News Corp CEO Michael Miller has issued a rallying cry for more collaboration from rival media owners to shore up publishers and broadcasters for the future. He has urged his peers to work together more closely to compete with the scale of global and digital operators and said they must stop revelling in each other’s decline
In an address to the Melbourne Press Club this week, Michael Miller said: “Journalism is a unique craft and one we need to treasure … it’s critical to our industry’s prosperity and longevity. I am an optimist. I believe in what we do. But I am not Pollyanna. I am a realist. And as an industry, we do have some real challenges.”
He went on to outline the challenges including the “shrinking advertising pie” and citing the 10% fall in agency ad bookings in the June SMI figures, the increased competition for the declining Australian ad dollars from both new entrants such as The New York Times and international players such as Netflix and of course the dominance of Google and Facebook.
“These global broadcasters, publishers and networks challenge us with scale and resources previously unseen in this country and dwarfing those of the local industry, while pushing up our creative and content costs,” he said.
He also touched on current outdated media legislation, which he says is preventing Australian media operators from “competing on a level playing field” and prohibits them from being able to meet the challenges the industry is facing.
“We can justifiably blame technology, society’s changes, piracy, global players, government and legislation for our current dire state, we must assume some of the blame ourselves. The fact is: less is being invested in Australian content across all mediums, and the challenge of producing great content is harder to meet; we are primarily domestically oriented, focused on our traditional competitive share rather than investing regionally for growth; while at the same time, reducing the marketing and promotion of our brands and our talent.
“We have also given our unique journalism away for free - to both consumers and our new competitors.”
“It is a cruel irony that here we are, organisations who invest in journalism and support the creation of unique, local content for Australian audiences, in the fight of our lives against international players – who, despite their scale, lack our local commitment, influence and impact.”
He also outlined how News Corp as an organisation has evolved and is a different beast to the “print monolith” it is perceived as by many with interests in online video, lifestyle and prestige publishing, sports and real estate.
He claims more than 16 million Australians choose to engage with News Corp's brands each month, equating it to more than Facebook's audience.
“Despite News Corp being a complex media company, we are not immune to the same challenges as all other local players. Those issues are hurting us, and will continue to hurt our capacity for growth unless we address them. “
One way News Corp is addressing the challenges of scale is to push for better internal collaboration of its businesses, such as The Australian, the Wall St Journal and Sky News working close together, the creation of Food Corp to bring its food brands together, whimn.com.au to bring together content for female audiences and Prestige to bring its high end magazine titles together.
Those initiatives, he said, offer a more attractive proposition for commercial partners and advertisers.
Miller said the publisher, and its peers, should “never have given [our quality journalism] away for free” adding that New Corp is focussed on increasing its revenue from subscriptions believing people are willing to pay for quality content.
“Revenue for our journalism is key for growing our revenues,” he said and that subscriptions revenue for The Australian is now greater than its ad revenue.
Data is key for how News Corp and other legacy publishers can compete, and is becoming more valuable than an editor's “gut instinct” he said.
“The data we have, enables us to publish the relevant content that best meets our audience, and the individual’s interests. This leads to journalism we can monetise. With apologies to the editors in the room, while gut instinct once told you all you need to know, today, insight from data provides live and accurate measures of what audiences are consuming.”
He set out five industry priorities for publishers to compete, which draw heavily on the need for cooperation and unity among former rivals in media, citing the success of cross-media initiatives in New Zealand such as the ad exchange KPEX, which saw four major publishers join forces., as a reason Google and Facebook have not grown as fast.
A similar effort here, APEX, launched by Pippa Leary in 2014 with a partnership between Fairfax Media and Nine Entertainment, never got the support of more than a handful of publishers. News Corp was not on board.
He also urged media rivals to “respect each other more” and “stop revelling in each other’s problems and publish less negative headlines about rival newsrooms being gutted”.
Ironically, the CEO’s words may not be being heard in its own newsrooms as News Corp’s The Australian frequently publishes headlines about Fairfax’ woes, with Fairfax CEO Greg Hywood repeatedly coming out against News Corp’s attacks in recent years.
To conclude, miller offered an optimistic outlook: “These are challenging times for our industry, we face a complexity of issues that pose significant threats to our future. But we will withstand them and grow stronger.
“The future of Australian media will be determined by those who work together, work smarter, put their customers first and continue to invest in the craft that is of the utmost importance to this country - journalism.”
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