OPINION: Australia's digital quality deficit disorder

Andrew Reid
By Andrew Reid | 24 January 2013

Something’s afoot when two of the world’s most recognised news and business media brands decide to take the Australian marketplace a little more seriously with a combination of direct investment in local production and marketing.

Both The Economist and The Guardian have long recognised Australia as an important, yet relatively small, English-language market. Yet with APAC now accounting for a higher proportion of their total readership, and Australia’s OECD ranking shifting upwards, these international media groups sense a real market opportunity.

However, putting aside the geo-politics, this reading of a commercial opportunity in digital is arguably based on a calculation that there’s a deficit in quality content rather than any secular market growth.

Provocatively, what both international media brands seem to recognise is that Australia is bereft of any healthy competition in a market segment best summed up as ad-based, quality news media.

Call it Australia’s Quality Deficit Disorder (QDD) in a category awash with TV news updates, wire copy and syndicated features. Where there’s some attempt to produce original content by established mastheads, the powers that be saturate the user’s experience with drop-downs, takeovers and auto-play video; and all this before we even discuss the rise of ‘trash talk’ in daily broadsheet offerings where tits, celebrity chefs and WW2 tank battles (edit: very odd) are the content de jour.

What these new media plays lack in reach they supposedly make up for in originality, authority and brand association. The Economist in particular pushes the point that readers like to be seen with the publication; it’s a status symbol reminiscent of any luxury brand one might wear or park in the driveway. Swiping the app version of The Guardian, Australian edition, in a packed commuter train might just provide the same cache in the very near term.

For many riding the programmatic media curve, both agency and advertiser alike, the advocacy of content or context over audience is positively Jurassic, yet the brand dollar is still by far the largest component of media budgets.  Brand exposure and complimenting content remain important considerations for any brand worth its value on the balance sheet.

The irony of current media buying dynamics is that as real-time bidding algorithms and trading desks become more effective in terms of direct response, so demand will rise for more online brand-relevant environments. This is the accidental genius of current international news plays – they are moving into the market at precisely the time advertisers are demanding outright content credibility and are willing to pay the price for creative association.

Andrew Reid
Managing Director ANZ

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