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    This is the personal blog of Simon Kendrick and covers my interests in media, technology and popular culture. All opinions expressed are my own and may not be representative of past or present employers
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Degrees of guilt by association

Phone-hacking, cover-ups and possible police corruption have understandably dominated the media over the past week. I have nothing to add to the main thrust of the issues other than to add to the praise of Nick Davies and the Guardian, who have shown that the news media can still be a force for good.

One particular area that has interested me in this is the extent to which different advertisers and audiences are disassociating themselves from the criminal and immoral centre of the actions (NB: Of course, at this stage, the seniority of the culpable hasn’t been fully identified).

The epicentre is the News of the World in the mid 2000s. While there were many employees that had nothing to do with these actions (though some might still question the ethics of people working for tabloids of this nature), this is the centre of the guilt.

Then there is the News of the World in 2011. Today is its last edition. The Max Mosley and John Higgins cases show the newspaper’s record remains far from spotless, but the people most closely identified with the criminal actions have moved on. This hasn’t stopped people from criticising/abusing current staff members for working for the title. Furthermore, due to the unravelling of the issues from the mid 2000s, many advertisers that were accepting of the general tone of the paper pulled out. As such, the paper announced it would be donating all ad space to charities. Some charities wanted nothing to do with the paper; others took the pragmatic decision to accept reaching a potential 7.5m readers.

At the next level is News International, where Rebekah Brooks (editor of the News of the World 2000-2003) is Chief Executive. Columnists on other News International papers such as Caitlin Moran and Giles Coren have spoken of the hate they’ve received, where they’ve virtually been accused of murdering Milly Dowler themselves.

Further up, there is News Corp Europe & Asia, where James Murdoch is Chairman and Chief Executive. At this level, there is a campaign from Mumsnet for organisations to remove all connections with News Corp, while there have been renewed calls for the UK government to block the proposed takeover of BSkyB.

Finally, you have News Corporation worldwide, led by Rupert Murdoch. Some commentators have used this episode to renew their hostility to the company for the operations of other companies, such as Fox News. One of the few valid things that Peter McMullen said in his Newsnight confrontation with Steve Coogan and Greg Dyke was that Coogan had previously accepted money from Fox Studios in order to make his films.

The Murdochs attempted to “cut off the cancerous limb” at the level of the News of the World title itself (which many are saying was going to happen anyway). But the links between parent and subsidiary brands are complex, and the above links show that News Corp have been far from successful in managing the crisis.

Until the courts can (hopefully) decisively prove the level of knowledge within the organisation, there is no fixed moral or ethical line regarding the association of advertisers and audiences with the various levels of News Corp. The troubles at News Corp could go right to the top, or they could once again be resilient in the face of adversity. But perhaps for the first time, they cannot directly control their fate. Advertisers will act with their budgets and audiences will act with their eyeballs and wallets. Both traditional and social media can amplify early trends, and the final outcome remains to be seen.


Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/plashingvole/5911657213

Disclosure: My employer has in the past conducted work for Sky. I have never personally worked with or for any News Int or News Corp companies, though I do know several people employed by them


Links – 1st March 2009

Firstly, thanks to everyone that read, tweeted and commented upon my previous post on “Research vs Planning”. It’s dispersal backs up Ana Andjelic’s point on how word of mouth spreads through random spikes within overlapping spheres, and not through concentric circles of influence.

Reading material from the past week to consider include:

  • Noah Brier muses on ratings systems, and how we each have our own idiosyncratic interpretations of them
  • Are some brands, products and companies unsinkable? No matter how inferior or dated, they will carry on indefinitely? This look at Wimpy fast food “restaurants” would suggest that it is possible. Incidentally, I live 10 minutes away from a Wimpy and despite a nostalgic desire to visit for a lime milkshake, I haven’t yet managed it.
  • A Business Insider post contains Videojug’s ideas on why web adverts should be more like TV commercials. Essentially, they argue moving away from the print notion of wallpaper ads to a TV notion of interruptive ads. This goes against the “engagement vs interruption” advocates, but that school of thought, in my opinion, is a slightly Utopian mindset that won’t scale to the entire marketplace.
  • On a related theme, an Advertising Age blog wonders whether it is time to forget measurement in digital campaigns. A slightly misleading title, as it really refers to DR metrics, but a thoughtful post on how the internet has changed over the past 15 years, yet measurement hasn’t.
  • And finally, a couple of interviews worth reading – Robin Wright in the Guardian, and James Murdoch in More Intelligent Life


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James Murdoch is wrong about the iPlayer

bbc iplayer
Photo by http://www.flickr.com/photos/dantaylor/

At the Marketing Society annual lecture, James Murdoch accused the BBC iPlayer of squashing competition.

I completely disagree with this. The iPlayer is dominant, but it is taking a large slice of an inflated pie. Without the iPlayer, the market would be a lot smaller. No-one was complaining of the other video services using 3-5% of the UK’s Internet traffic beforehand.

The BBC is able to devote greater resources to promoting the iPlayer (£131m over 5 years) than its commercial rivals. Since online video is a game-changing technology, I believe that the BBC is justified in doing this. They have used their money to:

  • Fail. All the coverage of the flash iPlayer overlooks the fact that the p2p service floundered throughout 2007
  • Promote. Barely a trail or continuity goes by without the iPlayer being mentioned – commercial broadcasters have a multitude of commitments battling for space and could not give their online video the same level of coverage
  • Populate. As well as in-house productions, the BBC has been paying for ad-hoc deals to bring in third party content (such as Damages)
  • Reassure. Despite everything that has gone one in the past few years (from Hutton to RDF to Socks), people will still look to the BBC rather than a commercial rival

As for James Murdoch’s assertion that it is crowding out competition, I have had a look at Comscore data and that tells a different picture.

Admittedly, the iPlayer only appeared for the first time in March data, and so currently there is only one month of data to compare to. But over the year so far

  • ITV.com total visits and unique users have held constant
  • 4OD total visits and unique users have risen
  • Sky Anytime unique users has fallen but total visits have risen
  • In March, the iPlayer had the most total visits, though fewer unique users than ITV.com (which is admittedly, the whole website and not just the catch-up area)

Now Comscore stats will never be completely accurate, but it paints an interesting picture and one that is at odds with James Murdoch.

And of course, Project Kangaroo will launch later this year. That will completely alter the shape of the competition. In theory, the iPlayer could back down into a secondary role and allow Kangaroo to dominate the market. But how Kangaroo will sit alongside the BBC, ITV and Channel 4 is unclear, and the lure of the ad-free iPlayer may be too great. Personally, I see Kangaroo – attempting to be the iTunes of online video – becoming the first port of call but Interesting times are certainly ahead.