi-media football offering.

We do have a long way to go: our first base is to be the biggest “newspaper” on the Web and on mobile. ComScore and Mmetrics suggest we are already there. But we won’t really achieve anything until both consumers and our commercial partners see us differently. We will still have newspapers that reach 15 million people every month, but customers need to regard us as content providers on whatever platform they choose. Similarly, advertisers must see us as brands with reach – both mass and niche – across different media channels and offering rich communications opportunities.

To achieve that, we may have many more days feeling uncomfortable but we’ll be successful if we keep the mental handbrake off.

Mike Anderson is managing director of News Group Newspapers

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