Media: All about ... The Month - The Sunday Times' guide is upgrading to DVD

The newspaper market is going through a torrid time, with circulation declining steadily for all but a few of the nationals.

Within this declining market, The Sunday Times is bearing up well, with its year-on-year circulation dipping just 0.8 per cent, according to the February ABCs. But it is looking to broaden its readership, which is why this week it relaunched its digital entertainment guide, The Month, in DVD format.

It is 18 months since the CD-Rom version of The Month was introduced and during that time DVD take-up has rocketed. The Sunday Times' reader research now shows that more readers have access to a DVD - 76 per cent - than to a CD-Rom, which spurred the decision to change format.

More importantly, newspaper readers are spending more time watching TV on a Sunday. "Readers' lifestyles are changing," Susie Bourne, The Sunday Times' marketing manager, says. "They're not just sitting in confinement reading a newspaper on a Sunday. The DVD is intended to fill that dreadful gap in programming between 4.30pm and Coronation Street."

But it is crucial for the paper to distinguish The Month from the glut of CD and DVD giveaways that swamp the nationals. While it is widely accepted that these do not build long-term readership, the short-term sales boost means giveaways are proving a difficult habit for the newspapers to break.

Andrew Mullins, the Times Newspapers marketing director, says: "We never wanted to just give away free material. We were dis-illusioned, though, because we launched The Month just before all the giveaways began, so we've had difficulty cutting through."

The DVD, which is produced by Initial, part of Endemol, takes The Month into the realm of professional TV. While it should be more watchable, the downside for advertisers is that the interactive element will be mostly lost.

Whether a DVD version of The Month can boost The Sunday Times' circulation noticeably remains to be seen, but it is taking the paper into new territory.

Mark Gallagher, the press director at Manning Gottlieb OMD, says: "The Month has taken the brand to a younger audience and extended it beyond the printed medium. It is a good extra format."

1. The Sunday Times launched The Month as a CD-Rom on 31 August 2003, as a digital companion to its Culture section. The aim was to woo younger readers and reinforce the title's brand values. The paper claimed 700,000 readers used the first issue, and that 53 per cent of users would keep it for four weeks or more.

2. The Sunday Times claims that The Month has boosted circulation, but agencies are sceptical. However, in difficult market conditions, The Sunday Times' circulation is holding up, with an average circulation of 1,365,299 for the six months to February 2005.

3. Like the CD-Rom version, the DVD will preview selected entertainment events, especially music and films. It will also include a documentary feature (the launch issue had the Stereophonics); an entertainment programme hosted by the XFM presenter Eddy Temple-Morris; a TV programme (an episode of Arrested Development in the first issue) and games demos. The Shopping and Kids sections have been removed. It will total three-and-a-half hours of viewing.

4. Unlike the CD-Rom, it will not appear every month (although there's no change to the name). The newspaper says it is committed to producing the DVD at least six times a year.

5. Advertisers will get dedicated slots that viewers can't skip, with additional credit on the DVD wallet. Sky is the advertiser in the first DVD.

6. The Sunday Times will advertise The Month DVD with a national TV and radio campaign from Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R, using the strapline: "All-round entertainment."

7. It costs 20p to put out each DVD. This compares with about 9p for CD giveaways, although with the DVD The Month doesn't have to pay the licensing fees to film or record companies that are additional costs for the CD giveaways.

8. The highest readership recorded for The Month CD-Rom was 1.1 million, out of a total readership of 3.5 million. It averages about one million users.

WHAT IT MEANS FOR ...

ADVERTISERS

- Easier platform than CD-Rom. Each DVD issue will contain spots from one advertiser (Sky in the first) that will run before and halfway through the programmes. This differs from the CD-Rom, which had a headline sponsor and sponsors for each section.

- Viewers will not be able to skip the ads, although this doesn't necessarily mean they will sit and watch them.

- Will appeal to a younger audience.

MEDIA AGENCIES

- Waiting to see what the cost of ads will be and how the content has changed.

- Some feel that the cost of advertising - reputedly £200,000 for the headline sponsor and £50,000 for the section sponsors on the CD-Rom format - was far too high, so are looking for better rates.

- No more interactive capability, although that was considered overpriced and under-used by some agencies.

- More imaginative ways of advertising, such as product placement, would be welcomed.

RIVAL NEWSPAPERS

- The Sunday Times won't reveal how many extra readers the DVD has brought in but it has probably helped make the paper seem more youthful. The switch to DVD format is unlikely to lead to a massive hike in circulation.

- However, it proves that The Sunday Times is a forward-thinking publication that is extending its brand to new platforms.

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