Last week some of the Hello Starling team headed down to the Future of Newsbrands conference held by Mediatel in London. An incredible breakfast and buffet lunch aside, the conference gave us the opportunity to hear what some of the top dogs from the top publishers in the UK, think the future holds for newsbrands.


So what did the day have in store?


The conference kicked off with an introduction (and quiz) from Simon Redican, who stressed the reasons for newsbrands to be cheerful, swiftly followed by the first panel of the day and a discussion on presenting news via video content, adblocking and paywalls. After an intermission we were treated to an insight into the success of the New European by the CMO at Archant, Will Hattam, and finally a look at what the future holds for newsbrands in the face of a “Facebook and Google duopoly”.


Our overriding feelings at the end of the day?


While we have acclaimed the continued importance and relevance of print newsbrands on many occasions (and with good reason), it would be disingenuous of us to say that (given the current media climate) any one of us in the office can categorically claim that print newspapers will go on forever. Our most recent blog on print newspaper advertising explained our position on this one pretty well.


We were surprised therefore, that – while we heard of the success of pop-up paper the New European – there was no mention of the less successful and immediately comparable Trinity Mirror title The New Day. There was also an apparent silence around the closure of the Independent in print. Now, maybe it is such a worn subject for those in it day-to-day to be worthy of recognition, but the lack of any comment on the closure of a national print title as important as the Independent in print, less than 7 months ago, seemed quite odd to the Hello Starling contingent.


Glimmers of recognition


This being said, while the panel members perhaps didn’t go as far as we might expect to broach the real strain they are currently under – there were definite glimmers of recognition to say that newsbrands needed to improve in order to compete with in particular Google and Facebook, and some interesting insights into the direction in which they expect newsbrands to move into.


“The duopoly of Facebook and Google”


As Trinity Mirror’s chief revenue officer James Wildman explained: “most of the revenue in the market is being eaten up by Google and Facebook and that’s a major problem for publishers”, while Will Haywood CEO of JOE media and Buzzfeed’s ex-VP for Europe, pointed out “Facebook is winning because they have amazing advertising products that work really well”.


A fight back on the horizon?


Given the question, “what reason is there to be optimistic for newsbrands in the next year?”, at the end of the conference, the panel gave a variety of different reasons ranging from measuring and using data more effectively, to collaborating with one another in order to provide greater value to agencies and advertisers, to hosting and producing content natively that brands would be willing to a lot of money for.


Our conclusions


Whether or not the newsbrands can realistically compete with Google and Facebook it is clear that there remains a lot of exciting potential (as outlined in the final conclusions of the panel) for brands, agencies and consumers alike to benefit over the coming year.


The 2,000 journalists across 160 different newsbrands that James Wildman pointed to, is after all as he explains “an absolutely enormous and brilliant resource”. It is also however, as Wildman subsequently pointed out, a very high cost to pay when “the Google and Facebook duopoly” is taking “90 pence in every pound of incremental money spent in digital”.


Asides from maybe being a little bit more honest publically about some heavy hits taken, we would suggest that the newsbrands should take a leaf out of the New European’s book and start thinking a little smarter. There remains a great deal of opportunity for newsbrands, and subsequently for brands too. It’s now up to newsbrands to really start taking advantage of all those opportunities available.


By Paul Gregson