News International boss outlines his strategy for survival in the digital age
News International chairman Les Hinton has issued a tub-thumping case for the future of a newspaper company in the digital age and revealed plans for The Times to launch a broadband service called Times TV.
Defending NI’s strategy of spending £600m on new print plants while at the same time buying websites and launching new online services, he said: “Bill Gates himself says that he believes people will still be reading newspapers in 50 years time. And so do I.
“The printed word will long remain a powerful form of social expression. The media — with the press riding shot-gun — should always be there to hold our rulers to account.
“This faith in the future is not just whistling in the wind. Quite apart from launching a print version of The Times in the US (where we already have millions of online users) News Corp is making record investments in new presses in the UK to be phased in over the next three years — a pretty positive endorsement of the medium.
“And we are not alone: collectively newspapers in the UK are investing around $1.5bn in new press and production.” Hinton said that NI’s new presses will have an advantage over other colour printing plants, such as those of Guardian Newspapers, because of “scale and speed”.
He said: “Over the next few years we
will be producing 20 million newspapers a week. The presses will run three times faster than our current rate, with colour on every page.” Hinton said predictions of “the end of print advertising” make “no sense at all” and pointed out that the UK national newspaper market alone attracts £1.8bn of advertising a year.
Outlining NI’s strategy for dealing with the digital age, he said that it now considers titles such as The Sun media “companies” in their own right.
He said: “The Sun is the biggest English-speaking daily in the world.
Over eight million people read it every day. Our commercial offerings through the paper are legendary; for instance, The Sun is the second biggest supplier of holidays in the UK… The Sun Online broke its record in March with 6.8 million visitors with 136 million page impressions and year-on-year growth of 52 per cent.” Hinton revealed that Sun online fantasy football game Dream Team now has half a million teams with each paying £5.
And he said that online poker on the Page 3 glamour pictures site, rolled out in November, now outperforms the main site.
He added: “We’re developing creative and commercial partnerships with several different online suppliers, and have just launched what we believe will be the biggest free classified site in the UK.”
He said: “We see The Sun as three incarnations of one brand: Best of The Sun — the newspaper; More Sun, online; and Instant Sun on mobile.” As for The Times, Hinton revealed that “huge investment” is planned in Times Online to triple its page impressions.
And he revealed that Times TV will be a broadband news service consisting of “aggregated content” provided by
“partners”, which could include broadcast elements of the News Corp empire, such as Sky News.
He said: “Online revenues at The Times have increased 45 per cent year on year. We have a truly astonishing digital sales force and I can see no reason why online revenues from display and micro-sites will not continue to out-perform traditional selling trends.”