Five questions with News UK’s Dominic Carter
News UK’s group chief commercial officer discusses the company’s plans in TV, how UK publishers are combating the digital duopoly, and why advertisers need to change the way they think about media
News UK is the publisher of newsbrands including the Sun, The Times and The Sunday Times. The company also owns the UK and Irish radio company Wireless.
What are you most looking forward to this year?
We were determined that last year would be a year of innovation and growth across News UK. It’s a mindset that helped us look beyond the obvious obstacle, quickly adjusting to the new ‘normal’. That mindset continues to define our view as we look ahead.
We’ve seen an accelerated demand to diversify our offering – examples from last year? Launching Times Radio to keep the nation informed against a backdrop of misinformation and fake news. Luring Graham Norton to Virgin Radio weekends. Wireless partnering with Bauer Media to launch Octave Audio, a digital ad platform to target digital audio listeners at scale and with precision. And our further investment in The Ozone Project, accelerating the delivery of its vision of premium programmatic innovation.
I am excited to see how each of these successful innovations continues to develop.
You may also have heard rumblings around News UK and plans to expand into TV. I’m delighted that we’ve unveiled the first show in our evolving connected TV strategy. Offering a fresh perspective on global entertainment news, News To Me, fronted by Gordon Smart, will drop later this year.
It’s the first of a series of hero shows with an innovative distribution strategy across the connected TV ecosystem, offering new opportunities for our commercial partners.
What do you expect will be your biggest challenge this year as a leader in publishing?
My core objective is to drive top line revenue growth in order to sustain trusted, quality journalism for the public benefit. However, in this current climate, publishers have been presented with unforeseen challenges that require both agility and collaboration.
During lockdown, publishers have all faced challenges with print-based content and advertiser revenues. And although we have a fast-growing digital business, it is still important to gain advertiser appreciation that print media still reaches millions of highly engaged people every day. People who trust, value and act on what they read.
What are publishers doing to combat the digital duopoly?
I don’t believe that any media owner today, alone, can compete with the major tech platforms. So we’ve got to think innovatively and collaboratively.
Collectively, all of us as publishers have a more extensive monthly audience reach than any of the platforms in the UK. As a sector, news publishers have to collaborate to make it easy for our partners to plan and buy advertising that can access scale as well as the vast amount of targeted first-party data that we collect from our engaged readers.
The Ozone Project puts in place an infrastructure that creates a better marketplace for advertisers, a better experience for consumers and an ability for publishers to challenge the platforms on reach. Ozone means we can continue to provide advertisers a trusted and brand safe way to reach audiences at scale and in the right context.
That Ozone has seen four-fold growth in revenues over the last twelve months is proof that we are heading in the right direction.
You told us at the end of last year about the various plans News UK has in the works to build upon its diversity and inclusion strategy, including changes to recruitment practices and investing in future leaders. Why is News UK investing in D&I? How is a more diverse employee base and inclusive work culture going to make News UK and its output through its newsbrands better?
A lack of diversity in our industry doesn’t just hold back under-represented communities. It holds back our businesses. Especially businesses whose brands are involved in national conversations, like our newsbrands and radio stations. They need to reflect the real diversity of the whole of our wider community.
At News UK, we have developed three strategic foundation stones: a recruitment and development strategy for people from diverse backgrounds, a pathway to a 50/50/20 workforce (men, women and ethnic minorities) and a strategy to ensure that people from all backgrounds feel represented and are proud to work for News UK.
Just to update on that first strand: News UK has joined the government’s Kickstart job creation scheme to bring many unemployed local people into our business who may never have thought about a career in media. Our first 14 paid interns – sourced via London borough Job Centres – start next week and we’ll sign up many more this year.
Alongside that, we’re on the brink of relaunching our News Academy programme, with an ambitious plan to offer digital work experience to thousands of young people. We’ve drafted in over 40 of our finest journalists, radio producers and ad creatives to shape the work plans. The launch campaign is being created by Studio PI – the photography and illustration agency we set up last year specifically to shine a light on talent from under-represented communities.
Finally, we’ve been developing a more robust approach to apprenticeships and we’re working with Creative Access, Black Young Professionals, the NCTJ Diversity Fund, Creative Equals, BCOMs, the DWP, Barnardo’s and The Media Trust.
This work is crucial to our future – because diversity is a business benefit.
If you could change one thing about the media and/or advertising industry this year, what would it be?
I’ve worked in media for over 30 years now and it’s safe to say that last year was one of the most challenging I’ve ever experienced. While we saw a huge surge in demand for our content from readers, the publishing industry was impacted by advertising ‘blocklists’, preventing ads from appearing alongside any stories with the word ‘coronavirus’ in them.
In my view, the key thing that needs to change lies with advertisers. Advertisers need to take the opportunity to ensure that they are seen in the appropriate, credible and trusted media environments where there is a thirst for the content.
And those advertisers who pressed the pause button? I understand why they did it, but I strongly believe they will lose ground and find it difficult to drive growth on the other side of the pandemic.
This year, I am confident that we will begin to see the economy and ad market recover quicker than many imagine. Those who continue to communicate and engage with audiences effectively will thrive in the years to come.