Daily Mail takes step back from Project Rio amid publisher doubts

Project Rio cast into doubt as DMG steps out of discussions

The Daily Mail publisher has taken a step back from “direct involvement” in cross-industry initiative Project Rio amid a flurry of concerns from those involved over the viability of its attempt to pool inventory from six media owners.

The initiative, formerly by the name Project Juno but later rebranded to Project Rio, has been underway since the middle of 2017 when rival publishers decided to put their egos aside to tackle problems facing the print industry as an alliance.

However, a number of publishers involved - including News UK, Northern & Shell, the Guardian and DMG Media - have expressed concerns about losing the value of their brand in a well of inventory. Trinity Mirror, by comparison, is said to be "very involved" in the discussions, according to a source close to the matter.

DMG Media, publisher of the Daily Mail and Metro, confirmed today (16 January) that it is not participating in Project Rio meetings at this time, to focus on its own broader commercial priorities in 2017.

In a statement the publisher said: “Following the completion of the latest phase of work on the News Media brands' joint advertising project dmg media has, at this stage, decided to step back from direct involvement.

“DMG media has a number of its own broader commercial priorities to pursue in 2017 including initiatives related to its international media businesses and its data-driven programmatic solutions but it remains committed to working closely with its fellow UK news media publishers on a number of important shared priorities.

“Although not participating at this time, dmg media wishes its industry partners well and remains supportive of their ongoing efforts.”

It is not yet known how DMG's decision to back out of discussions will affect the future of the project, however losing one of the biggest news brands in the UK - with the largest online audience - could prove difficult to overcome for the remaining publishers. Speaking to The Drum last year when it first came to light that News UK and Northern & Shell expressed their concerns over the project, a source close to the negotiations admitted that a joint venture with neither News UK or DMG would prove difficult to get off the ground.

The source went on to speculate that News UK and Daily Mail publisher DMG Media might be likely to strike a joint venture separately should one of them pull out.

Executives heading the discussions had a crunch meeting in December to iron out the legal side of a prospective merger to ensure it complies with anti-trust rules. In the same month, the big five agency groups - Group M, Havas, Publicis, Dentsu and Omnicom - as well a select number of independent agencies, were updated on the progress, future strategy and asked if they supported the project.

The date for launch has been set as Autumn 2017, with the project opening up for trading in January 2018, to coincide with the launch of PAMCo’s Audience Measurement for Publishers (AMP) survey, the new audience measurement service to supersede NRS.

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Jessica Goodfellow

The Drum's media reporter covering everything from publishing, TV, social media, radio and technology.

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