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The evolution of regional media

Jan Pitt, director of client services at the ABC, sees encouraging signs of innovation in the regional media and urges us not to write off the sector quite yet.

By Jan Pitt

Neil Fowler made clear in his recent article ‘Regionals on the Edge’, that the British newspaper industry has experienced a great deal of strain and criticism over the last twelve months, and the regional media has not been left unscathed. In fact, it has been rather unfairly written-off by many as an anachronism, which will further suffer as the industry continues to change. However, the critics are somewhat naive if they believe the regional media industry will roll over and fold. On the contrary, it is responding to the challenge by innovating across the board and swiftly evolving to reflect a new era of media consumption, and media industry body ABC is continually working to ensure its product offering evolves to keep pace.

Demand for regional information has not diminished; what has changed is the way in which the audience wants to consume it. Fowler admired and encouraged the bold moves instigated by Northcliffe and Trinity Mirror, when they turned many dailies into weeklies. This change has not reduced their output, and it has in fact opened them up to a new audience. With the advancement of digital platforms, regional media owners are focussing less on the traditional, daily newspaper format, as their publications become ever more focussed on a strong online presence. Of the seven regional media groups reporting their multi platform figures in ABC’s December-end Six Monthly report, all recorded an increase in year on year unique browser figures, establishing online products as a major source of revenue for regional publishers.

However, a key consideration for regional publications is ensuring these new online offerings are an attractive prospect, not just for their local consumers, but also for revenue-generating advertisers. Consequently, as well as the traditional local news element, publishers are experimenting with their online space in an attempt to generate revenue. Many publishers are integrating event guides with news and sites have evolved to become a magnet for local information seekers. Archant’s ‘What’s On’ guides enable browsers to view local events, reviews and listings in one easy format, providing not only a hub for local knowledge, but also an attractive prospect for advertisers looking to target a hyper-local audience. Regional publications are also encouraging advertisers to take advantage of the new communication opportunities online platforms offer. Video, for example, has long been established as an advertising channel and stimulating video ads achieve click through rates up to three times higher than traditional banner advertising.

Regional media owners have been quick to respond to advertisers needs by providing integrated advertising packages, bundling together print, online and video. But to successfully attract media buyers, media owners need to showcase their brand across their various platforms or by region to show how they serve local communities across different platforms. ABC has responded to these changing needs of its media owner members by launching webBase – a cost-effective continuous website audit which verifies that online data meets industry standards, alongside a new, flexible Multi-Platform Certificate. This new certificate allows media planners and buyers to access all a publishing groups’ information in one easily navigable, all-encompassing certificate. These key developments provide Regional media owners with the means to measure the effectiveness of their platform and to demonstrate cross platform performance in the way they group and sell their portfolio.

Despite the growth in online content and the streamlining of newspaper publication, the print medium has not disappeared from the regional media. December’s Regional ABC figures indicate growth in some areas and it is obvious that there is still an audience for print. The shift of dailies to weeklies and the growth of online news has freed-up the content of the traditional printed edition, allowing for the creation of a more diverse, feature led publication. The growth in online user figures does not mean a decline in readership, but, on the contrary, brings a new audience to regional media.

As the regional media continues to evolve, it is important that the industry continues to support it through its future manifestations which is why ABC will continue to evolve and adapt its product offerings to ensure they are relevant and useful to both media owners and buyers.