News Corp Australia’s Michael Miller on the diversifying business model

Michael Miller

Bigger suite of products attracting more consumers and advertisers

As News Corp Australia continues the transition from its original print model, the company is focused on its solutions for advertisers.

The recent September quarter figures noted a slower recovery in print advertising post-pandemic. The Australian businesses continue to report growth from digital masthead subscriptions, Foxtel’s new streaming brands are booming and News Corp continues to publish popular podcasts.

The executive chairman of News Corp Australia, Michael Miller, told Mediaweek a wider range of products for advertisers is helping to secure larger digital revenues.

Miller explained that includes the News Connect data proposition, News Xtend local area marketing, both of those continuing to grow. “The video offering we have through the broader News Group is also strong. Mike Connaghan (below) is now leading commercial content which is another area of growth and opportunity.

Michael Miller

We are now far more confident than we have been in the past 10 years about our strategy. Australians are responding to our journalism digitally. The way we are telling our stories has changed greatly and it continues to evolve as it has done over the past 30 years. The media led company we are today is not the publishing-based company we were 15 years ago.

“While print is still part of the portfolio, it is not the major part of the portfolio.”

Some of the changes Miller uses to illustrate the new-look company is that News Corp is now a top-five audio publisher and a top-five video distributor.

Podcast Ranker

News Corp podcaster Gary Jubelin

“We also are now worlds-best when it comes to digital subscriptions and we are growing faster than others in the market.”

Associated businesses writing better revenues include Medium Rare, Storyation and Suddenly.

“They are all part of our growth. Changes we have made recently to the structure of our client team better serve our clients needs and brings all our assets together.

“We are very much focused on growth as every News Corp company is.”

Part of the News Corp audience growth story is in regional Australia.

In the past year we have expanded our coverage of local communities and we now have 25 new hyper-local mastheads. We are employing more cadets in the national cadet program. We are developing with Google a digital journalism training program for the industry – The Digital News Academy.

“We are very proud of our past, but we are not going to be hostage to it.”

While News Corp has reached financial agreements with Meta and Google, Miller said they continue to compete fiercely with both of them, and others, on the advertising front.

“The traditional battlegrounds have now been redefined which is good because we have assets we did not have 10 years ago and we now compete on audio, video, data and social.

“In the past 30 years one of our successes has been the launch of which is consistently leading in the category. It remains our ambition to lead in different categories whether it be food, travel, business, prestige and fashion. In whatever category we play in we want to lead.

The News Corp sales structure now allows clients to have a single point of contact across the group of assets. “That makes it easier for clients to transact and gives them more opportunities and the ability for them to move quickly cross brands in the News Corp family,” said Miller.

Digital Subscriptions

To illustrate digital subscription growth, Miller pointed to the latest data for Australia. As of September 30, 2021, there were a total of 850,000 subscribers to the company’s various digital news mastheads, up from 685,000 at the same time 12 months prior.

Miller: “The Australian has never had a larger digital audience. It’s also now about the new mastheads we have in places like Dubbo, the Clare Valley, Mildura. There is also good double-digit growth at the established news brands in regional Queensland.”

Outside of the cap city markets, News Corp has returned a weekly print edition of the Sunshine Coast Daily which publishes every Friday. The Mackay Mercury also returned to print with a weekly edition on top of its daily digital content.

Digital replicas audience surging

Some of the print audience who didn’t want to lose the curation that comes with a newspaper has found that digital replica editions give them the best of all worlds – immediate delivery, design and curation plus affordable subscription rates.

As to how digital replica consumption is tracking at News Corp Australia, Michael Miller said: “High double-digit growth. There are now hundreds of thousands of people downloading those. Particularly through Covid it was appealing to the people who want the newspaper format but were concerned about leaving home. It was a way for them to stay safe and stay informed.

“We are hearing back from clients too about the positive response they have.”

The beauty of the digital replica for advertisers is it allows the power of the print creative to reach a growing digital audience.

Trust in media brands

Miller points to 2020 as the year trust in media brands was re-established after the mistreatment of consumers by some of the social platforms.

“If there was a trend for 2021 it was for campaigning and championing. Australians have never needed us more. Children need us, the elderly need us, small business needs us and communities need us. I am very proud of the contribution we have made to keep Australia safe from Covid. When we ran our Call to Arms campaign vaccination rates tripled.

“I am also proud of the work we have done on domestic violence and respect. The stories of Brittany Higgins and Grace Tame were News Corp stories told first and foremost.

“We have campaigned for equality in government, the workplace and in everyday lives.”

Other achievements Miller noted from News Corp in recent times were the funds donated to bushfire recovery and recognition and celebration of Indigenous Australians.

Herald Sun promotes Mission Zero

News Corp editorial stances

Much was made of the recent Mission Zero climate stance from News Corp metro dailies. But the company is very clear head office doesn’t dictate policy to editors.

“Editors all look after their own communities and their communities differ,” explained Miller. “Our brands range from Vogue Australia to to The Australian to the Hobart Mercury. Editors know their markets and they make decisions for those markets. If you mistreat your audience or your communities, they will stop supporting you.

“There is a lot that Australians have in common, but it is equally important to understand their differences, however subtle.”

News Corp outlook

Miller has always been careful about making bold statements about the outlook. Although he did share this with Mediaweek.

“I think we are well-positioned for a post-Covid future. There is no doubt now that Australians will turn to trusted news sources.”

It’s a sentiment that Miller’s boss, News Corp global chief executive Robert Thomson echoed recently. “[Recent] strong results underpin our confidence, our resilience, our ability to generate cash for our investors, and our potential for continued growth.”

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