John Drinnan 's Opinion

Media writer for the New Zealand Herald

John Drinnan: Building new walled order

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APN says paywall preparation nearly complete. Part two of a two-part look at media adapting to the digital world.

Photo / ThinkStock
Photo / ThinkStock

APN News & Media says the technical foundation is nearly complete for its move to a paywall for nzherald.co.nz.

But the company, which controls half the newspaper and commercial radio sector, is still deciding just how the paywall will work and when it will be launched.

Kursten Shalfoon, APN New Zealand's chief marketing officer, said the work to be done includes deciding how "porous" the paywall will be - for example, how many stories people will be able to read free online, before being asked to pay.

I wonder how much the paywall will aim to boost subscription revenue, and how much of the benefit will be based on a registration mechanism, allowing advertisers to direct marketing at specific audiences.

"With any metered paywall there are some customers who hit the meter who will choose not to pay - international experience shows that we will lose some readers," said Shalfoon.

"But a number of customers who hit a paywall will choose to pay."

Registering users - whatever the starting point for payment - will provide a database to help advertisers pinpoint their messages.

"The effectiveness of advertising and potentially the advertising rate can go up as we know more about customers with better targeting," Shalfoon said.

He acknowledged speculation on blogs and social media that publishers such as APN and Fairfax NZ had gone cold on paywalls.

Advertising consultant Martin Gillman believes that in general there is a move to a focus on registering users and targeting, though he is sceptical about that approach and believes media need to bite the bullet on paywalls.

Shalfoon declined to speculate on when details of the nzherald.co.nz paywall would be announced.

In my opinion it would be surprising if it was before the election.

A CUNNING PLAN?

I work for the Herald, part of APN News & Media, but I hasten to point out that I am not privy to any inside knowledge about APN's digital strategy.

Given the commercial implications of the company amending its digital product, the corporate discussion is not water cooler conversation.

Fairfax NZ's digital strategy is even more closely guarded.

When I asked for clarification on the strategy for Fairfax and its Stuff website, the company's brief comment was that, yes, the New Zealand arm had such a strategy, but there would be no further comment.

In truth, the Fairfax digital strategy - in its numerous past forms - has been complex, and confusing for the outside observer.

One wag even suggested that Fairfax has a cunning plan to outfox APN into developing a paywall, leaving Fairfax to reap the rewards as people turn off nzherald.co.nz, and onto Stuff.

Yet APN has always made it clear that it has worked out its paywall plans with various assumptions: that Fairfax will launch at the same time, before APN, afterwards, or not at all. The reality is that the two companies have a print news duopoly and dominate local news websites, so they cannot collude on strategy.

FAIRFAX AND APN

Across the Tasman, Fairfax's Sydney Morning Herald and Melbourne Age have made moves online with paywalls, and there has been speculation that print versions may eventually disappear. Rupert Murdoch's The Australian also operates a paywall.

Fairfax - symbolically a cornerstone of the Australian stockmarket - has also been in the news over an ideological battle, following demands from its largest shareholder, billionaire Gina Rinehart, to have some say on editorial judgments, and more recently, speculation that she might withdraw from the company altogether.

Both Fairfax and APN have recorded impressive share price rises. In this country, Fairfax and APN recently announced an initiative where Fairfax uses APN facilities at Ellerslie to print some titles. There has been talk of other initiatives, and even speculation about whether the two companies should merge. There is an argument that, with so much digital fragmentation in the media market, old rules barring a print duopoly from becoming a print monopoly are out of date.

MORE TVNZ CUTS

Television New Zealand is putting staff through another restructuring as it seeks to improve its financial performance.

"It seems you come to us every few weeks asking if we're planning to make changes in the business," said spokeswoman Georgie Hills. "You know our answer is always yes." Recently there was a revamp of the sales operation and news and current affairs.

"Our current focus is around field production services. The demand isn't what it once was, so we're aligning ourselves with what's currently happening in the market and our future needs in this area," Hills said.

"It reflects the increased use of new technology, the self-sufficiency of our external production partners who are less reliant on TVNZ resources, and reduced demand for large scale in-house studio productions.

"As a result we expect to reduce that team by about nine people."

No time to be taking the mickey out of Michael


Michael Savage / Topp Twins

You can see the iconoclastic humour in a tweet by TVNZ Seven Sharp reporter Heather du Plessis-Allan displaying a photo of Michael Joseph Savage and comparing the first Labour PM to one of the lesbian sisters, the Topp Twins. Savage - who to some Labour supporters is our own Nelson Mandela - was of course a confirmed bachelor.

A glance at the pictures reveals that, yes, there are similarities, and if this was just any old blogger the comparison might not be surprising.

But you do have to wonder about the timing when a reporter for state-owned TV - with 9968 Twitter followers - takes the mickey out of Labour's most revered figure. And does so on the very day media report Labour Party claims that Seven Sharp host Mike Hosking has a pro-National bias, and should not host election debates. TVNZ claims to have strict rules on staff use of social media, so it seems a strange contribution for a news reporter on the edge of an election campaign.

It seems like the sort of jape that might appear on the National Party-friendly Whale Oil website. Funnily enough, on Seven Sharp this week du Plessis-Allan did a soft profile on the blogger, concluding that she quite liked Cameron Slater and could see why Prime Minister John Key liked to talk to him.

A TVNZ spokeswoman said she did not see the social media message, but was sure it was not malicious.

In my view, allegations about TVNZ's overall bias towards the Government can be dismissed. The TVNZ parliamentary team is fair and straight and One News has been less inclined to "gotcha" politics than 3 News.

Former Deputy Prime Minister Michael Cullen pointed out in the Herald recently that viewers know Hosking's political stance and will judge him accordingly. What seems strange is the state broadcaster's ongoing looseness at a time when its political neutrality has been under question. It is almost as if there is no concern about the branding of its news and current affairs operation as independent.

- NZ Herald

John Drinnan

Media writer for the New Zealand Herald

John Drinnan is the media writer for the New Zealand Herald. A business journalist for twenty years, he has been editor of the specialist film and television title "Screen Finance" in London, focussing on the European TV and film industry. He has been writing about media in New Zealand since the deregulation of the television industry in the late 1980s. He is focused on the business side of the digital revolution in media.

Read more by John Drinnan

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