Revenue for News Channels Remains Tricky

It comes as no surprise to learn, according to the fourth annual Reuters Institute Digital News Report, (BBC 16 June) that traditional news organisations (such as daily newspapers) need to become more inventive and that consumers are allergic to embedded ads.

Great job that the researchers at Oxford University did on this report, that’s hardly startling news.  News channels have been slow to adapt to changing technology and are now struggling to find an identity in a news-rich, instant-feed society.   We are increasingly getting our breaking news from social media – usually Twitter or Facebook which can bring it faster than any traditional news channel – the report states that up to 48% of people access news content via Facebook, YouTube, Twitter etc.

FR blog

With more and more users accessing news information via mobile, the scope for advertising is further reduced with the challenge of limited screen space.  According to the report, the good news for news channel revenue streams is that the consumption of online video is increasing – as video advertising attracts high rate cards.

According to Rasmus Kleis Nielsen, Reuters Director of research: “People like and use news, but they don’t want to pay for it, don’t want to see advertising round it and don’t want to see it messed up with sponsored content.”   That’s a legacy from the UK population that has largely been born, bred and news-fed by the BBC.

So how can news organisations engage with users in a way that sustains loyalty and drives revenue?   Sponsored content and pop-up ads are definitely not the way to go.   The online version of our local newspaper is now virtually unreadable with ads and sponsored content repeatedly tripping up a fluent read.   Attracting subscriptions through offering ‘added value’ isn’t working either – am I really going to sign up to the digital version in order to get a ‘bumper summer gardening package’?

What would I sign up to?   The one huge advantage that the established news channels have over social media is in-depth analysis, comment and detailed features.  That’s what we need them for – to challenge, to expose, to uncover and dig, dig, dig.  That’s worth paying for.   They also have the capacity to offer news digests – be it daily or weekly; a summary of the best that I might not have had time to find by myself – The Week is one of my favourite reads.  These digests need to contain links to more in-depth articles.  I also want trend predictions – what’s hot and what’s not.  That’s valuable too.  All easily accessible across all my devices.

There is undoubtedly still a huge role for first-class investigative journalism to play in national and regional/local communities – witness the fall of Seb Blatter.  What our regional media group is doing very well is engaging with the local community at every level with events, awards, seminars, networking events etc.  This is a hugely valuable role for them to play and our area would be the poorer without it. But whether it creates enough of a stable revenue stream for them to continue to operate in this way and provide high quality daily news through print and digital  is another question.