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Data is the new currency for News UK’s commercial charge beyond advertising


By Seb Joseph, News editor

April 25, 2016 | 7 min read

Moving into content and commerce ought to be an immediate priority at every publisher. But since it’s not, News UK is taking its own first steps in order to outdo rivals with more imaginative ways to make money.

Just scale in advertising isn’t going to sustain the future of journalism in the long-term at the publisher, believes chief commercial director Dominic Carter. While advancements in video, native, mobile and programmatic continue to fuel a promising advertising proposition at News UK, moving forward it wants to use all the data it hasn’t been able to share enough of it with advertisers to create products it can make direct revenues from.

For the first time, advertisers can match their own data with log-in data from the Sun’s ‘Dream Team FC’ business or subscriber data from the Times alongside customer data from other products like ‘The Sun Bingo’ to identify unique audience segments based on traffic. For News UK, a clearer view of what both its readers and advertisers want make it easier to develop creative solutions beyond banners.

From the upcoming ‘The Sun Bet’, which will see the tabloid become an online bookmaker for the first time, to planned products for women and value seekers, the focus is no longer just on creating great value for advertisers but also great revenue opportunities for the business too. With the betting opportunity for example, the publisher claims The Sun readers make up 50 per cent of betters in the UK, meaning that many of those same readers having ‘banter with each other around football or gaming are likely to want to put their money where their mouth is'.

There’s also upcoming products for ‘Dream Team FC’ including a coaching service users can pay for to up their game as well the opportunity to buy additional perks for their own leagues.

Restructuring for the future

But bringing all of this data together in a coherent and centralised manner is no small feat, and News UK has had to make wholesale changes at the commercial side of the business. Earlier this month, the publisher restructured its commercial and marketing offerings under ‘The Bridge’ to make all the first-party data it has more readily available to potential partners. To facilitate that flow of expertise, Carter’s previous responsibilities of insights and analytics have been handed to the marketing side of The Bridge alongside the research of the insights experts, a move he believes makes the commercial part “more client focused”. Method, the commercial arm’s creative division, has also been moved to chief customer officer’s Chris Duncan’s remit.

“There’s a lot of investment going on in terms of building all of the infrastructure underneath the technology department,” Carter said. “There’s been a lot of focus on trying to drive the right skills and capabilities from the restructure and that has meant that some people have come out of the structure but we’re trying to bring in new skills and new capabilities to enable us to do that.”

One of those new arrivals is digital commercial director at The Bridge Ben Walmsley, who joined from ad management firm Sizmek.

Content and commerce

The model for making money is sitting around the “super engaged audience” and building the data around them, according to the publisher. Falling CPMS and media fragmentation has exacerbated the need for publishers to diversify their revenues, though most of those efforts to date have focused on events. However, News UK’s push beyond advertising highlights the early signs of change, with the Telegraph Media Group and Time Inc UK creating senior marketer roles earlier this year to build similar strategies.

That blend of content and commerce, which News UK talked about at great lengths at Advertising Week Europe, is most apparent at the Sun. While its paywall was up, the tabloid burned through marketing pounds to stem high subscriber churn, which limited its reach and taught the red top it needed to develop a new model around audiences rather than platforms.

Most publishers have a broad understanding of multiple audiences and then put out one product that tries to meet all their needs. That’s no longer the case at the Sun, where editors and content creators from its agencies now sit alongside analytics and product experts, mixing people who know the newspaper brands with those who understand how to distribute media.

It’s still early days for the model but there are already signs of success, whether it was a Facebook Live stream that had 40,000 people tune in to watch three journalists from the Sun discuss various stories earlier this year or a comical video centering on the fractious relationship between football managers Arsene Wenger and Jose Mourinho (see below), which reached a million views in less than four hours and had a total of over 100,000 shares. Those successes are not only spotlighting new communities forming around the Sun’s content but also giving it the confidence to sell upcoming products to brands. Rather than just making money from videos created by advertisers, now the publisher is set up to profit directly from its own.

All the focus on product development hasn’t meant advertising upgrades at both the Sun and the Times have been forgotten. A new site for the tabloid later this month will feature more videos on pages, leveraging the programmatic platform of News Corp’s recently acquired Unruly business as well as introducing its own native ads.

Both developments will bring new video ad formats for advertisers and sharper targeting as News UK looks to reframe an advertising proposition for the Sun built on shareable content and being at the centre of debate. Snapchat is earmarked as one key way of doing this, and early talks have been held with Facebook about its Instant Articles product.

“Video will be a significant revenue driver but you’re not going to get away from standard inventory and you’ll still be able to optimise on a programmatic basis,” said Carter. “The real thing we have to do is look at how we create shareable videos that allow us to go beyond our platform.”

Plans are also underway at the Times, which will include revisions to standard formats like the homepage takeover.

Despite the changes, News UK doesn’t plan to follow in the footsteps of the Financial Times, the Wall Street Journal and the Economist by selling ads based on time. Instead, Carter said, “we have to get right under the skin of what our readers are doing” before it can build out its metrics offering.

When it comes to digital publishing, experimentation is the new norm. Launching products, native advertising, paywalls, livestreaming and virtual reality – News UK is exploring ways to transform its engaged, loyal audiences into long-term sources of revenue.

Are you interested in publishing models of the future? Join the New York Times, Trinity Mirror, Forbes, Cat Throttle and many more as they discuss, debate and dissect the hottest topics in media publishing today. Register here for Media Slap, 5th May.

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