MEDIUM OF THE YEAR: FREESERVE - After all the talk of an internet revolution, last year heralded the arrival of a service provider that offered the public great content and free online access

Last year there were dramatic changes for many media owners. The establishment of digital television, the launch of interactive TV, the debut of Metro and a host of imitators, the arrival of digital radio, the Trinity Mirror deal and the proposed merger between Carlton and United News & Media are among some of the developments in 1999 that will shape the media landscape for years to come.

Last year there were dramatic changes for many media owners. The

establishment of digital television, the launch of interactive TV, the

debut of Metro and a host of imitators, the arrival of digital radio,

the Trinity Mirror deal and the proposed merger between Carlton and

United News & Media are among some of the developments in 1999 that will

shape the media landscape for years to come.



But the most seismic shift came in the field of new media. One media

company stands out from the crowd of internet brands jostling for

attention and justly deserves the title of medium of the year.

Freeserve, the free internet service owned by the Dixons Stores Group,

had an extraordinary year, forcing a change on the UK internet market

which left it unrecognisable.



Having launched in late September 1998, by February 1999 it had signed

up its millionth subscriber, demonstrating a phenomenal rate of growth

and leaving the former market leader, AOL UK, looking slow and

unresponsive to market change. Almost 16 months on, Freeserve remains

the most talked-about UK internet company and rightly so. Its founder

and chief executive, John Pluthero (left), was previously corporate

development director at Dixons.



Few could have predicted that Freeserve would change the market so

radically, forcing a major change among its rivals and spelling the end

for most of the subscription-based internet services.



The company has achieved this partly through its efforts to improve its

service and by adding new elements to the Freeserve.net website. It

struck agreements throughout the year with a host of leading players in

the UK internet market, beginning with a deal with Emap Online early in

1999.



Further deals were struck with UK Plus, Fantasy League, Motley Fool,

Music 365, Datanet to deliver Sportszine and Cricketline, and, finally,

eToys.



The Freeserve year and, by extension, the UK internet business, was

dominated by the internet service provider’s flotation in July 1999.

Freeserve’s shares first leapt and then fell, encouraging the sceptics

who had earlier predicted trouble for the company which, valued at

around pounds 1.5 billion, many considered woefully overpriced.



By year-end, the sceptics had been proved wrong as Freeserve continued

to invest and develop. On top of content deals it embarked on an

acquisition programme, buying babyworld.co.uk and a stake in the online

music retailer, InFront. Other investments were made in US and

Scandinavian companies.



It followed these investments with the announcement of an online share

trading service in a deal that could set the spark to the next phase of

the UK internet revolution. Freeserve, with its populist touch, could be

just the vehicle to bring internet share trading cheaply and easily to

the UK.



However, it was its agreement with BT Cellnet at the beginning of

December which really made people sit up and take notice. The two are to

work together to deliver a range of personalised mobile information

ranging from share prices and sports results to enhanced



e-mail. The deal enables Freeserve to benefit from a future where

internet and mobile communications technology will converge. But more

than that, the deal with BT Cellnet transformed the company at a stroke

in many people’s eyes, giving both sustenance to the almost blind faith

of investors and perhaps bringing the prospect of real profits a little

closer.



Associated Newspaper’s freesheet paper, Metro, made a dramatic impact on

the newspaper market in 1999.



Last March the London edition of Metro hit the tube and mainline

stations and, in a short space of time, has built a dedicated following

among commuters in the capital. It has an estimated readership of more

than two readers per copy and in November 1999 achieved an ABC of

342,153. Since then, the newspaper has launched in Manchester, the West

Midlands and Scotland, sparking off a freesheet war as other major

newspaper groups, including Trinity Mirror and the Guardian Media Group,

battle for a share of the market created by Metro.



Metro has given the free newspaper market greater credibility, and is

giving regional newspapers a run for their money where it is a direct

challenge. For a product which at launch was dismissed as a short-lived

project, Metro has proved that it has every reason to plan for its

long-term development.



Sky Digital was also a strong contender for the prize, not least because

of its glitch-free launch at the end of 1998, its success in driving

subscriber numbers up towards the two million mark and its strong

performance against its rival, ONdigital. Aided by a hefty marketing

budget, Sky Digital rapidly established itself as the brightest and most

comprehensive digital TV service, offering viewers more channel choice,

a superb electronic programme guide and free digital satellite set-top

boxes. Sky Digital has fundamentally changed the viewing habits of

millions of households.



Also worthy of a mention in this category is the Financial Times, which

has steadily increased its circulation in the broadsheet market. Changes

to the newspaper in the autumn, including a new weekend magazine, The

Business, have broadened its appeal and in November the paper achieved

its highest sales figure for almost a decade, with circulation up almost

12 per cent year on year to 436,771.



Recent winners: Daily Mail (1998); FHM (1997); Sky TV (1996); Daily Mail

(1995); Classic FM (1994).



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Digital marketing executives oversee the online marketing strategy for their organisation. They plan and execute digital (including email) marketing campaigns and design, maintain and supply content for the organisation's website(s).