As some publishers shun gambling, The Independent sees journalism jackpot
Christian Broughton, managing director of The Independent, explains why the news title has sealed a deal with a gambling partner when the likes of The Guardian and the Premier League are signaling sector retreats.
It doesn’t feel all that long ago that I arrived at The Independent, determined to make my career break as a junior journalist. Looking back at the news industry as it was then, the purpose and values haven’t changed, but the business models were certainly simpler. There were no e-commerce revenues, no first-party data segments, no video views, no global audiences.
Our newsroom, and our business, in 2023 is all the more exciting because of change and our focus on the future. But there are some things I hold on to from those early years.
Now, in my current role as managing director, which includes leading The Independent’s ‘Ventures’ – business areas designed for strong future-facing revenue growth, high margin and strategic change – there is a question that grounds all the digital innovation, makes new business models immediately very real, and takes me back a couple of decades: how many junior journalists’ roles could we create through each new revenue stream? And then a second – equally important – question: just how sustainable would those jobs be?
These thoughts were on my mind as we signed a game-changing e-commerce partnership this month with Gambling.com Group. It’s a multi-year deal, and prompted the kind of revenue discussions that can feel quite abstract. I couldn’t help but think of the jobs it will help us create, and the scoops it could lead to.
This is Gambling.com Group’s first strategic media partnership outside the US, which in itself is a testament to the reputation, audience scale and robust model of The Independent. Together we will create a betting section for our readers, which will launch in the coming weeks, offering tips and responsible guidance on the most trusted firms to engage with online, helping them navigate an increasingly complex consumer market.
All the content will be created to meet The Independent’s long-established governance guidelines and will be reviewed before publishing. There will also be an email newsletter available for those interested in receiving tips, advice and guides in their inbox.
Sport has long been fertile ground for media deals, but this collaboration is different. Regulation and responsibility are hot topics in this sector, not just in the UK but around the world. And for good reason. That makes a multi-year partnership with a trusted odds-comparison provider reassuring. Gambling.com Group’s expertise in data science and monetization are great assets, but so too is their experience of media around the world, with two established partnerships with major US newspaper groups.
Setting betting aside, there’s a bigger win here too. For The Independent, this new deal fits into a longer narrative. Our last financial year, to the end of September 2022, marked a milestone. For the first time since we made the leap to become fully digital in 2016, the majority of our revenues (57%) came from non-advertising sources, following long-term investment into e-commerce, reader revenues (chiefly through subscription, but watch this space), licensing, and syndication. E-commerce is up 44% year-on-year. And well-chosen partners offer stability as well as growth.
Establishing New York newsrooms and producing feature-length Independent TV documentaries from Ukraine do not come cheap – and nor should they. If there’s one overwhelming lesson I have learned in my roles as editor and then as managing director, it is that great journalism can only thrive in the long term if the newsroom is backed up by reliable, robust funding.
So why the focus on non-advertising income? Advertising absolutely has its place in the healthy, diversified revenue mix of a news publisher. In our fully digital era, revenues have risen every year, and we’ve delivered profit too, which together have led to consistent investment. Our new, diversified revenue profile will mean we can continue to invest with confidence, and will help us weather storms that lie ahead.
The plight of other major online news outlets this year reminds us that among all the energy and buzz in the pureplay sector, sustainability matters. And while the opportunities presented by AI are genuinely thrilling for innovative news publishers, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a media column on the subject that doesn’t also foresee upheaval in the years ahead.
No one is entirely immune to the wider economy. In December, The Independent had to cut jobs. That was painful. But within four months we were able to bounce back and invest again in our journalism and innovation, in London and New York, under the new editorship of Geordie Greig.
So whether or not you enjoy a bet on the Wimbledon final, or the 16:10 at Newmarket, there is more to our deal with Gambling.com Group than picking the hot favorite in the field and hoping it’s a big winner. It’s about choosing a responsible, long-term partner. It’s about solid foundations for the trusted, quality journalism at the core of The Independent. And it’s about robust revenues that enable us to invest in those high-growth, high-yield Ventures, such as e-commerce, Independent TV and AI, that have the power to transform our business and create a winning formula for the future.