By MAX TILLMAN
Failing audiences and an out-of-date business model have both been cited as possible causes for News Corp’s significant drop in readership in 2019, with Rupert Murdoch’s publishing empire facing a mortal challenge as a changing audience-base continues to bite the bottom line.
According to research house Roy Morgan, 2019 was not a prosperous year for News Corps’ stable of mastheads.
The company’s flagship newspaper, Sydney’s Daily Telegraph, saw its readership drop -15.5% from December of 2018 to December 2019, with all four of the News Corp publications surveyed as ‘Top State-Wide or National Mastheads’ by Roy Morgan having suffered declines.
It’s a concerning sign for Murdoch’s domestic line of publications given Nine Entertainment’s Sydney Morning Herald grew its audience by 4.1% over the same period and The Financial Times saw a 14.1% increase in readers.
Dying or Simply Unwell?
Despite the dire performance results over the last year, News Corp-owned titles account for four of the top six most widely read newspapers in the country.
Yet heavy lies the crown, as this dominance of the news market relies upon a business model some media watchers consider unable to weather a changing media landscape.
“It’s a sign that the model doesn’t work, ” says independent media analyst Peter Cook.
This model, which relies heavily upon subscription-based revenue through paywalls on digital news platforms and monthly fees for pay-tv services like Foxtel, has suffered multiple blows to its dependability.
Streaming services such as Nine Entertainment’s Stan and the metered paywalls of The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age offer audiences a more egalitarian alternative.
“If anyone should have economies of scale it’s News Corp, they should be offering free news,” says Professor Linda Leung, Associate Professor in Arts, Cultural and Digital Creative Industries at The University of Technology Sydney.
“The reality is that their business models have not kept pace with public expectations. So where people were expecting news to be free, or to be able to subscribe to publications of their choice like The Guardian or The New York Times, News Corp had put big paywalls before they can get any access to their content.”
With concerns over ailing business models in the newspaper divisions and “lower-than-expected revenues” from Foxtel, many Murdoch watchers doubt whether either of Rupert’s apparent heirs will maintain the vast swathe of media titles their father amassed.
Rupert’s sons Lachlan, 48, and James, 47, both hold senior positions within News Corp and are the favourites to handle the dynasties affairs once Rupert retires.
With James recently openly criticising News Corp’s editorial stance on climate change, the question for the future is whether Lachlan, already co-chairman of News Corp, will slowly sell-off the family business or consolidate it further.
“I mean if you look at the disaster that Foxtel’s been in the last five years, that’s been the period where Lachlan’s had a big management role,” says media analyst Peter Cox. “I think we can see that there will be in the long term a collapse of the dynasty.”
City Hub‘s previous reporting on Rupert Murdoch: https://cityhubsydney.com.au/?s=murdoch