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Is social media the most ‘social’ media?

Social media lets us physically view a record of actual social interactions, which is marvellous. However, as leading social media practitioners know, of more interest are the reasons people socialise in the first place.

Getting to the heart of social situations

Dr Aleks Krotoski stated at IAB Engage 2010 that the behaviours and attitudes that bring us together online are exactly the same as offline. There is a lot of truth in this, echoed by a tantalising titbit from a study into online gaming among primary school children in China. The study by the psychology department at the Chinese University of Hong Kong concluded that socialising in online games had many of the same benefits as real-life, helping the children develop real-life social skills.

If we investigate video games further, we see that they’re engrained into everyday social activity both in real-life and online. If brands aren’t tapping into the sense of play in social media, they aren’t really ‘doing’ social media.

Playing is social

For brands, being part of a gaming environment aligns the brand at the heart of positive, engaging, social interactions and messages. From sports to video games there are benefits that make them premium opportunities.

People who play video games do so with other people. In fact, a study by IGN found that 89% of PlayStation 3 owners, 86% of Xbox 360 owners and 51% of Wii owners have played against other people online. This doesn’t account for the large number of families and friends that play against each other offline in their living rooms.

In online social environments people like playing games too. Some 53% of people on Facebook play games like Farmville and MafiaWars and 50% of Facebook logins are specifically to play games (AllFacebook 2010). What’s more, 62% of these social gamers play online with their real-world friends (PopCap Games 2010).

It is a myth that games are purely a solitary experience. Like films, blockbuster games can be enjoyed alone, and people discuss these games afterwards in exactly the same way. But playing with friends is a huge and important part of playing video games, and maintaining 100% focus on the media while socialising is unique to games.

Time spent playing

At IAB Engage, Roisin Donnelly of P&G stated that in-game advertising delivers “fantastic ROI”; but why is that? We know people spend a lot of time playing games. So much so that people who play games fall well below national averages for time spent with other media.

In the UK, 7% of time spent online is spent on gaming websites, the third biggest chunk after time spent in social networks – which also includes games – and using email, (UKOM 2010). In the US it’s number one (Nielsen 2010). On consoles, people spend an average of 7.7 hours playing games a week (GameVision 2010).

Given the earlier stats, a significant amount of this time must be attributable to playing with other people.

Unanswered questions

As someone who has played video games all my life, I know it has always been an incredibly social experience. I either play against my friends or, if I play a game on my own, I always discuss it with other people afterwards. Unlike social sites, you can’t always measure the social element but Games create first-hand memories that I want to share with other people.

I’d like to suggest four hypotheses for people to investigate further:

  • 1. People who play video games will talk about them as much as they do other premium media like films, if not more.
  • 2. Video gaming is the only channel that commands 100% attention while people socialise at the same time.
  • 3. Online video gaming is the only media that genuinely comes close to real-life social interaction (think of a 16 person online game with a purpose in Call of Duty Black Ops with voice-chat, not some plonky avatar chat room).
  • 4. Not only do people play games when they come together, but they can also attract and generate social situations.

Finally, watch some of this (search “Wii dance party” for loads more) and tell me if there is another media that is as social…

Follow me or the IAB on Twitter

OUR PM DOESN’T KNOW THE MARKETING BASICS

Since Tony Blair, PR seems to be the main requirement for a Prime Minister.
Presumably this is how David Cameron got the job.
Before he was our Prime Minister, Cameron apparently worked in PR.
I find this quite worrying.
Because if PR, and consequently marketing, are the main requirements for the job, he obviously doesn’t know the basics.
Last week he went to China, because the UK needs to sell more goods abroad.
And China is a huge untapped market.
So Cameron went to China to try to open it up to UK industry.
So far, so good.
But what he did was to lecture the Chinese on how they need to open up their markets to goods from the West.
He gave them a lecture about how the global financial system depends on balance.
How they can‘t keep just selling to the West without buying Western goods in return.
Now it’s not smart to lecture the Chinese.
In fact it’s not smart to lecture anyone you want something from.
But particularly not the Chinese.
The concept of ‘face’ is very important to them.
They don’t respond well to lectures from people who behave as if they are their betters.
Particularly not when they come from a country less than a tenth their size.
So in judging his audience, we have to be disappointed in Cameron’s PR skills.
Okay, so how about his basic marketing knowledge?
Supposing he did persuade the Chinese to open up their market to the rest of the world.
What proportion of world trade do we suppose the UK accounts for?
2%?
Let’s be generous and call it 5%.
So, if Cameron’s speech works, we will only get 5% benefit.
In other words, for every 20 items Cameron persuades China to import, 19 of them won’t come from the UK.
Nice job, Cameron.
And that’s our PM.
That’s the bloke we paid to go to China, with a massive delegation, to create sales for UK industry.
He’s doing 95% of the job for someone else.
Our competitors in fact.
See, that’s what I meant by saying he doesn’t understand the basics of marketing.
He doesn’t understand something a simple as Market Growth v Market Share.
Consequently, Cameron’s speech was totally about Market Growth.
Market Growth is a great strategy for the USA.
Who will probably get at least 35% share of any growth in Chinese imports.
But it isn’t smart for the smaller players, like us.
We need to be increasing the size of our share.
So Cameron should have been trying to grow the UK’s share of Chinese imports.
But instead, Cameron sold Western goods, Western industry, Western services.
Not UK you notice.
Western.
Of which we have, if we’re lucky, 5%.
Of which we don’t have 95%.
So 95% of what we just paid Cameron to sell wasn’t the UK.
Would you employ someone like that?
That’s what I meant when I said he doesn’t understand the basics of marketing.
Meanwhile, France has just done the largest trade deal in its history with China.
Not by lecturing China about world economics.
Not by requiring China to open up to Western goods.
Just simply by selling French goods.
As opposed to anyone else’s.
By telling the Chinese why they should buy French goods instead of other Western goods.

The French at least know the difference between Market Growth and Market Share.

PULL-THROUGH versus TRIAL

I’m reading Patrick O’Brian’s historical novels at present.
This is a series of twenty books based on the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic wars.
They’ve sold around three million copies so far.
The Times describes them as “The greatest historical novels of all time.”
They are compared variously to Proust, Tolkien, and Dickens.
But for me, they’re more like the Discovery or History Channel.
Full of facts and information, but written in very elegant language.
Sort of Jane Austen for blokes.
So I really like these books.
I read them on the tube every day, and sometimes I miss my stop.
When I really like a book I tend to miss what’s around me.
I once took ‘Damned United’ to Berlin with me, and missed Berlin.
Earlier this year I took Cormac McCarthy’s ‘All The Pretty Horses’ to Hawaii, and missed Hawaii.
So, obviously, I think Patrick O’Brian’s books are terrific.
But there’s something else I like about them that’s cleverer than any other book I’ve read.
And it’s nothing to do with the writing.
Here’s the really clever thing.
They’ve got Chapter One of the next book printed at the end of each book.
So, just as you’ve finished the story, you think you’d like to know what happens next.
You think you’ll just read that extra chapter, as a sort of epilogue.
But before you know it, you’re into the story of the next book.
You’re hooked again.
You have to buy the next book.
If you’ve ever worked on newspapers, this is what they call ‘pull-through’.
When we worked on the Independent it was critical.
Some newspapers have a largely ‘captive’ readership.
The Telegraph, The Mail, The Guardian.
In the case of the Telegraph and Mail, lots of the sales are home delivery.People have it on order from the newsagents, so they automatically get the paper 5 days a week.
In the case of the Guardian it’s a matter of political persuasion.
If you work for the state, and apparently one in four of us do, you’ll get the paper that supports that agenda.
But The Independent suffered because its readers were just that.
Independent.
The Indy had the highest incidence of occasional readers.
They were younger, upmarket, city dwellers.
They tended not to live according to routine.
They didn’t get their papers delivered at home by the newsagent.
They wouldn’t usually decide what to read until just before they got on the tube every morning.
This meant they’d often get distracted and forget to buy it.
Or they’d take a book or a magazine instead, or listen to their iPod.
So the Indy readers might only buy one copy a week.
In that case the issue isn’t about attracting new readers.
The issue is about getting the readers you’ve got to buy it more often.
If they could get half of their readers to buy it two or three times a week, sales would go up 50%.
So the brief becomes about pull-through.
Everyone automatically assumes advertising is always about trial.
But that isn’t necessarily true.
In newspapers, it’s no good getting someone to buy the paper once.
You’ve only sold one copy.
Newspapers are all about repeat purchase.
Newspapers have to be about building up a purchasing habit.
A trialist buys one copy, finish.
A loyalist buys 5 copies a week.
That’s what’s really clever about Patrick O’Brian’s books.
They don’t do the conventional thing.
They don’t let me finish the story, and risk me moving on to whatever else is convenient.
A newspaper, a magazine, or worse – another book.
They give away the first chapter of the next book free, with this one.
But, of course, they’re not really giving anything away.
They’re getting me to swallow the hook.

Because they don’t see it as a freebie.
They see me as a captive retail opportunity.

News Int paywall creates around 200,000 digital sales

After
months of speculation, News International has finally unveiled figures for its
paywall experiment at The Times and the Sunday Times websites;
it has generated
105,000 digital-only sales and a further 100,000 print subscribers have activated
their digital accounts, since July.

It’s
important to note numbers for the digital-only subscribers include those people
subscribing to The Times’ iPad app and Kindle edition – believed to be around 40,000.

As a
result, the total paid audience for digital products on The Times and The
Sunday Times is close to 200,000, allowing for some duplication.

So they
are the numbers, higher than those early predictions – although you would hope
some traction from its multi-million ad campaign – but notably lower than the
numbers being bandied around by analysts Nielsen last week of 362,000 paid
subscribers.

Is this enough?

The figures have prompted a
cautiously optimistic response from News International’s leaders. Chief
executive Rebekah Brooks said “we are very pleased”, and added: “These
figures very clearly show that large numbers of people are willing to pay for
quality journalism in digital formats.”

“It is early days but
renewal rates are encouraging and each of our digital subscribers is more
engaged and more valuable to us than very many unique users of the previous
model.”

Times editor James Harding echoed Brooks’ ‘early days but
encouraging’ stance on Radio 4’s Today
programme, while James Murdoch, chairman and chief executive, Europe and Asia
took encouragement after adding all the figures together.

“In the few months since we launched these new products, the total paid
circulation of The Times has grown. This reinforces our belief that our
journalism is valuable and that customers will respond to the investment,
innovation and quality that are hallmarks of our titles and our company.”

It’s the first time in 225
years that The Times is being sold on something other than paper and many of
the ‘early adopters’ are reported to live in the UK, are relatively affluent
and engage with the products frequently.

Commercially,
there are still too many unknowns around the figures to determine how much
revenue has been generated. The variety of daily, weekly or monthly charges,
coupled with the nominal introductory offer of £1 for the first 30 days to access
both sites, completely muddies the waters.

However, a
News Int spokesperson has confirmed monthly subscribers make up the largest
proportion of subscribers followed by daily payments and then iPad downloads.

Of course, News
Int is currently out of pocket following a multimedia ad campaign and initial
set-up costs but, if nothing else, Murdoch’s experiment has already proved that some people will
pay to access general, non-niche news content online.

NASCAR BLINDNESS

The nearest advertising gets to the real world is the guys in the studio.
Take Chris Walsh, who used to run our studio.
One time, Chris told me his wife wasn’t speaking to him.
I asked him what happened.
He said “It started on Christmas eve.
I was having a pint in the pub when I realised I’d forgotten to buy her a present.
All the shops were shut and the only place open was the petrol station.
I went in and all they had left was a big box of Quality Street.
So I bought that.
Then I went back to the pub, and the barmaid asked me what I had in the bag.
I said it was the wife’s Christmas present.
She said the least I could do was wrap it up.
She had some wrapping paper left over, so she wrapped it behind the bar for me.
Anyway, next morning the wife opened it and she wasn’t pleased.
She said “A box of Quality Street, is that all I get? And you didn’t even wrap it properly.”
So I said “Don’t blame me. That was all that was left in the petrol station, and the barmaid wrapped it.”
And she hasn’t spoken to me since.
So I thought I’d better do something to make up for it.
I thought I’d cook a nice romantic dinner.
So I put some chips in the pan on the stove.
Then while I was waiting, I thought I’d better open a bottle of wine.
But I couldn’t find the corkscrew.
So I went into the shed to look for something to get the cork out of the bottle.
But while I was in there the chip pan caught light.
And when I got back the whole kitchen was on fire.
So I called the fire brigade, but by the time they turned up it had all burned down.
So she’s still not speaking to me.”
See, the real world doesn’t all happen in The Ivy.
In 1972, Richard Nixon won the US Presidency by a landslide.
The New Yorker film critic, Pauline Kael, said “I don’t understand how Nixon won. No one I know voted for him”
Well, no one at The New Yorker anyway.
I was recently reading a blog by a new-media guru.
He was complaining about the unfairness of a worldwide brand rating he’d just seen.
The rating placed Coca Cola at number one, obviously.
But it placed IBM at number two.
And worse, it placed Mac at number seventeen.
The new-media guru was horrified.
He wrote something like “This is plainly rubbish. I haven’t sat in a single meeting where IBM has been discussed, but I’ve sat in lots of meetings where Mac has been discussed.”
As a new media guru this comment is hardly surprising.
But I think what that survey really proves is that new-media gurus aren’t representative of the population worldwide.
These are examples of what Alan Wolk calls ‘Nascar Blindness’.
In the States, all the fashionable media people live and work in New York.
And the only sports they all watch are baseball, basketball, and American football.
So, according to them, they must be the only sports anyone watches.
Except they’re not.
The biggest sport in America is Nascar racing.
Big, fat, tanked-up cars racing each other round the track.
Watched by hundreds of thousands of big, fat, tanked-up fans.
Many, many more than any of the other sports.
But, because no one in New York watches Nascar racing, they don’t even know it exists.
They’ve got Nascar blindness.
That’s kind of how we are in advertising.
We tend to think everyone in the UK owns an iPhone, reads The Guardian, and is fascinated about what goes on at The Ivy.
Which may be why advertising is so out of touch with the real world.

Or, as Eric Morecombe said “Life isn’t Hollywood. It’s Cricklewood.”

WAN’s Balding exits as newspapers embrace digital future

So goodbye
then Timothy Balding, the venerable leader of the international press body WAN,
who leaves his industry advocate role after 25 years.

Based in Paris, the leader of the World
Association of Newspapers was a well-respected figure and admired ambassador
for newspapers, but in recent years his stance on the impact of digital upon
newspapers had placed him at odds with many commentators, myself included.

Balding was
well-known for his annual state of the nation address presented at WAN’s congresses,
where he would provide a snap shot on the business of newspapers from around
the world.

At the last count, WAN represents some 18,000 newspapers through national
newspaper associations, newspaper companies and individual newspaper executives
in 122 countries.

Balding’s
annual presentation served a vital role that no other organisation was capable
of but, for much of the last decade became most notable for what he failed to say.

Drawing on findings
from the association’s World Press Trends book, Balding painted the picture of a
burgeoning newspaper industry, with print being very much a growth media.

In the face
of sliding circulations, industry cut backs, job losses, restructures and crumbling
ad pages in North America and much of Europe, Balding continued to find the silver-lining.

Things came to a head in
the annus horribilis 2008, when newspapers were among the first against the
wall when the financial crash struck. Earlier that summer, Balding had explained
how the circulation for paid for print dailies was actually up 3% year on year,
while the total number of titles had increased a whopping 27%.

Meanwhile, for those worried
about people reading newspapers online, Balding assured, most of them (52%) were
still spending the same amount of time reading the printed version; while 35% reported
the time they spend with either print or online newspapers had actually
increased.

Unfortunately, WAN’s stats
were a movable feast – with the goalposts literally changing each year as the
organisation found new markets to include in the survey. In 2002, the pages of World
Press Trends detailed information about newspapers in 69 countries. By 2008
this figure has risen to 232.

If the fortunes of those
original 69 countries had continued to be tracked in isolation, ad revenues and
circulations would not have appeared so buoyant.

The outlook was further
skewed by rising print circulations in the huge markets of China, India
and Latin America; meanwhile titles in the
West were being closed, merged or published less frequently at an unprecedented
pace.

As head of WAN, and
therefore industry ambassador, Balding was clearly in a difficult position.
Yes, we need industry advocates and flag bearers, but there is nothing to be
gained from ignoring irrefutable industry trends.

I have no wish to jump on
anyone’s grave, but the fact is WAN’s response to reporters who questioned the
stats was to remove their rights to press copies of the World Press Trends book.

Priced at around €500, this
decision effectively censured any coverage of the global stats altogether; a
dubious move for a press organisation designed to champion press freedom.

Balding’s
rose-tinted musings on the state of the current newspaper business were brought
to an abrupt and very symbolic halt when the WAN congress was cancelled twice
last year, after the host publishers were unable to carry the costs due to
severe revenue drops.

The markets
in question were not the mature markets of the UK,
US or Germany, but rather India and Lebanon.

When it was confirmed last year that WAN would merge with IFRA, the
Germany-based news publishing association, change was most definitely in the
air. Since the early 2000, IFRA has established itself as being a publishing
body that was taking the lead in all things digital.


This week, the newly formed organisation, now with more scope and greater reach than ever, plays host to the World Digital Publishing Conference, where the stated aim is for publishers to “hear, learn and discuss the facts you need to be aware of, facts you need to experiment with, and facts that help you do better better”.


A WAN-IFRA
spokesperson has today confirmed Balding left the organisation last Wednesday

(20 October), and added that his departure is likely to result in a restructure
at the newly formed global association.

Conversation not Broadcast

In the first digital generation, marketing employed a system which favoured interruption and direct sale. Brands would force their stories onto unsuspecting spectators, purchasing online real estate in mass and appearing, without warning,….and it worked!

 

However, it can’t be ignored that a revolution in the way we live, learn, love, communicate, and do business has occurred. No other generation has been able to connect, upload, download, contribute, collaborate, broadcast, “like”, share and tweet data and content with such ease and efficiency. The continued integration of technology platforms and the increasing ubiquity of web access are leading to an unavoidably multi-channel existence. Consumers are now able to access the content they want, where they want it, whenever they want it.

 

This new paradigm requires a fundamental shift in brand communications planning. Focus needs to shift from interrupting and influencing individuals to collaborating, interacting, inspiring and igniting herds.

 

As long as we view digital as another media channel, we will fail to understand it as a personal space. The online arena is not a destination; it’s a connection, conversation and collaboration medium. In order to bring brand, culture and consumer together, human connections must sit at the heart of everything, grounded in a deep understanding of the human desire for social interaction and the media usage patterns of your target consumer. Rather than planning for interruption, brands must start planning for a sustainable growth in interaction.

 

Create and share communications which encourage and enable your audience to immerse themselves in your brand at whatever level and frequency they desire. If you can get this right, the consumer becomes as much a producer, editor and ambassador as they do part of the audience.

OZYMANDIUS

When I was at art school in New York, all cars were American.
And all American cars were made in Detroit.
There were no foreign cars on the streets.
Maybe once a year you might see an English sports car: Jaguar, Sprite, MG.
But these were so rare people would stop and point.
The very term ‘car’ meant an American car.
Not some tinny piece of foreign crap.
A real car.
And the only place making real cars was Detroit.
And because they were the only place making cars, they never changed the basic concept.
Just changed the styling a little bit every year.
Fast forward to the UK, earlier this year.
I was watching a TV programme about Detroit.
It now looks like the devastated city of Hue that Kubrick recreated for Full Metal Jacket.
Nothing but the deserted remains of massive, empty, burnt-out buildings.
The gutted concrete carcasses of giant assembly plants.
The insides dead and echoing, water dripping through decaying, broken roofs.
Everything valuable stripped out.
The floors cluttered with rubble and debris.
This is the set for a horror movie about the collapse of a civilisation.
The only signs of life are small bonfires here and there, with the jobless and homeless sitting round them.
What happened?
How do you go from the only-game-in-town to extinct, in a few decades?
Well in retrospect, like anything, it’s obvious.
I was there when it started.
But none of us knew it at the time.
You can only see these things afterwards.
Volkswagen.
That was the tiny crack in the wall.
The only foreign car anyone bought was the VW Bug.
But that wasn’t a threat, because it wasn’t really a car at all.
It was just a joke, ‘a pregnant roller skate’.
A cheap piece of junk for students.
Students didn’t need a status symbol.
They just needed transport: A–Z.
So students drove them around, and that became the VW brand.
The car of the counter-culture movement.
My ex father-in-law was an art director on Madison Avenue.
He was like all the Mad Men: shiny suits, thin ties, aspired to owning a Cadillac.
But the culture was changing.
Suddenly all that stuff was for the fat cats.
And he didn’t want to be seen as a fat cat.
So he grew his hair long, switched to jeans, and bought a VW Bug.
That’s when Detroit began dying.
Right then, when the middle class began switching.
But of course Detroit didn’t even notice.
They carried on doing what they’d always done.
Same-old floor pan, same big engine in front, same-old rear-wheel drive.
Keep the same basic solution, just change the bodywork every year.
Bigger fins, more chrome, bigger headlights, new-shaped tail-lights.
Just restyle it a little bit every year.
So the styling, the execution, got better and better.
But they never thought about the basic concept.
And that’s how Detroit died.
Maybe there’s a lesson there for us.
Maybe we’re behaving like Detroit.
We’re concentrating on the execution of what we do, the styling.
And right now, the execution is better than it’s ever been.
We make commercials costing literally millions of pounds.
With computer graphics, we can do anything we want.
We can make ads with impossible sets and a cast of millions.
And, because execution is everything, if we can’t be bigger we must be newer.
So the constant search is for new styles of execution.
Techniques that no one has used yet.
It doesn’t even matter what it’s for, as long as we’re the first or the biggest.
Because execution has taken over from idea.
In fact the execution is the idea.
Styling has taken over from thinking.
Just like Detroit, everything has to be ‘newer and bigger’.
And, just like Detroit, everyone’s a little dissatisfied with the result.
Maybe, like Detroit, we’re at the beginning of a change.
Maybe, like Detroit, the change will happen gradually at first.

And maybe, like Detroit, by the time we notice it will be too late.

Why News Corp really pulled the plug on Project Alesia

News Corporation has been
forced to abandon plans for its eagerly anticipated digital news platform, part
of the company’s so called ‘Project Alesia’ initiative, citing runaway costs.

As we revealed this morning, bean-counters at Rupert Murdoch’s media conglomerate
have decided to pull the plug on the year-long activity when it was
expected to be finalised.

The decision is said to be
absolute: this is not a delay, or grand standing or being placed on hold; this
an entire, dedicated News Corp UK
operation being dismantled just days before a product was due to go to market.

So what’s going on at
the media conglomerate?

£20m but still no cigar?

The unofficial line from News Corp is that after some 12 months of development and at an
estimated cost of £20 million, those with control of the purse-strings decided
the stakes for the news aggregation service are just too high, and it’s simply
too big a gamble to take.

Can this really be true?
Can the project’s failure be attributed to a last minute (after 12 months of development) realisation about the full costs involved? Anyone who knows
anything about News Corp’s approach to its finances would be surprised at such
an oversight.

Apparently, more than 100 people hived away in a Grays Inn Road office for the best part
of a year, were only told of their fate on Friday (15 October). Those who were
permanent staff are now in consultation, the more temporary specialists working
on contracts (approx 80 workers), have been unceremoniously disbanded.

The UK
project promised to make content from News Corp’s core print titles available
across all digital platforms, including the iPad and Google’s Android operating
system.It formed part of a bigger US drive, led by News Corp’s chief
digital officer, Jonathan Miller.

Separate commercial leads were being developed and pursued in the US and UK, but both operations are now
said to have been moth-balled. News of the digital failure is just the latest
twist in what is already a very tangled and fascinating affair.

Where next for News Corp?

As things stand, News Corp
is believed to have a very real, saleable asset that could yet attract VC
backing or other joint venture possibilities.

Apparently, protracted
negotiations have already been held with most major UK magazine and newspaper
publishers, with one influential source resolutely confident that “all major
titles would have come on board within six months of launch, with the exception
of The Guardian”. (It’s worth noting that GNM’s Tim Brooks was the first
newspaper leader to go on record and warn against a united News Corp/BSkyB
when
I interviewed him in July.)

Sources close to WPP’s media
buying powerhouse GroupM, who had been exclusively tasked to find launch
advertisers for the new platform, express reservations about how many
publishers were locked-in.

“Every press director I’ve
talked to outside of NI have denied being involved in the project, so it was
always very unclear who the amalgamation of publishers would be,” said one.

“I only ever gleaned NatMag
were keen to be involved, apart from that it was pure speculation,” said
another.

The project nonetheless definitely attracted interest from clients, but
a list of known publishing partners would have provided a welcome boost.

Another, and I believe more
pertinent, development to add to this insight, is the fact that, since last
week, many in the British media have joined forces against Murdoch’s attempts to
takeover BSkyB
in an open letter to business secretary Vince Cable.

Fearful of the combined
control of a fully-aligned News Corp/Sky offering, Murdoch’s digital crusaders have
performed a small miracle and united The Guardian and Daily Mirror with The
Telegraph and the Daily Mail. This is no mean feat, just ask the NPA.

The would-be multimedia
empire still waiting for regulatory approval includes The Sun, News of the
World, The Times, Sunday Times, Sky and book publisher HarperCollins, and has the
rival groups highlighting “serious and far reaching consequences for media
plurality”.

The petition’s united front at such a delicate time in proceedings has led to an unprecedented
backlash from Murdoch’s stable that has spilled out into Sky news reports, a leader column in The Times
and comment piece in The Sun.

Hackles have been well and
truly raised by the very publishers News Corp was hoping to enlist in the new
project. Is it possible to get into bed with the same people who rail against
you?

News Corp sources are adamant the
decision not to take the product to market is purely related to concerns over
running costs, estimated at around $200m over the next few years. But with the
initial outlay for technical expertise and development already paid, would News
Corp beancounters really pull the plug now?

Realistic economies of scale?

The biggest single
change as far as News Corp’s finances are concerned since the project began 12
months ago, has been the company’s move to take full control of BSkyB, at a
cost more than £7.8bn. That sort of money is guaranteed to eat into anyone’s
cash reserves.

The deal on the table would
have seen individual publishers paid every time a subscriber came on board,
meaning until critical mass was reached costs would be high. The plan was to
charge £9.99 per month for unlimited access to the bundled content. Projected
forecasts were to achieve one million subscribers by the end of year one.

News Corp was funding the
physical platform, described by some as being “light-years” ahead of anything
else currently available, but sources strongly deny there was ever any interest
in asserting any kind of editorial control over third-party content.

By way of comparison, News International has just launched a joint offer for
access to the Times and Sunday Times sites, at a cost of just £1 for 30 days.
But as yet, there is still no official statement on the impact these paywalls
are having on the business.

The autopsy for the ‘News Corp platform that never was’ has only just begun,
but I believe that when faced with an increasingly hostile circle of potential publishing
partners, uncertain advertising support, and a long, expensive subscription
drive; securing the proven assets of BSkyB became a far more important, and attractive, priority.

But where does the UK’s publishing
industry go from here?

Are you Facebook’s ‘Billy No Mates?’

Who are your
friends on Facebook? Probably a weird old mish-mash of Aunt Renee, Bob from accounts
and that woman you met on a drunken bus ride back from Fife.
In fact, you’re probably so popular that you’ve got upwards of a
hundred mates.

Not so if you live
in Japan.
According to recent research by TNS, Japanese folk have an average of just 29
friends. This could, as TNS suggests, be down to “a culture that embraces
fewer but closer friendships”. Or perhaps it says more about our trend
for a wider, more vacuous pool of loose contacts? Interestingly, it’s
Malaysians who top the ‘most friends’ poll and who are the heaviest
users of social networking sites – followed by the Russians and the
Turkish.

It beggars the
question, is the catch-all ‘friend’ too simplistic for a disparate
global audience? Should Facebook offer a grading system to define a
person’s emotional proximity to you? Perhaps it could be a sliding scale?
If they become overdrawn in your emotional bank account, you could move them to
blue. Everyone else could then enjoy the battle to regain your favour. Do we
need a different term for different cultures? Maybe one that recognises the
Indian caste system (or maybe not). Then there’s the whole privacy issue
that’s just reared its non-too-attractive head yet again.

The study itself claims to be ‘the largest and most
comprehensive of the global digital consumer ever’ – check it out
here http://discoverdigitallife.com/.
Oh, by the way, when it comes to blogs, 4 out of 5 users in China have written
one!