Opinion: Perspective - It is time for the Telegraph Group to play catch-up

"We have ended up in safe hands," Jeremy Deedes sighed yesterday as the Telegraph Group nestled into the Barclays' bosom after succumbing to the charms of £665 million. And not a moment too soon for anyone with a commercial stake in the health of the 149-year-old paper.

For most observers outside the incestuous media village, where media news inevitably receives more coverage than strictly warranted, the Telegraph saga is little more than a point of passing interest. But for anyone feeding off the paper's commercial impact, the new ownership portends some dramatic changes.

The Telegraph has spent the past eight months with its commercial and creative limbs duck-taped tight while the newspaper market has reverberated with innovation. So long a market of stale stagnation, the broadsheet sector finally found dynamism just as the Telegraph was denuded. The new tabloid formats have given the broadsheet sector a fresh impetus and crystallised a new spirit of innovation that, for the moment at least, has braced declining sales. Watching from the sidelines must have been agonising for the Telegraph-ers. No wonder Deedes, the Telegraph Group's chief executive, paid credit to the Barclay brothers' track record for "nurturing, developing and investing" in their newspaper assets.

Throughout the bidding battle, the brothers have proved committed and determined paters. And better a baronial home than a private equity one.

But despite their non-interventionist reputation, the active role played in the bidding by Sir David Barclay's son Aidan suggests he could make his presence felt on the floors of Canary Wharf. And the brothers have the capital to make a huge difference.

Certainly there is much catching up to do and a massive job in remotivating disorientated staff. Which is why any changes to the editorial and commercial teams must be swift and clean. An earlier ill-fated joint venture between the Barclays' Business newspaper and the Telegraph ad department will have given the new owners an insight on which to lay some commercial plans. There is a sense that the group's commercial ambitions had outgrown the old management structure.

Inevitably, the tabloid issue will be on the new broom's agenda. The Telegraph Group has paid careful attention to the impact of the compact Independent and The Times and the hefty cost implications of publishing two formats. Of all the broadsheets, though, the Telegraph has the demographic readership base to justify swimming against the tabloid tide.

If the Telegraph is looking for new ways to refresh its brand, then it must resolve the limitations it currently has on the use of colour within the paper. The question that still hangs over the future of the group's joint venture printing plant with Richard Desmond will naturally force such issues to the fore.

There are signs, too, that a newly unleashed Telegraph might begin to resolve its demographic identity crisis. The desire to chase younger readers with hip lifestyle features and celebrity coverage has always sat uncomfortably with the paper's high proportion of older readers and the chair-lift/walk-in bath ads this market attracts. The recent UFO research from the group celebrated the empowerment of the over-50s consumer and hints at a more creative approach to resolving such tensions.

Of course, it's not all over till the fat cat Black sings and the beleaguered former chief executive could yet be given leave to use his stake in Hollinger to block the deal. But it looks like the Telegraph is about to play catch-up.

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