Digital Transformation

Telegraph takes cues from Apple News in balancing open and premium model as those readers overtake Instant Articles


By Jessica Goodfellow | Media Reporter

November 14, 2016 | 6 min read

Publishers behind paywalls are stuck with a ‘scaleless’ strategy, believes the Telegraph, as it looks to balance its own paywall with an open model that takes cues from Apple News.

The publisher has replaced its metered model in favour of a partial paywall - Telegraph Premium - which constitutes 20% of its content. The remaining 80% of content on site is completely free. Robert Bridge, chief customer officer at the Telegraph, said the premise of Premium is not just a subscription strategy but an overall digital strategy to unlock an open layer that lives both on its owned properties and on third party platforms.

The idea is to use the open layer to drive more people to site. It hopes to triple the number of subscribers it has on the Premium product by the end of 2017. Those users are then segmented via the Telegraph’s data segmentation technology, to understand the level of engagement of users around the content, level of frequency of consumption, volume of consumption. If a user has moved from light usage to heavy usage on site, then the publisher will send messaging to migrate those users into Premium subscribers.

Telegraph Premium

Telegraph Premium

Meanwhile logged in users open up a “whole whammy” of additional data, Bridge said, that can super-serve the publisher’s advertising, ecommerce and events businesses. The Telegraph’s plans to utilise more data proves the publisher is chasing multiple revenue streams rather than focusing primarily on subscriptions and advertising “like some of our competitors”, Bridge said.

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“We don't believe that longer term that is a sustainable way to build a modern digital business,” he added.

The partial paywall heralds the “perfect balance” between algorithmically driven content and “an element of serendipity and discovery”, Bridge said, as users and publishers alike become increasingly concerned about the insular nature of third party algorithms in serving news that you want, but not news that you need.

“There is a need to have more than just an algorithmically driven stream,” he said “This is important to people’s understanding and being able to inform themselves and form their own perspective and a balanced view of the world.”

It’s a point that is especially poignant following the surprising election of Donald Trump as President of the United States today (9 November), raising questions as to the increasingly damaging role of social media in giving the public an insular view of the world.

Benchmarking from third party aggregators instead of competitors

Bridge admitted the publisher has taken cues from Apple’s news product, which includes an open and premium layer, in the development of Premium, and believes that other businesses will follow suit.

“As this industry matures a bit more, we are working out that there should be a premium to be paid for quality content and journalism, and vice versa there should be an area that is breaking news that you expect to be free and expect to be across all of the platforms. I think it is an evolution of various models that have been out there,” he added.

While the publisher believes in having an element of paid, Bridge dismissed a full subscription layer adopted by The Times as something that holds a news brand back from achieving scale and building a successful advertising and commerce business.

That said, Bridge recognises that getting consumers to pay for content in a world where they expect everything is not without its challenges. He believes as an industry “we are still in the stage of getting people to overcome the initial hurdle of paying for content”, as more users expect everything instantly and for free.

While the explosion of subscription services such as Netflix, Spotify and NowTV is shifting consumer behaviours, Bridge said it “easier” to get people over the hurdle if a brand has a “strong value package” in place. The Telegraph’s package for subscribers includes a free Amazon Echo Dot, digital access to The Washington Post and free Google Play music.

Apple News refocuses as a tech platform and overtakes Instant Article

In the same week the Telegraph has become Apple News’ exclusive ad sales partner for the UK to look after their ad inventory, after Apple made the decision to focus on being a tech company primarily rather than an advertising company, the Telegraph’s commercial director of sales and trading Jim Freeman said.

Freeman claims the Telegraph has been one of the most prolific publishers on Apple News since its inception, and has seen its page views on the platform increase fivefold in three months, overtaking its views on Facebook’s news proposition Instant Articles.

“Apple News is much bigger as a platform for us than AMP and Instant Articles. It has become a major player by quite a long distance, one of the most important platforms apart from our own. If that is the case for us it will likely be the case for all the publishers on Apple News, it is not being ignored anymore.”

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