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Murdoch's News Corporation and Cross-Media Promotion E-mail
Written by Jonathan Hardy   
Sunday, 10 July 2011 11:03

Over three decades, News Corp. has demonstrated how media properties can support and enhance its worldwide commercial activities. It has used its enormous promotional resources, to mobilise interest in movies, such as Avatar, major sports events, product launches, such as 3D television, and to promote pricing innovations, subscription deals and online services. News Corp.’s cross-promotion forms part of manifest efforts to use media resources to serve strategic business and political objectives, as a host of former executives, journalists and analysts attest (Hardy 2010, 119-127). A recent illustration occurred when an executive reportedly told an advertising conference of efforts to ensure that News Corp.’s media outlets would prominently feature Fox Studio movies while excluding coverage of rival studios. According to Rebekah Devlin, entertainment editor at News Corp's Australian division, News Ltd, ‘Uncle Rupe’ was involved in designing a strategy to ‘push back’ against actors' publicists who are blocking media access to their clients; ‘Before we were quite disjointed as a company … but we are really getting together now to say, “OK, if you don't want the help of the Fox network then let's see how your film goes”’ (Lee 2010).

 

 

 

In November 2007 Murdoch told the House of Lords Select Committee on Communications (2007) ‘that there was no cross-promotion between his different businesses. He stated that The Times was slow to publish listings for Sky programmes. He also stated that his own papers often give poor reviews of his programmes’. Murdoch’s denial, and coyness, concerning newspaper cross-promotion is in stark contrast to News Corp.’s promotion of corporate integration and synergies to investors. When News Corp. purchased Intermix Media, owner of Myspace.com, for $580m (£332.85m) in 2005, Murdoch announced that the social networking site would drive traffic to his Fox TV sites. Murdoch told BSkyB’s AGM (BSkyB 2000: 4), the company was ‘developing a range of new media services with the aim of providing seamless content across all platforms’.

 

Against this background, I investigated evidence of cross-media promotion of BSkyB in NI newspapers, primarily though a comparative analysis of newspaper content in October–November 1998, when SkyDigital and ONdigital (later ITV Digital) launched rival digital television services (Hardy 2010, 119-156). The study found that cross-promotion in NI papers did not confirm a hypothesis of systematic corporate control in that promotional resources were not deployed fully and consistently across titles. For instance, the News of the World, the paper with the largest readership, devoted less space to all varieties of BSkyB promotion, than other NI papers. There was also evidence of journalistic autonomy in criticisms of Sky, and disclosure of ownership interests by media, business and financial journalists in the elite papers. However, sports, entertainment journalists, and ‘anonymous’ sections were more promotional. NI editorial content tended to favour Sky, Sky channels received disproportionate coverage in listings, and all NI papers carried advertorial supplements promoting Sky. NI papers promoted Sky, but they also acted to impede competition, just as they had done in 1989 when challenging BSB.

 

In 2010 Murdoch embarked on an audacious strategy to extend paywalls around his newspaper brands. The move made NI’s elite newspapers even more intensely promotional for their digital editions and online services, following the relaunch of The Times and Sunday Times websites in July. As well as promoting in-house digital services associated with the papers, and third-party readers’ offers, the papers were used to cross-promote, and integrate Sky services. Sundaytimes.co.uk provided an interactive culture planning tool allowing subscribers to book tickets and remotely record TV shows on Sky.

 

Analysis of a single edition of The Times, from Friday 1 October 2010, illustrates the promotional range. The main section is 116 pages. 15 pages carry promotions for The Times online, including one full page and one half-page advert for the Times+ subscription service. Four pages carry promotions for the upcoming Saturday edition (2 Oct) and one for The Sunday Times (3 Oct). Adverts for Sky comprise two half-page and one smaller backpage ad. Other promotions include Times Reader Offers (on 5 pages), promotions for Times’ announcements, dating and listing services, and promotions for contents within the same edition ranging from navigational page references to larger graphic promotions. Promotional reflexivity extends backwards as well as forwards, and this edition contains a ragout graphic accompaniment to a reader review of yesterday’s edition, a feature on the 100th anniversary of the Times’ women’s supplement, and references to previous news stories. The paper thus included, teasers and hooks for material within the edition, and promos for material in future editions, both common to newspapers, while heavily cross-promoting Times+ and Sky in advertising and promotions throughout. Yet, in this sample issue at least, the paper maintained a ‘separation’ between article content and promotions, with negligible editorial cross-promotion.

 

In the tabloid papers and websites such separation is less evident. A PR ‘news’ story on the Sun’s website (2 Feb 2009) promoted Sky heavily under the claim ‘Telly is boost for the blues’. The Sun gave gushing editorial support for the launch of Murdoch’s iPad only paper ‘The Daily’ (3 Feb 2011), a product not available outside the US. Similar puffery occurred in a New York Post story on launch of f/x channel, both owned by News Corp.  The reporter, Steve Bornfeld, commented ‘Not only did we run a splashy story on the day they debuted, but we ran a splashy story on the day after they debuted about a network that no one in the five boroughs of New York could see’. He continued ‘My choice was to write the stories or be fired. I didn't like it very much. But there was no shame about it at the Post’ (Gunther 1995). In June 2011, the Sun ran extensive editorial promotion for the new X-men release (Fox studios) and US X-Factor (shown on Fox TV). The obverse of promotion, of course,  is censorship: News International papers collectively neglected to cover the phone-hacking scandal extensively until engulfed by waves of public revulsion triggered by disclosures in July.

 

Across its output, BSkyB carries more extensive promotions than other UK channels. One study found that Sky One ran almost three times as many promotions as any of the five terrestrial channels. While most of these promotions were for programmes (appearing on the same or associated channels), both Sky and the BBC carried a significant proportion of promotions for their other media activities. On 8 August 2000, for instance, 65 out of a total 133 promotions on Sky One were for other Sky channels and services (Carter 2000). Another study (Channel Four 2001) found theat during peak viewing hours during one randomly selected week (28 April–4 May 2001), Sky One carried 250 promotions compared to BBC1 (101); BBC2 (53); ITV (108), C4 (108), C5 (83). BSkyB was more promotional than other broadcasters in part because it had a larger portfolio of channels, services and ‘events’ such as live sports and first-run movies than any competitions. However, BSkyB also indigenizes marketing practices that are more developed in the US system, not least by News Corp itself. In their analysis of ‘Foxification’, Cushion and Lewis (2009, 144), comparing Sky News with BBC News 24, found that Sky ‘pays particular importance to marketing itself as being ‘first with breaking news’’, and had adopted the moniker ‘news alert’ from Fox News whose own dramatic presentation styles influenced those of rivals CNN and MSNBC.

 

BSkyB’s promotions are subject to restrictions laid down by the ITC (1991-2003) and Ofcom (2004-present). Ofcom (2008) found BSkyB guilty of breaking the cross-promotion code by a ‘targeted campaign to get viewers to lobby Virgin Media not to drop the Sky channels’. BSkyB ran a series of 11 anti-Virgin adverts highlighting that services such as Sky One, Sky News and Sky Sports News were possibly going to be removed from Virgin Media’s 3.4m million subscribers. BSkyB’s promotion ran a total of 2,500 times on-air while the two broadcasters were locked in negotiations regarding carriage of Sky’s basic channels on Virgin Media’s cable TV network. Responding to 187 complaints from viewers, Ofcom found that references to Sky's retail TV service were unduly prominent in promotions designed to push channel content and therefore broke the cross-promotion code, permitting only ‘broadcast-related’ promotions outside of the time allowed for advertising, and prohibiting ‘undue prominence’ in references to products or services, such as television platforms or retail services; the references ‘were clear and unambiguous 'calls to action' to viewers to subscribe to the Sky retail television service and accordingly went beyond information about the availability of the Sky channels’ (Ofcom 2008).

 

The opportunities for corporate cross-media promotion between NI newspapers and BSkyB, while very extensive, are also currently constrained. As business analysis Claire Enders (2010) argues, having ‘shareholders with no links to the Murdoch family prevents News Corp from using Sky to further its own business interests’. Total ownership of BSkyB would allow News Corp. to undertake far more extensive, and integrated, cross-promotion. As Lord Puttnam told the House of Lords (Hansard 2010b):

With the opportunities that cross-subsidy, cross-promotion and the bundling of services would bring, we could easily see News Corp's dominance in newspapers increase far beyond its present share. It is not in the interest of a plural society for a singular mindset or entity of any kind to hold that degree of influence, political patronage or commercial power.

 

References

 

BSkyB (British Sky Broadcasting). 2000. Chairman’s Statement (3 November).

Burrell, Ian. 2011. ‘Media rivals cry foul as Murdoch wins battle for full control of BSkyB.’ The Independent, March 4. Accessed 4 March 2011. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/media/tv-radio/media-rivals-cry-foul-as-murdoch-wins-battle-for-full-control-of-bskyb-2231790.html.

Carter, Meg. 2000.’Promotional Breakdown.’ Broadcast (15 September), 16-17.

Cushion, Stephen and Justin Lewis. 2009. ‘Towards a ‘Foxification’ of 24-hour news channels in Britain? An analysis of market-driven and publicly funded news coverage.’ Journalism 10 (2): 131-153.

Enders, Claire. 2010. News Corporation’s proposed takeover of BSkyB: A submission to the Secretary of State by Claire Enders, CEO. Enders Analysis Ltd. London: Enders Analysis.

Gertz, Matt. 2011. ‘Synergy: As Egyptian Streets Burn, Fox Devotes Half-Hour To New Murdoch Publication’. Media Matters for America. February 2. Accessed February 5 2011. http://www.protectthevalues.org/blog/201102020044.

Gunther, Marc. 1995. ‘All in the Family’ October, American Journalism Review.

Hansard. 2010a. House of Commons. Oral Answers to Questions. July 26. Accessed August 30. http://services.parliament.uk/hansard/Commons/ByDate/20100726/mainchamberdebates/part002.html.

———2010b. House of Lords. Media Ownership Debate, November 4. Accessed 10 November. http://services.parliament.uk/hansard/Lords/ByDate/20101104/mainchamberdebates/part012.html

Hardy, Jonathan. 2010. Cross-Media Promotion. New York: Peter Lang

House of Lords Select Committee on Communications. 2007. ‘Minutes of the Visit to New York and Washington DC’, 16–21 November.

ITC (2002) New ITC Rules on the Promotion of Programmes, Channels and Related Services on Commercial Television. London: ITC.

Lee, Julian. 2010. ‘Murdoch calls on company troops to fight film PR blockade’, Sydney Morning Herald. October 25. Accessed October 30 2010. http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/movies/murdoch-calls-on-company-troops-to-fight-film-pr-blockade-20101024-16z8y.html.

 

Ofcom. 2006. Cross-promotion Code. London: Ofcom

——— 2008. Broadcast Bulletin 120 (October 27). London: Ofcom

——— 2010. Report on public interest test on the proposed acquisition of British Sky Broadcasting Group plc by News Corporation. London: Ofcom

Sabbagh, Dan. 2010. ‘James Murdoch hails 50,000 surge in digital subscribers to Times’, The Guardian. November 2. Accessed November 3 2010. http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2010/nov/02/james-murdoch-digital-subscribers-times.

 

 

 

 

Last Updated on Sunday, 10 July 2011 18:40