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9 Aug 19

Weekly Media Trends (9 Aug 19)

Trends > 9 Aug 19

Borkowski Weekly Media Trends: Edinburgh Fringe | Facebook | Guardian | Barely any Feral Hogs


Borkowski Weekly Media Trends

It's a week that started with 30-50 Feral Hogs becoming a symbol for the carnivalesque absurdity that is the USA's refusal to tackle its gun problem, and also featured an American proto-influencer cementing her celebrity status forbeing really good at eating crab, but we've also seen the world's largest arts festival stalling for media momentum, and a couple of developments that may offer rays of light to the newspaper industry...but with strings attached.


Postcard from Edinburgh: Fringe needs a fire lit under it

The Edinburgh Festival Fringe, the world’s biggest arts festival, is a third of the way through and, after a start filled with the usual optimism but tinged with concerns surrounding rising prices of producing work (and even just existing in Edinburgh during August), as well as a renewed drive to tackle the environmental impact of 3,800 shows, the whole thing seems to have reached the point of inertia.
 
Speaking of the environment, Mother Nature is the most powerful force governing Fringe ticket sales and since ‘Black Wednesday’ the weather has been sufficiently stinking to cast a shadow over the rest of the week. The city is mobbed, but the usual Fringe masses are huddled in cafes and bars while theatres remain emptier than they should. Something is getting lost in communication.
 
Thus, the rain doesn’t totally drown out the murmurs of deeper issues, and that’s where the festival’s relationship with the media comes in. Firstly, imaginative, dynamic stories are at a premium: three of the most prominent news reporters and diarists who cover the Fringe have all lamented over the past week that they’re being starved of anything with real flavour, and are instead reporting the above sociopolitcal issues more widely than anything about what’s happening on stage.
 
Our founder Mark Borkowski wrote about the need to create captivating narratives to cut through the noise of such bulk of shows and, as we witness the impact of the lack of agenda-setting stunts and campaigns, combined with a continuing trend of international and even national media outlets turning their backs on the festivals, he makes a salient point if this Fringe is to recover its early mojo.
 
In terms of raising media profile the current situation leaves reviews and recommendations, and given that the former are, on average, some of the harshest we’ve ever known, there’s a real need for the Fringe’s creatives and noisemakers to generate that crucial spark through other, more imaginative alleyways.


Why is Facebook making nice with the traditional media?

Everyone knows that Facebook has crippled the newspaper industry, but recently there have been hints of a change in their relationship. Historically, Facebook has published newspaper content for free, and then hoovered up the ad revenue generated by the readers. Newspapers can’t resist, as they rely on heavily on the readers accessing them through Facebook. It’s a good example of why unregulated monopolies are dangerous and difficult to change without regulation.

 
So, the news that Facebook are reportedly offering millions of dollars for the right to publish their work is very interesting. What’s the incentive? What is the reality beneath the vague soundbite promising ‘more high-quality news’ and a ‘business model and ecosystem to support it’?
 
Is it merely yet another cynical nod to doing the right thing (the likes of which have been rampant since a certain Mr Clegg took over Facebook’s communications operation)? Is in anticipation of some future legislation, legal battle or wave of the invisible regulatory hand? Or perhaps it’s even more pernicious than that; Facebook realise that their popularity is going to take a beating through the Presidential run, and want to ensure that they are locked into mutually beneficial contracts with major US media companies in the hope that that will inoculate them from the worst of the damage? An interesting, yet unlikely, theory. Time will tell.


Guardian's breakeven is a lesson to other 'quality' newspapers

Guardian Media Group, The Guardian’s parent company, has reported that it broke even last year, recording a pre-tax profit of £31m for the 2018-19 financial year.

How did this happen? One key reason is that a successful transition to a more digital-led model.

Unlike other major publications, GMG only relies on print advertising for 8% of its income, making it less vulnerable to the industry-wide decline in circulation. More interestingly however, is the increased contribution being made by readers, especially through Guardian US and Guardian Australia.

This is the Trump effect. As demagogues of many stripes unleash bitter attacks on certain media outlets, readers are far more inclined to buy and read those publications.

After Donald Trump, an outspoken critic of the New York Times, won the 2016 election, the New York Times sold 132,000 digital subscriptions – ten times the usual rate. As Boris Johnson exerts his grip on 10 Downing Street, that effect doesn’t seem to be going away.

This is a lesson for both newspapers and the wider media industry. If publications like The Guardian can turn political chaos and attacks on the press into enthusiasm for prestige news, they stand to gain a great deal from the new politics.


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