Opinion: The Marketing Society Forum

LONDON - Will News International's newspaper website paywall benefit advertisers?

Rupert Murdoch's UK newspaper operation has announced that it plans to charge £1 a day or £2 a week for readers to access content on its Times and Sunday Times websites from June this year

MAYBE - Annette King, Chief executive, OgilvyOne London

Rupert Murdoch, as ever, is a pioneer in uncharted waters. Putting a paywall around general news sites like the Times titles is a risky venture, particularly when you can get news free elsewhere.

However, if readers desert, as many have predicted, the sites could still be viable. If NI can make the content truly engaging and interactive and provide advertisers with high-quality data on who's visiting its sites - and I'm willing to bet it's thought this through already - then it becomes a very attractive environment, particularly for brands looking to talk to upmarket, influential and educated consumers. Times Online could even become the ultimate direct-response medium.

My big worry is that the pricing seems rather expensive. If nobody signs up, the numbers will be so small that advertisers will look elsewhere.

Then again, most people thought that Murdoch's move to Wapping and ventures into pay TV would never work either. If there's one thing you can say about the man, it's that he has balls. Interesting times ahead.

MAYBE - Martin Bowley, Managing director, DCM

The biggest advantage of paid-for news sites for brands is that those who pay to use them will be more engaged with the brand and receptive to ad messages.

If all news content becomes paid-for, consumers will be forced to choose a favourite, as they continue to do with print papers. As a result, strong online brands will become crucial for success, and those with the most loyal following will offer the most valuable audiences.

The real story will lie in which papers follow NI's lead. If only a few decide to charge for content, valuable readers will be lost to those still providing news for free. Paid-for sites will then attract only low numbers of users, which, despite their higher levels of engagement, may not be enough to sustain them.

It's a brave move by NI, and an admirable one. It is also the only way to really test the value of the investment it has made in its online news service.

Advertisers have had a good deal online for a long time, and there is an argument that if they had been paying enough in the first place, sites would not have felt the need to charge.

YES - Chris Jansen, Group commercial director, British Gas

It's a bold but, arguably, necessary gamble, with industry revenues down £700m in the past year. Murdoch is sure to lose many of Times Online's 20m weekly unique visitors as some will inevitably flock to rival free sites.

Competitors and advertisers alike will closely monitor progress both here and abroad, with The Wall Street Journal currently behind a paywall and The New York Times and Le Monde also planning to take the same route.

If executed well, with unique content and a premium user experience, this could give advertisers the opportunity to access a more valuable, if smaller, customer base, and will offer access to customers who are hard to find in the bewildering array of portals, networks and news sites that populate the digital advertising landscape.

Ultimately, relevance is the key and advertisers looking to target this higher-value user base will succeed if they develop innovative campaigns to capture consumer attention; clearly, segmentation and behavioural analysis will play a vital role.

MAYBE - Hugh Bishop, Chairman, Meteorite

A typical Times reader is often hard to reach and even harder to influence. Therefore, any opportunity for advertisers to use up-to-date data to send relevant, compelling, personalised messages to these individuals online will be key. The sort of data collected via a 'pay-to-view' subscription model can therefore become very valuable.

However, with common arguments such as 'Why pay when I can go to the BBC?' and 'If I have to pay, I'll pay for the FT', the main worry is whether there will be enough traffic to the Times sites to make any ad campaign viable.

The dilemma for The Times will be to provide enough interesting content to make even a fairly paltry sum of £2 a week look worthwhile and draw advertisers' interest. This looks a tough call, but if it can find a way of enabling readers to tailor and create their own newsfeeds from the 'mass', then getting what you want, when you want it, might end up being just worth it.


The Marketing Society is the most influential network of senior marketers dedicated to championing marketing in the UK


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