News Corp chief executive Robert Thomson has emphasised the effectiveness of print advertising as a premium product, saying it had increased in value during a period of rapid digital expansion.
Mr Thomson told the 42nd UBS Media and Communications conference in New York on Wednesday that despite the success of his company in replicating its print media on other platforms like tablet and mobile, the tactile version of the paper retained unique value for advertisers.
“The relative value of print to certain clients in a digitally discursive age…is increasing,” Mr Thomson said. However, he indicated that editorially, the same value of print could be transferred to digital products like tablet editions of newspapers.
“In the case of the [Wall Street] Journal, we were sitting down talking about how should we make the app look and we were playing with it and working on what the interface should be,” Mr Thomson.
“The one thing we agreed on is that if you were at Goldman Sachs and you were sharing an elevator ride with Lloyd Blankfein and Lloyd said ‘did you read the Journal this morning?’ if you had read the iPad app you could say, absolutely.
“Whereas if you’ve just read the website … it’s pretty hard to say ‘I’ve read the Journal this morning’. That sense of completion, of closure, conceptually and psychologically, it’s really important, and commercially, it’s worked for us.”
The biggest challenge going forward for newspaper companies will be monetising content on mobile, Mr Thomson said.
“It’s a small canvas, and a compelling canvas, and if you take the subway in the morning a lot of people are looking at their phones,” he said.
“How do you monetise it, given the canvas is smaller? What is the right format for headlines? How big should images be? All these things are really up for grabs.”
Mr Thomson said News Corp was at a significant advantage in growing new acquisitions, such as online real estate business Move, due to the “natural marketing platform” the company had through its media assets.
“People can talk to you about traffic, but five of us gathered randomly in this room could set up a website and have, within a month, one million monthly uniques, just doing certain types of headlines, repurposed content,” he said.
“But there’s trash traffic and there’s real traffic – it’s not just about the quantity, it’s about the quality.
“You look at the demographics of the Wall Street Journal digital network … we’ll be driving towards the site, dare I say it, people who are interested in buying a home and have the means of buying a home. That’s what matters to realtors.”
Mr Thomson said that while there is a lot of uncertainty in the Australian economy, he liked the trajectory of the news business in the country.
“The team there under Julian Clarke and Peter Tonagh, really has done a wonderful job of reconnecting with advertisers, sorting out the digital strategy, bringing new energy to the business,” he said.
“In the first quarter, and it wasn’t what we expected, EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortisation) was up year on year in Australia, and that it a tribute to that team.
“With the Australian dollar weaker, that is generally good for the Australian economy.”
For more news from The Newspaper Works, click here.