Archive for February, 2012

Sun on Sunday faces a big battle for readers

Posted in business, Media with tags , , , , on February 22, 2012 by Tom Leatherbarrow

So, what do we make of the news that the Sun on Sunday is to launch this weekend?  Veteran Fleet Street watchers, like Roy Greenslade, have declared that Rupert Murdoch has pulled a rabbit out of the hat, simultaneously getting Sun journalists back on board after talk of mutiny in the ranks and reinforcing his commitment to UK newspapers.

I’m not so sure. It could equally argued that this is a short-term fix designed to appease the Sun mutineers rather than a real commitment. However, I can see the business logic in narrow UK terms, in that the new paper has the potential to do ‘massive numbers’ (as media planners are quick to tell us) and Murdoch needs a big selling ‘Sunday’ to bankroll his other loss-making UK newspapers.

But, and this is the crux, strong interest from advertisers does not always turn into strong sales and readership. Despite lots of positive vibes coming from media planners and News International, I still think it is going to be an uphill battle to get the British public to go out and buy in big numbers.

Firstly, it is going to be very difficult to get back all of the NOTW’s 2.6 million readers in an overall market for Sunday newspaper reading which is in decline. In August 1991 national Sunday newspapers collectively sold an average of 16.2 million copies. By August 2001 this number had reduced to 13.6 million. By August of last year it had fallen it had fallen off a cliff to a mere 8.3 million.

What’s more, circulation figures from last year suggest that more than a million NOTW buyers appear to have vanished into thin air. They did not switch allegiance to the Sunday Mirror or The People or The Mail – they just left the market entirely.

Secondly, reaction from competitors is likely to be brutal in terms of price-cutting and other incentives, as those titles which benefited from the closure of the NOTW attempt to hang onto their gains. News International will launch with huge promotional activity, but all of this eats into profits and cannot be sustained over the long-term.

Finally, there is one other issue which is going to make life difficult for this successor to the ‘Screws’. The NOTW made its name exposing the antics of the rich and famous, but we now live in an era of super-injunctions which can stop an invasion of privacy in its tracks. What’s more, the newspaper industry is fully aware that the Leveson Inquiry is on-going and is on its best behaviour. It will take a very brave editor indeed to splash a typical NOTW scandal story, of the type that made its predecessors name, in the opening weeks of this new venture.

News International will be very gung-ho about this weekend’s circulation figures regardless of what happens, but the real proof will come in March, April and May as the market begins to settle down again. I’m no media buyer, but I suspect with a print run of three million, News International will be hoping for an opening weekend north of NOTW’s final circulation figure of 2.6 million. That is an awfully tall order to sustain once the initial excitement wears off.

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A triumph for social media (in Glasgow!)

Posted in Media, Sport with tags , , , , , on February 20, 2012 by Tom Leatherbarrow

For those who didn’t get around to reading the Guardian’s excellent article on Saturday about the phenomenal job done by the blog ‘rangerstaxcase.com’, I would urge you to make time to give it a read.

Even if you are not a football supporter, there is much to ponder on from the perspective of the performance of traditional media sources and in terms of the impact of social media.

It is a story with multiple themes; alienation of the traditional football fan; a perceived failure on the part of traditional media and the use of social media as a catalyst for the sharing of vital information amongst stakeholders.

For those who don’t have the time let me summarise the story for you here. An anonymous football supporter, ironically not a Rangers supporter, got wind of the tax trouble that Glasgow Rangers was in, but could find no mention of it amongst traditional media outlets.

Instead, traditional media fed its readers, namely the club’s supporters, the usual stories including the building of a super casino and transfer gossip, including, apparently, a ‘link’ to the signing of Cristiano Ronaldo. The result was that many Rangers supporters had little clue that their club owed £70 million to HMRC until last week when it went bust.

In frustration, our anonymous hero set up a blog, ‘rangerstaxcase.com’, and started digging deeper. The blog has ‘broken’ a whole host of stories in relation to the case and now has a daily traffic of over 100,000 views with reader comments coming in at a rate of about 1,500 per day. Bear in mind that these people are not discussing football, they are discussing accounting conventions and insolvency law!

How did this happen? Our hero blames an unholy triangle of trade in which traditional media sources have got too close to the club and felt unable to cover the story for risk of losing their ‘access’.

For the record, I am fully aware of the role that PR has probably played in all of this. PR people at Rangers, let’s assume they were in the know, have been feeding these stories to traditional media outlets, in the guise of ‘doing their job’.

So what can we learn from all of this? Media owners from Rupert Murdoch down have blamed the internet for their woes, but this case begs the question whether certain sections of traditional media are giving readers the information they need and perhaps explains why so many are turning to alternative sources of information.

It must also be remembered that not all traditional media is scared of questioning itself. After all, I read this story in The Guardian. Kudos to them for running it!

Dave is throwing himself to the Lion!

Posted in Politics with tags , , , , , on February 16, 2012 by Tom Leatherbarrow

The Prime Minister just got slapped down on the BBC.

It’s something I suspect we are going to have to get used to over the coming years.

Gordon Brown made a lot of mistakes, but he also got a lot right, bailing out the banks in October 2008 and not allowing Blair to join the Euro immediately spring to mind, but there is also another trap which he had the wiles never to fall into. He never, ever went up to Scotland and publicly took on Alex Salmond, Scotland’s First Minister, toe to toe!

The current Prime Minister is a confident man and the Number 10 Press Office has obviously felt able to trail his speech in Edinburgh today on the future of the United Kingdom and the Scottish Referendum on Independence with plenty of leaked soundbites.

He will say we are “stronger and richer together”. He will go on: “I think we have a fairer country, a better country, a richer country with all of us together. But I wouldn’t ever threaten people in Scotland or say they can’t do what they want to do. I’ll just be appealing as someone who loves the United Kingdom, who loves our shared home.”

All very nice, but then he makes a huge mistake that Salmond has already leapt on. “We’re stronger, because together we count for more in the world, with a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council, real clout in NATO and Europe and unique influence with allies all over the world.”

Oh dear, oh dear. This is Salmond’s response, the words of a consumate politician who understands his electorate and their concerns. Read on or watch it HERE. I warn you from abourt 46 seconds in it is men against boys stuff!

“I was arguing about progressive policies, to bring jobs to the people and prosperity, he’s talking about being on the Security Council of the United Nations. Now no doubt that is important but believe me that doesn’t mean much to someone with disability or someone fearing the loss of benefits; a young person looking for a job in Scotland. I think the Prime Minister had better understand that Scottish politics is about a positive vision for the future; it’s about people not prestige.”

One nil to Salmond. At this rate it will all be over by half time.

Capello: the media pack has got what it wanted!

Posted in Media, Sport with tags , , , on February 9, 2012 by Tom Leatherbarrow

The Capo has gone. His critics in the media have got what they’ve wanted all along. I woke up this morning to Dan Roan on the BBC telling me that his tenure as England manager will be judged a failure. Arch critic Henry Winter in the Telegraph can barely contain his excitement.

Various reasons are put forward for what, in the eyes of many in the football media pack, should be a moment of national rejoicing. His grasp of English wasn’t good enough (presumably to give them better quotes); he was always on holiday!

Facts are not allowed to get in the way of a good story. Only this week Sir Alex Ferguson came out and said he would never allow such interference in the dressing room as the FA has perpetrated in the last week. The fact that Capello’s win percentage is better than any other England manager, including Sir Alf Ramsey, is glossed over. Presumably too inconvenient to merit valuable column inches.

His resignation caps a fabulous afternoon and early evening for ‘the pack’. Yesterday, Harry Redknapp (“our ‘Arry”) was cleared of tax evasion charges leaving him free to take charge of “the biggest job in football”. The fact that he is a self-confessed semi-illiterate who has never sent an email is irrelevant. He played at West Ham with the Heroes of ’66, Bobby, Geoff and Martin, don’t you know?

Unfortunately, ‘the pack’ is even worse at picking the next England manager than the FA. Only 18 months ago Liverpool fans were being told that we were lucky to have Roy Hodgson and that we would have to hand him back to the nation when the England job next became vacant. Multiple internet statto nerds pointed out Hodgson’s shocking away game record at every club he’s ever managed but their cries went unheard until the Kop, with its team only just outside the relegation zone, started ironically chanting “Hodgson for England.”

My advice to Harry Redknapp is don’t go near the job with a barge pole. The ‘pack’ is fickle and it will turn on you when things go badly, and things will go badly. As I sat in front of the TV last night marvelling at another England football crisis I recalled the words of one of Don Revie’s assistants at Leeds United when Revie was considering taking the England job in the mid-1970s. “They [the England players] are not as good and not as dedicated as what you have here.”

There are multiple problems with English football from the way it is administered through to individual players. Unfortunately, the events of yesterday allow us to gloss over the problems once more.

Is the UK really anti-business?

Posted in Banking, business with tags , , , , on February 6, 2012 by Tom Leatherbarrow

The backlash against the backlash has truly begun. Fred, formerly Sir Fred, mustn’t be able to believe his luck as the great and good pile in to tell us all that it is terribly unfair. Even Alistair Darling who savaged him in his memoirs has come out for Sir Fred!

Most worrying though is the concern of a number of industry leaders who have voiced the opinion that the ‘stripping’ of Fred (apologies for that little mental image) could be perceived as anti-business. I think there are a number of points to make on this one.

Firstly, this story and the anti-business claims need to be seen in their party political context. The Government was bounced into this following Stephen Hester’s bonus fiasco. It needed a sacrificial lamb to give the voters some raw meat and try and claw back the initiative from Ed Miliband who is gaining some traction with the ‘fairness’ line of attack. Fred was the lamb and the anti-business claims are a natural follow-on to try and discredit the Opposition’s motives and convince voters that Labour is vacating the centre ground of politics.

Secondly, the City of London is not UK business. It is a part of UK business (admittedly quite a large part) but there are other parts of the economy beyond financial services. The national media’s almost exclusive obsession with the City and publicly quoted companies obscures the fact that there is business beyond the Square Mile.

Finally, the most vociferous voices I have heard on the subject of bank lending and bonuses have come from business, particularly SMEs who continue to struggle with raising bank finance.

So despite what you may read, the answer to the question is ‘no’ the UK is not anti-business, but if the great and the good continue with this line of attack it could become a self-fulfilling prophecy!