News’ Damian Eales: “Paid Content Models Are The Best Models For Media Organisations”

News’ Damian Eales: “Paid Content Models Are The Best Models For Media Organisations”
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Tuesday saw News Corp debut its annual Come Together roadshow in Melbourne for agencies and clients. Following the event, B&T had a quick chat with the media behemoth’s chief operating officer, Damian Eales, to talk all things agencies, its renewed focus and why it’s all about trust…

Come Together has become an annual event for News. What’s its main purpose for you guys?

It’s really about showcasing the new News. We’re an evolving organisation, we’re serving more needs than we’ve ever been able to serve before for clients, and it’s an opportunity to show our advertisers and agencies what we can do.

Arguably the biggest surprise was the launch of your new marketing content agency Sudden.ly. That looks like it could seriously tread on the toes of a lot of creative agencies?

In some respects… the marketplace for content services is quite extensive, it extends well beyond agencies. There’s a lot of large agencies involved in this space, a lot of publishers are involved in this space, there’s an increasing number of bespoke content agencies, too. But none of those have the ability to create content like News Corp. We have 2100 journalists and  creating content is in our DNA. And, secondly, they don’t have the brands and the audiences associated with those brands to amplify that content that will have a material impact on a marketing campaign.

A big theme you’re playing to has been trust. How much has things like the Facebook data scandal played perfectly into News’ hands?

I would say that there are aspects of the Facebook model that are starting to unravel a little bit. Facebook users are also starting to realise the sorts of data – either intentionally or unintentionally – that they’re starting to hand over and consumer brands that are leveraging that platform could be harmful to their brand.

So, I think it is a moment in time for a publisher like News to put our credentials forward. We offer trusted brands, advertisers know what they’re going to get and all our dealings from a data perspective are transparent to those advertisers.

Everyone has a perception about the News Corp brand – be that good or bad. How much can it be a hindrance as much as a help?

You’re talking about the level of association that some people may or may not have with us and our brands. And we recognise that not all of our brands will appeal to everyone in the population. But collectively, the combination of all those brands enables us to reach 16 million Australians every month. We feel we have something for everybody in that ecosystem.

News remains a staunch defender of print and newspapers. How hard are they to sell in agency land, to young media buyers that can be very digitally focused?

We’ve got two parallel challenges as an organisation. One challenge is to demonstrate to agencies and clients that we’re a lot more than just traditional media and that’s the point of today, to surprise people, to show them the myriad of things we can do. We have to change the perception that we’re purely a newspaper company, which is our heritage.

In addition to that, we need to recognise the value that exist in newspapers. We still sell over a million newspapers every day of the week. We still have a daily audience of around 3.5 million Australians. It’s a massive, mass market opportunity to talk to customers and you can buy it at a moment’s notice.

To some extent that has been left out of peoples’ marketing mix at a time when it is just as important to talk to customers at the top of the purchase funnel as it is to transact at the pointy of the funnel, too.

There’s clearly a focus on these new initiatives, but will it come at the detriment of some of News’ older, perhaps poorer performing properties?

It’s not a case of letting anything go. It’s more about where are we putting our efforts into growth. We are growing our digital subscriptions significantly, so our consumers are wanting to consume that content on multiple platforms.

I think all publishers have learned a lot about paywalls, particularly over the last five, and there is now a very strong consensus globally that paid content models are the best models for news media organisations. It recognises the value of the content that’s being produced.

One of the great things about the digital economy is that you can analyse specifically what it is that the customer is willing to pay for. So we do track by story the number of subscriptions that a story generates, we’ll measure the number of views and that generates value for the business.

Is that clickbait?

Clickbait is not a sustainable business model. All clickbait does is create churn and churn is not good for our business. What is good for our business is a long-term relationship with someone who is willing to pay for content on an ongoing basis.

There’s just so much noise in media these days, so much competition for eyeballs. How do you get your stuff in front of the competition?

It also plays to the longer term advantage of News and for trusted brands. From an audience’s perspective there has never been more options to consume content. So the ones where you have the highest level of engagement, where you are genuinely engaged with a brand, they’re the ones that are most powerful. There is no greater measure of engagement than if someone is willing to shell out money for content on a day-today basis.

Over a million people shell out a couple of coins ever day to buy one of our newspapers and that’s a highly engaged audience. Our digital subscriptions are in their fifth year and they’re still growing at over 20 per cent per annum. So, for us, it’s about quality and not just quantity. For all media agencies, focusing on engagement is the path to profitability.

Sport’s obviously a huge thing for News and we’re seeing a lot of bidding for rights etc. There’s even been talk that the likes of Facebook, Google or Amazon could make a play in the local space. What’s your take on that?

Sure, they could bid but they haven’t. In the Australian market, News has a formidable portfolio of sports rights through Fox Sport and Foxtel and being in the family that provides access to those sports and our reporting cycle is 24/7; it’s not just the live broadcast, it’s everything around it and I think that gives us a terrific advantage.

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