Media bosses back print

Big media bosses have backed the future of print, saying the love affair with digital communication has gone too far and advertisers will return.

Speaking at the Future Forum newspaper conference in Sydney, Sir Martin Sorrell, head of the world’s biggest media agency WPP, says advertisers have become carried away in the shift of dollars to digital.

“The pendulum to some extent I think has swung too far to digital and may well be in the process of moving back to traditional media and giving them a little bit of a boost and potential advantage,” he says.

“Newspapers in Australia, the US and the UK are showing that engagement and the quality of readership is far greater than we thought possible or we thought relevant.

“People are still going to read, people are still going to watch but they're going to read and watch in different ways.”

[Related: Newspapers in flux]

This optimism follows comments by Sorrell in May when he said print was ‘more effective than people give them credit for’ and encouraged advertisers to spend more in print.

Sorrell also hit out at methods of measuring the effectiveness of print versus digital, saying the engagement standards applied to, for example, a video on Facebook are ‘very low’.

“About half of all video is watched online without the sound. The scale that is used for viewership is three seconds – now that is ludicrous – in relation to the hurdle the TV viewer or viewablity or the standard newspaper readership has to meet,” he says.

“The hurdle that a Nielsen applies to offline viewership or offline readership is much higher than the standard that online measurement services apply.”

Outgoing News Corp Australia chief executive Julian Clarke says he is ‘bullish’ about the future of printed newspapers and publishers should not lose faith.

“I think there’s an overblown sense of negativity within our industry, nearly always created internally,” he says.

Fairfax chief executive Greg Hywood, however, says publishers need to work together to promote the medium instead of tearing each other down.

“We caused ourselves a lot of damage by emphasising each other's reduction in circulation,” he says. “We got ourselves past that. Now we're starting to attack each other on each other's relative quality.

“There’s also a level of mutual respect. Look at defamation law, we all have a common interest in defamation law, but now if someone sues us, and there’s been a high profile case recently, the other publishers pile in and support the person who’s sued us. What’s all that about?

“We’ve just got to be sensible and practical here, it’s all very well to say lets work together but we’ve actually got to get together and work it out."

Incoming News Corp executive chairman of Australasia Michael Miller agreed with the need for better cooperation between rival publishers, such as in the industry’s current self-promotion campaign.

“It amazes me that we will all work with competing media, if need be, by our clients request to get campaign away but we won't work together as an industry in getting an effective print campaign away,” he says.

Hywood’s comments come after he was last year accused of ‘talking down’ print and ‘cutting the guts out’ of Fairfax with the closure of its two metro plants last year, starting a war of words between the bitter rivals.

Clarke after the CEO panel discussion told Mumbrella that Hywood was ‘the pot calling the kettle black’ and that in every industry ‘when you get fierce competitors they do tend to be a little aggressive’.

Hywood claims Fairfax deliberately lowered its circulation by 30 per cent so it could transform into a sustainable business by ‘getting out of plants that were operating under capacity’ and that now Fairfax’s balance sheet is in order.

“It had a significant impact on bottom line, and all the way through that we maintained our market share,” he says.

“We have net cash, we have no debt, we have money in the bank and are cashed up to take advantage of opportunities.”

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