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Vital statistics: UK media update

The Guardian loses 15% of its print readers, as does the FT. Sales of the Indy fall by half. Even titles sold on the day of rest couldn’t rally an overall gain, despite their biggest rival bowing out. But then the i grew 50%, so how bad are things really?
Well there’s no denying print circulation figures have never looked so low. Aside from dailies, in the Sunday section, irrespective of News of the World’s departure, publications such as The People still dropped a staggering 43%. In fact, only the Sunday Times, Independent on Sunday, and Sunday Telegraph managed to fall by less than 10%, if the Audit Bureau of Circulation (ABC) figures, most recently published for October 2012, are much to go by.

Source: The Guardian / ABC

There are a few exceptions, mind. i, for example, The Independent’s low-cost daily, shows a steeped increase in pick up. It’s worth noting that many of those may have migrated from the parent paper, which lost almost as many sales as the still-fledgling titled gained, but still it’s evidence new publications can work. Similarly, Shortlist Media has successfully established two major magazine brands since 2007, including the number one men’s lifestyle title (circulating 529,010 copies per week in August this year), paid for through commercial revenue.
Back to papers though and falling sales are not be the only real concern. According to media investment giant Group M, nationals can expect to record a 9% loss in advertising revenue during 2013, with the overall market value dropping to less than £1billion for the first time as a result. Under a decade ago, that figure looked more like £2.5billion. Whichever way you look at it, more cuts could be necessary at many more titles.
But what about the online editions? Well, unsurprisingly web based news boasts far more reassuring figures. That’s not surprising, as British institutions like Mail Online and are amongst the most successful English speaking news sites in the world. But what’s interesting is that this year finally saw print and online readership combined to give an overall figure, impacting a huge difference on the final numbers, albeit unclear how this will influence revenue in the long term. Take a look at the following screen grabs, sourced from The Guardian and the National Readership Survey.

Impressive numbers aside there could be a slight glitch. The ABC and its continental equivalent IAB Europe recently launched a new campaign hoping to raise awareness about non-human web browsing, an increase in spiders and bots trawling websites apparently overstating page impressions and skewing traffic statistics. Nevertheless, investment in this area is high, with £2.6billion spent on digital advertising in the UK during the first half of this year alone, yet it has to be said the deficit resulting from print losses remains.
Broadcast wise and times are tougher than some would prefer. Not that there weren’t many notable triumphs. The Queen celebrating 50 years on the throne, along with London 2012 worked wonders, and both are exemplary of how much TV is still watched in Britain. Even BBC One’s Sports Personality of the Year, aired this month, recorded a 14.5million audience- its biggest in 20 years.
In addition, the huge increase in new drama investment made by networks like Channel 4, not to mention major purchases from the States and Europe, also suggest television is in rude health. However, there’s more to the scenario than first meets the eye, so whilst C4’s chief marketer Dan Brooke recently told Media Week advertising revenue on the box had been ‘remarkably stable for over ten years’, it hasn’t been quite such a smooth ride for everyone.
UTV and STV, owners of the ITV franchise in Northern Ireland and Scotland respectively, are expecting a continued fall in commercial income next year, with the associated national network also suffering as a whole. Channel 4 itself could see commercial big gun WPP pull £200million of ads from the network next month in a spat over the cost of buying airtime, which also suggests a perceived drop in the value of such spots.Meanwhile, analytics firm ZenithOptimedia expects television revenue from the private sector to contract by 1% next year.
So what can we take from all this? In many ways it’s easy to think that the institutionalised media as we knew it last century is on the wane. We don’t need network broadcasts when we can choose what to watch whenever, wherever. Our trust in papers and willingness to spend money on supporting the service they provide also suggest a very troubling state of affairs.
Yet on the flip side, we’ve never been more reliant on media, and it has never been so comprehensive, delivering messages across a multitude of platforms to an audience that has never been bigger, or easier to identify. As the cliche goes, the only thing that has really changed is the way people are consuming, which is in a fascinating state of flux. From a marketing perspective then, this is a time of innovation and huge potential, if you know how to harness the complex reigns.

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