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News UK director of digital George Mudie calls on UK digital industry to be more aggressive

News UK's George Mudie

As the entry deadline for the Dadi Awards, in association with Synergist, approaches, The Drum has been asking some of this year's judges for their views on the current state of the digital industry and what they'll be looking for from this year's entrants.

First in the hotseat is George Mudie, director of digital for News UK and Ireland. Mudie is responsible for bringing together digital product management, delivery and software engineering for the Times, the Sunday Times and the Sun newspapers.

What has been your favourite digital product or campaign from the last 12 months?

I really enjoyed going to SxSW this year. One of the early products that caught my eye was from EyeTribe. A bunch of Danish PhD researchers have created a sensor array that can track what your eye is looking at with minimal set-up. It is initially unnerving to look at a place on a display and have your eye movement accurately tracked. The experience then becomes fun and finally you wonder why you’ve been waving your fingers around for the last seven years. All we need is the sensor bar to be condensed down into something that can be embedded in devices.

One of News UK's big digital plays this year was online Premier League highlights. What have you learned from the Sun+ Goals app? And how big a role will video play in News UK’s ongoing digital strategy?

Previous goals apps have tended to either focus on the video or on the editorial side. Having previously worked at Sky I was aware of how powerful high quality football video can be. The real surprise for me was how the experience felt more valuable and entertaining when you combine the exclusive near live goal videos and post-match highlights with the Sun’s editorial content. It is a much richer and more engaging experience.

More broadly, do you think newspaper brands deploy video enough, or well enough, within their digital platforms at present? How can it be used more effectively?

I believe the answer varies depending on the content strengths of the newspaper. Our sister company Wall Street Journal is experimenting with a broadcast-style approach with WSJ Live. At News UK, we’ve been focusing on exclusive sporting video rights. Currently we have the exclusive internet and mobile video clip rights for the Barclays Premier League, Scottish Premier Football League, FA Cup, Aviva Premiership Rugby and English home international and domestic cricket. Next year we will add the Uefa Champions League and the Uefa Europa League.

The Sun has then expanded into a morning football programme, video interviews and post-match analysis, which I particularly enjoy. We’re getting some valuable insight into how customers react to the various video formats. I don’t see video as substituting professionally written world-class editorial content; I think there is an opportunity to use video to amplify or accentuate the written content. It’s an intriguing challenge.

What device trends are you seeing among your audience – has there been an evident migration to tablet, mobile? How are you adapting to suit these platforms?

We serve distinctly different audiences editorially, and they also have distinctly different technology habits. The Times and Sunday Times now has a rather successful tablet app that gets high repeat usage and high dwell times. This fits with a fair number of Times and Sunday Times customers using their tablets rather than mobiles whilst they commute.

For the Sun we’ve had a mobile-first approach. The recently launched Sun Mobile on iOS is an interesting example. The new timeline based design has a very high repeat usage and the customer base is growing organically.

Our recently formed Business Intelligence division has been a great help at refining our customer insight. This in turn has helped to focus our product developments more accurately on the need states of customers and their primary devices.

What devices do you own?

MacBook Air, iPad 4, iPhone 5, Nexus 7, Amazon Kindle. I then have a pile of stuff at home. I’m not sure I want to reveal the full list to my wife at this stage….

As a judge of this year’s Dadi Awards, what are you hoping to see from the entrants? And what is your general opinion of the UK digital industry at present?

I think there is a risk that we lure ourselves into a false state of happiness with regards to our digital industry. We continually demonstrate amazing creativity, but we’ve not really coupled that with a creative business strategy or aggressive expansion. There is an insatiable demand for digital creativity from the larger and more demanding international markets. Thus I’m hoping we can find some companies that have the potential and desire to grow into global digital powerhouses, rather than nice agencies/start-ups hoping to be bought.

The Dadi Awards, in association with Synergist and sponsored by Kingston Smith W1 and Unanimis, is open for entries until 30 May. You can find out more at dadiawards.com.

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