Monday, 18 January 2010

Media landscape transformed

HERE is an article that illustrates perfectly how the Internet has led to seismic changes to the media landscape and why traditional television, radio, magazine and newspaper companies are struggling to maintain their previous monopolies.
A former finance adviser, with no experience of publishing, has set up a magazine aimed at people aged 65 years or more.
Over65 Magazine was launched this month (January 2010) on-line. But the publisher, Paul Rodman, intends to roll it out as a printed version when it has become established.
Mr Rodman, aged 49, of Heron Hill, Kendal, Cumbria, says that he saw the opportunity while in his previous roles of financial adviser and will-maker.
“I dealt a lot with older people and got an understanding for their requirements. It struck me that there wasn’t a lot out there on the world-wide web for them.
“There are organisations that target the over 50s, but for some reason they seem frightened to target the older age group, which is surprising as they are increasingly computer literate.
“It is more than likely that they will have worked with computers at work, and are likely have a home PC as well.”
The web-site is deliberately designed to look like a traditional printed magazine, with single PDF pages.
This makes it easier to read and follow on screen and also easy to print out and read like a traditional paper product.
“There is a lot of information on the Internet, but it is often designed for the Internet generation and older people can quickly get turned off by the dazzling displays,” said Mr Rodman.
“I wanted to create a publishable environment with attractive photographs and interesting articles which are easy to follow.”
“Older people have more time on their hands and it is great if they can access items that help pass the time and stimulate them.”
Among the subjects the monthly magazine plans to cover are health and welfare, finances, food, pets, holidays, nostalgia, motoring and travel, all aimed at the target market.
“Its tone will be ethical and wholesome, although I won’t be afraid of a bit of controversy,” said Mr Rodman, who plans plenty of surveys, feedback and other user generated content.
Mr Rodman is disarmingly honest about his lack of publishing background and is open about his dependence on support from professionals in the field.
Among the experts he has recruited are Robin Pritchard from Kirkby Lonsdale for graphic design, Julian Healey a business consultant from Morecambe and yours truoly, Mike Glover of Milnthorpe for campaigns, content and marketing.
Although all these people are based in the North West of England, the magazine is deliberately national in tone and content.
Despite his lack of experience, Mr Rodman has hit upon a business model that would have been unthinkable before the Internet.
Magazines traditionally depend on two sources of revenue: cover price and advertisements.
Over65magazine is totally free to the user, although there will be a charge for subscriptions to the printed version if the demand is there. This is possible because there is no printing and paper costs, no distribution network and no commission for retailers.
As for advertisements the magazine relies on an Internet-specific service, where 800 leading companies put linked banners out there on the web for use by anyone, in exchange for a commission for business they generate.
The internet means that all data is traceable, so the companies can tell from whose sites business comes, and pay a commission.
Over65magazine will, however, ask readers for name and e-mail address only to avoid fears of their personal details being passed on.
The technology also means that all copies and articles can be archived for search by subject. This also has a benefit for advertisers who know that readers may explore purchase options weeks, months or even years after they feature in the publication and still seek out the relevant information.
“This is a really exciting project and I am confident that if enough people look at the site they are going to like it and come back in enough numbers to make the business viable,” said Mr Rodman.

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Media battalions in TV war

IT is more than half a century since Lord Thomson of Fleet’s famous remark that ITV was a licence to print money.
How things have changed. Lord Thomson was head of the famous media family that owned the Times and several of the larger regional newspapers, as well as Thomson Directory, Thomson Holidays and other world brands.
When the company decided to ditch its regional newspaper interests back in the 1990s most of them were bought by what was to become Trinity Mirror. Others gravitated to the ownership of Johnston Press.
Now these two groups are on opposite sides in a bid to save independent regional TV news services.
Licences for the pilot projects will be handed out in March with the eventual aim of them taking over the running of all Channel 3 regional news services from 2013 when the ITV licence expires.
Preferred bidders in each of the three pilot regions are due to be selected by the Government in March and the final contracts are set to be awarded in May.
Another ironic twist of fate means that former Trinity Mirror Birmingham Post editor Marc Reeves will help oversee the award of licences for a pilot TV news project.
The Department for Culture Media and Sport has appointed five other senior media figures on the panel to decide which groups will be allowed to run the independently funded news consortia to provide regional news in Scotland, Wales and the Tyne Tees and Borders area of England.
The panel will be chaired by Richard Hooper who is a former deputy chairman of Ofcom and was awarded a CBE in 2005 for services to the communications industry.
The others are Val Atkinson, who spent 27 years at BBC Scotland; Fru Hazlitt, former chief executive of GCap Media and Virgin Radio; Glyn Mathias former political editor for ITN at Westminster; and William Perrin, former civil service policy advisor on technology, culture, media and sport to Tony Blair.
Former editor of Channel 4 News Stewart Purvis will act as an advisor to the panel.
Trinity Mirror's bid to run regional TV news in the North-East and Borders region has been joined by The CN Group, publishers of the News and Star, Carlisle, and the North West Evening Mail, in Barrow, joining the Press Association and production company Ten Alps.
It will do battle for the right to broadcast regional TV news on Channel 3 with a rival team featuring Newsquest, publishers of the Northern Echo, and Johnston Press, which owns the Sunderland Echo and Hartlepool Mail.
Johnston Press and Newsquest have joined forces with ITN, Metro Radio and the University of Sunderland to form a consortium to provide broadcast news in Border and Tyne Tees.
The group is together seeking to win the public funding which is had been made available for one of three broadcasting pilot projects to replace ITV news in Wales, Scotland and this English region. If the pilots are successful, Independently Funded News Consortia could be rolled out across the UK.
Staff involved in the current ITV service in the regional will also be involved in the bid. And broadcaster Melvyn Bragg is acting as a special adviser to the consortium.
ITN chief executive John Hardie said: "We’re excited to bring together this compelling consortium which combines the very best of commercial journalism in the region, spanning television, print, online and radio.
"This unprecedented alliance will act as a catalyst to revolutionise local news, delivering a ground-breaking new service for viewers. Using the considerable skills and capabilities of our partners combined with ITN’s proven journalistic and creative pedigree, we will offer an unparalleled strength in regional and local news coverage available across all platforms."
Current ITV head of news in the area Lucy West represents the existing ITV staff who are involved in the consortium.
She said: "We will aim to build on our strengths and deliver a first class news service to viewers across the North East, Cumbria and the Scottish Borders. We are looking forward to developing new, exciting and ambitious ideas with our partners to provide the best local news service to audiences across all platforms in the Tyne Tees and Border region."
Johnston Press chief executive John Fry said: "Johnston Press boasts an army of journalists on the ground, embedded at a grass-roots level and very much part of their communities. We look forward to playing a central role in this new era for local news to best serve readers, surfers and viewers in the area."
The question is why these major battalions of the regional press want to run a TV news service which the current ITV bosses just see as a drain on resources they cannot sustain.
Convergence of media means that journalists currently employed by the regional press have been trained on podcasts and video for the internet, so will probably be expected to film for TV at the same time as taking notes for their newspaper versions of stories.
Whether they are really willing and able, while being paid in most cases less than £20,000 per year, is yet to be seen.
For the major newspaper owners to be battling to run local television news services shows just what a traumatic change there has been in the media industry since the advent of the internet.
Lord Thomson’s words now seem an age away, which in today’s fast moving world they are.

Monday, 4 January 2010

Taxing time at New Year

WELCOME to the New Year, and I sincerely hope you have had a better start to 2010 than my family and I have.
First the sickness: The least said about this, the best. A form of novo-virus, or Winter Vomiting disease as it is more descriptively called, has swept through at least three branches of the family, meaning festivities had to be cancelled, presents remain unopened and mountains of food and drink remain unconsumed.
A couple of family members have actually had the lurgy twice, once at Christmas and once at New Year, which I think is taking a devotion to Scrooge a little too far.
But the question here is what are we, as victims of disease, supposed to do? Suspecting that novo-virus was one of the growing number of conditions, like swine flu, which doctors don’t want to know about, we contacted NHS direct.
Sure enough, it said get on with the vomiting, take plenty of liquids to re-hydrate yourself, take Paracetamol if you have aches and pains and stay away from your GP.
Second the refuse collection: or what are we supposed to do with all the food, drink, Christmas wrapping and unwanted presents (when they are finally opened)?
We have actually been giving unwanted food to various animals: wild birds, supposedly tame rabbits and the dog is having a wow of a time. The rest of the food is being put on the compost heap, which is now so large I expect to be told I need planning permission for it. We are burning most of the rest of the rubbish, no doubt breaching some public health directive.
But there has been no bin collection for four weeks and our two bins are now full to the brim despite our best efforts, as are the blue boxes. Sadly the bottle one is full of Lucozade empties and the tins one full of soda cans, which says everything about our Christmas.
So I politely phoned South Lakeland District Council where the most charming, disarming Mrs Cannyboddy is on the switchboard.
The gist of her message is: “I know pet. They are doing the best they can. I haven’t had mine collected for weeks. Just put out bags.”
When I point out the threat of vermin, she gets extra cute, laughingly referring to rats in woolly jumpers.
This neatly brings us to the weather or specifically its impact on transport. In this part of the frozen North the highways authority, Cumbria County Council, has been quite brazen about its policy, which is to keep the main highways between centres of commerce open and forget the rest.
Consequently no one in our family has been able to leave their country lanes or town centre estates to get to the main roads.
The struggle to get to work has become a daily dice with death. So the policy is obviously aimed at saving grit for a rainy day, so to speak, or saving money, rather than keeping society on the move.
So, to summarise: if you get sick don’t bother the NHS; if your bins need emptying don’t bother the district council; and if the roads are impassable, don’t tell the highways authority. So remind me just what do we pay our taxes for?