This week for our 200th episode, we hear from Duncan Tickell, Chief Revenue Officer at Immediate Media. He talks about why he rejoined Immediate and what his focus is now with diversification, how their podcasts are becoming a seven figure revenue business, and what he’s doing to help the publisher maintain the gains it made during the pandemic. He also explains why sourdough webinars have been such a hit, and why it’s so important to be in markets where consumers are passionate.

In the news roundup the team goes all-in on the Alden Global Capital expose, compares it with the news that Axel Springer is investing heavily in Politico, and then compare that in turn with the Axios local newsletter membership launch. Chris spoils the end of a movie from 1974.

The transcript is live here, or see below for some highlights:

Building a seven figure audio business

[Audio] has been a surprisingly strong growth area for us. Our History Extra podcast, we’ve taken that on a journey where it’s now going to become a seven figure revenue stream very shortly. That gets over 4 million listens a month, so it’s become a real area of growth.

What we’re looking to do is scale that business into the other verticals in which we operate, be that food or gardening, and Radio Times is the latest addition to that stable.

What we’ve seen in audio is, certainly in terms of subscribers, it takes time to build. So History Extra has been on a long journey of building subscribers to get to the incredibly strong position it finds itself in today. But equally within that, we found that the amount of content – i.e. the number of episodes – that you put out makes a big difference.

Through testing and learning, we’ve arrived at what we think is the optimal level for that product, which is four [episodes] a week. Now we go on that journey with our other brands, which is to work out what formats work, what type of content works.

Opportunities in commerce

Within our core brands, we also think there’s a big opportunity around building out consumer revenue streams. [Commerce] has significantly scaled for us. We really benefited during lockdown – as many others did – in terms of those deep connections we have with our consumers; the fact they trust our brands, in a way that perhaps other publishers don’t get, that enjoyment with the heritage that they bring.

That as a business has grown by 10X since 2018. It’s now well over 10% of our digital revenue, and is still in that phase where we’re doubling revenue growth pretty much year over year for the last three years.

Serving their audience’s passions

Immediate’s DNA is to really focus on markets where you help people to get the most out of the things they love to do every day, be that cooking, gardening, cycling, entertainment. And actually, what we’re finding is that people want to consume that content and inform their passions across multiple formats.

It’s well documented that we’ve had two consecutive, or the last two ABC periods, were particularly strong from a growth perspective. We’ve now got well over 1.1 million subscribers. And those aren’t relationships that just go away.

So for us, the great thing around that is that those are relationships that we will maintain, and continue to build on, and think how we continue to fulfil their information needs.

Nurturing an entrepreneurial spirit

One of the most interesting things that came out of that pandemic situation was that our teams, who were previously working to budgets and thinking about targets and bonuses, when the world changed, that all went up in a puff of smoke. We actually said, ‘Let’s just think about how can we be entrepreneurial and innovative to get through this phase.’

We actually saw the development of a whole bunch of new business initiatives that have actually stood the test of time. One that I’d really call out is our webinar business. We didn’t have a webinar business before, those were confined to B2B businesses.

But we’ve now built a [webinar] business that’s had well over 30,000 paid attendees. We’re again on that run rate to make it another seven figure business across our portfolio. So we just felt we found some really interesting new ways to connect with people during that period.

Main story: A tale of two acquisitions

This week the Atlantic has published a thoroughly depressing look inside Alden, the ‘vulture capital’ hedge fund which is stripping US newsrooms of assets and a viable future.

  • In May, the Tribune was acquired by Alden Global Capital and two days after the deal was finalised, Alden announced an aggressive round of layoffs that took out 25% of the newsroom.
  • The Atlantic piece details the work of the people that went and the work that couldn’t get done due to lack of resources.
  • The Tribune had been profitable when Alden took over. 
  • “They call Alden a vulture hedge fund, and I think that’s honestly a misnomer,” said Charlie Johnson, a former reporter. “A vulture doesn’t hold a wounded animal’s head underwater. This is predatory.”
  • The model is simple: gut the staff, sell the real estate, jack up subscription prices, and wring out as much cash as possible.

This is a stark comparison to Axel Springer’s pending acquisition of Politico:

  • Axel Springer is expected to invest heavily in boosting staff numbers and new territories for the political and current affairs news site – with an eye on eventually launching a paywall.
  • They plan to boost the headcount by more than 10% once the $1 billion deal closes.
  • Chief Executive Mathias Döpfner has said he expects to hire 100 people, as well as an international push and publishing in several different languages.
  • Axel Springer believes in ‘anti-cyclical growth’: it hired over 1,600 people during the worst period of the pandemic.
  • “There will be no restructuring, no synergies, no mergers and no cost-cutting” Döpfner reiterated.

News in brief:

  • Mic’s back! This time it’s leaning more into pop culture coverage and less into politics, which makes it more appealing to audiences because…?
  • Black Ballad has received more of the investment it richly deserves – £335,000 – this time from a mix of private investors and crowdfunding backers. It will use the money to invest in content and new subscription tech
  • Can Twitter make us all nicer to one another? For Bloomberg, Kurt Wagner examines whether the incremental little changes Twitter has made can add up to something genuinely game changing for the bird site
  • Even as it’s reaping the benefits of Squid Game – its biggest launch of a show ever – Netflix is taking criticism for firing a trans employee it suspects of leaking metrics in the wake of a transphobic Dave Chappelle show on its platform
  • Robert Thomson, the New York-based global chief of News Corp, has been asked to appear at an Australian Senate inquiry into the dominance of News Corp in Australia’s media landscape. Of particular interest is the accusation that News Corp is now ‘greenwashing’ after years of attacking climate change advocates.
  • The New York Times is beta testing an app called New York Times Audio. All audio products under the Times’ banner will sit under it, including podcasts, read-aloud journalism and more. But most interestingly, the app will also feature audio journalism from a curated set of publishers including BuzzFeed News, New York Magazine and Rolling Stone. If The Times manages to build a standalone audio product that succeeds in attracting repeat listeners, it could mark a new era in the audio industry, says AdWeek’s Mark Stenberg.

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