Independent: Richard Desmond could soon be under more scrutiny than Murdoch

The Independent has today run a two-page spread on Express Newspapers owner Richard Desmond claiming his business empire could soon face more scrutiny than Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp when a shake-up of cross-media ownership rules is unveiled.

Today’s feature in The Independent, which was bought by billionaire Russian Alexander Lebedev in 2010 a year after he bought a 75 percent stake in the Evening Standard, details Desmond’s ‘mastery of cross-media ownership’which it says was inspired by Apple.

As an example it cites Celebrity Big Brother, which it claimed featured on the front pages of Desmond’s Daily Express and Daily Star newspapers every day during its run last year.

Traditionally broadcasters would rake in cash by selling advertising across 30-second spots. But these “synergies” are part of Desmond’s Apple-influenced plan to create cross-media deals with advertisers across his newspapers, magazines and Channel 5. N&S’s commercial partners are even invited to have “editorial involvement” in the company’s products, to ensure that they are closely tailored to the advertisers’ target audience.

It goes on to quote Northern & Shell editorial director Paul Ashford saying:

We have the advantage that we have one energetic shareholder and a very small board. We don’t have a situation where our Sunday papers compete for stories and hack each other’s phones. The newspapers, magazines and television, everything is co-ordinated. We are creating our own celebrities through Celebrity Big Brother. There is a lot of room for synergies.

Now the advertising groups are getting into the programme funding business. It does enable us to make certain programmes where the agency can participate in the funding process and take money from the back end.

The feature then goes on to report that Desmond made a £1bn offer to Rupert Murdoch to buy The Sun in 2009 but was rebuffed.

‘But with the future of the News International titles at the mercy of further phone-hacking revelations, the next offer Desmond makes could be too good to refuse,’said feature writer Adam Sherwin.

“Drop me a line when you know what the price is,” Ashford reportedly told the paper. “But The Sun is going to be tainted [by the hacking outcry] and we have The Star in that sector anyway.”

The article continued:

When Jeremy Hunt, the Culture Secretary, announced a review of cross-media ownership rules, it was seen as an attempt to restrict Rupert Murdoch’s ambitions. But it could easily be Desmond, with a mastery of cross-media promotion which surpasses anything attempted by News International and BSkyB, whose interests become a subject for scrutiny.

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