Expect to See a Continued Convergence in Media News Brands

05/07/2016

Last Thursday the news broke that News Corp are to buy Belfast’s Wireless Group. The story broke without much kerfuffle, no fanfare, no “did you hear?” moments in the office, the story passed without any significant print real estate in national press, and indeed passing by many people within the industry.

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Last Thursday the news broke that News Corp are to buy Belfast’s Wireless Group. The story broke without much kerfuffle, no fanfare, no “did you hear?” moments in the office, the story passed without any significant print real estate in national press, and indeed passing by many people within the industry. But the acquisition, competition authority approval pending, is a pretty big deal in terms of media brand ownership, particularly in Ireland. The deal will see News Corp (UK & Ireland) adding 29 stations across GB and Ireland. In ROI it means they have added Cork 96/103, FM104, Q102, Limerick 95, and LMFM to their well-established, albeit relatively bruised publishing media armoury (The Sun and The Sunday Times) and their news and content business, Storyful. It’s a very interesting move from News Corp diversifying their portfolio to protect against declining audiences and revenues on their print platforms. It’s also a smart move as they look to grow their digital platforms, building on their acquisition of Storyful in late 2013, as with strong on air media brands comes strong social and to a lesser extend digital platforms. 
This immediately gives News Corp a significant slice of the Irish broadcasting market as these stations represent a national share of 15% for all adults with over 20% of Irish people tuning in daily. In addition to the strong local presence, the acquisition means News Corp will assume ownership of Talk-Sport, arguably the jewel in the crown when it comes to the UK stations. Talk-Sport is a natural bedfellow of The Sun in terms of audience and content so if they can align their sales efforts it provides an exciting platform to advertisers, bolstering falling revenues of the print arm by adding the broadcasting strength of Talk-Sport into any potential client solutions package. Expect NewsCorp to leverage Talk-Sport in the Irish market too. As radio stations increasingly move away from bandwith broadast towards digital platforms it makes the whole issue of station franchise areas obsolete. There is no doubt that there is an appetite for Talk-Sport content in this market but small market syndrome means the economies of scale, and commercial viability of such a niche station is somewhat limited. 
Where this becomes really interesting is when you think beyond spot and space solutions. In a world of content abundance News Corp have the potential to deliver cross platform, integrated content solutions to agencies like never before. It’s a holy trinity, a potential one stop shop offering long form print and digital published journalism, broadcast and brand aligned user generated curated content via Storyful. The only thing missing is TV, and I say “potential” one stop shop because in reality common ownership doesn’t necessarily mean integrated solutions, Sky Media and News Ireland, both News Corp, are separate identities when it comes to trading. If News Corp can offer integrated solutions to clients (ideally including Sky platforms) then it makes very interesting, and potentially uncomfortable reading for other specialist news brands, those that don’t have cross platform scale. Urban Media (aka UTV Radio Sales) were a pioneer in the radio market when they consolidated stations and offered an “Urban Access” package to the market. Pretty soon others followed suit and radio stations merged and consolidated sales operations putting the small matter of station ownerships aside. #
The game has now well and truly moved on and the new challenge accepted, “radio” stations stepped up to the plate and started to sell cross platform solutions. No radio brand worth its salt would respond to an agency brief without integrated social, video and content “baked into” the package on top of spot and sponsorship. Every media award entry now reads “we knew traditional advertising was never going to be enough, we had to create content solutions that truly engaged……” and so on. But then “new” media brands starting getting involved, soon Maximum Media (Joe.ie et al), entertainment.ie and TheJournal started to create video content and started to dabble in live broadcasts. So in reality theses lines have been blurring for some time, but expect to see further consolidation of ownership, and certainly sales operations, among Irish media brands in the future. The problem is that you need scale, and that’s what News Corp’s latest acquisition gives. IRS+ had cross platform offerings but they seemed disparate given they didn’t have scale in their own right. While content is abundant, great content is scarce and highly valuable. Content, like everything else, is subject to ecomomies of scale, it’s highly labour intensive but if you can spread the cost across multiple platforms then it’s hugely valuable. The issue of scale and the need to grow and evolve is well understood by newer digital media brands. It’s in their DNA, their entrepreneurial spirit provides a hunger to grow acquisitions in areas beneficial to their legacy platforms (FB/Instagram, Twitter/Periscope, Google/Youtube) and to reinvent their core platforms regularly in terms of user experience. Traditional media brands have been slower to adapt and evolve. RTE have always had a legacy luxury of scale across multiple platforms but it is arguable how well that has been leveraged to the market. 
So while this acquisition may not have caused much of a ripple as yet, you can expect to see more of the same as the idea of a “single” media sales specialist becomes, much like the “organic” value of a facebook fan, a thing of media folklore. 
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