Hearst plots major acquisition to boost experience credentials

Company's COO made revelation in panel session at Campaign Digital Media Strategies today.

Digital Media Strategies panel: McAuliffe, Blunt, Costello, TI Media’s Marcus Rich and Beale
Digital Media Strategies panel: McAuliffe, Blunt, Costello, TI Media’s Marcus Rich and Beale

Hearst is planning a "material acquisition in a complementary business" over the next 12 to 18 months as part of a shift to becoming a "premium content and experience business", according to chief operating officer Claire Blunt.

"Do we consider ourselves publishing businesses?" Blunt asked. "We’ve started to talk this year about seeing ourselves as a premium content and experience business – and so I guess one has to conclude that our complementary business would be in the space of enabling us to be that."

When James Wildman was appointed chief executive of Hearst in 2017, he was given a remit to expand the business through acquisitions. In February 2018, Hearst acquired women’s fitness event Be:Fit, which relaunched this year as Women's Health Live.

Blunt was speaking in a panel discussion on changing revenue models for media companies, hosted by Campaign editor-in-chief Claire Beale, at the Campaign Digital Media Strategies event in London.

Also on the panel was Kevin Costello, chief executive of Campaign’s publisher, Haymarket, which is also a leader in automotive publishing with brands including What Car? and Autocar. Costello discussed What Car?’s recent launch of a retail proposition.

"We’ve disrupted the marketplace by inserting ourselves in the heart of the transactional funnel, having realised through the What Car? brand – where people have been coming for decades to search and discover what their next new car purchase should be – that through the data and audience intelligence we had, we were in effect the largest car retailer in the country with 1,000 in-market buyers researching and looking for their next vehicle every 15 minutes," Costello said.

"We’re in relatively uncharted space," he added. "There’s a lot of classified options in the used car space, but not in the new car space. There’s only one competitor we would see ourselves being up against head to head, which is a very, very well-funded brand by the name of Carwow. And, in effect, we’re looking to take them out."

Ian McAuliffe, chief executive and owner of Think Publishing, welcomed the announcement of Apple’s News+ subscription service, saying it could help his business to offer "an opportunity to move into some foreign markets where we [otherwise] simply wouldn’t go down that route from a risk point of view". However, he added that the revenue percentage split Apple was offering was "the big question the industry has got to have a look at".

Another route to growth was in a less technological direction, McAuliffe explained: "We’ve invested in book publishing – one of the things we’re finding is the editorial teams love that we’re going into print and some of their huge pride in the content they’re producing will find its way back into the print products we’re producing."

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