International Business Media: A change of suit

Is the media accommodating the needs of the travelling executive? Jason Deign investigates.

The average business person is changing. They are not only getting younger, but they come from a wider range of backgrounds, more of them are women and they are not just hooked on traditional business media, either.

This is exemplified in the latest EMS Select survey of frequent-flying executives, which shows the Discovery Channel getting 6.2 per cent of average daily viewing, up from 5.5 per cent the year before. National Geographic went up from 3.7 per cent to 4.1 per cent, while CNN dropped from 8.6 per cent to 6.9 per cent and CNBC fell 0.1 per cent to 2.1 per cent.

Other international media surveys similarly seem to point to the rise of a new generation of business traveller.Someone who is turned on as much by mainstream pursuits, such as travel, as they are by ticker tapes. But what are the media concerned doing about it?

For the mainstream channels, the fact they are getting an increasing share of a more affluent audience is naturally pleasing. But sales chiefs at business and documentary media are not fazed by the results.

Annie Rodgers, the senior vice-president of sales at Discovery, says: "Our core target is men aged between 25 and 39 and many of these people are upscale, well-educated, and also business people who travel.

"While we don't target them specifically, we've noticed an increase in readership and reach. It's wrong to assume that business people only consume business media."

Rodgers says Discovery has no intention of producing programmes aimed specifically at business people and believes that what has attracted both audiences and advertisers is high-quality factual entertainment shows, such as The Flight That Fought Back, based on the events of 9/11 (pictured above).

She also cites Discovery's "multi-local" approach to programming and commercial activities, with 51 channels across Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

"Our key advertising categories are travel and tourism, finance, telecommunications and consumer electronics, and all these are keen to target business travellers," she says.

"We have landmark projects like Atlas which very much supports the proposition to this target market."

At National Geographic, the international publisher, Declan Moore, echoes Rodgers' thoughts on multi-local content, pointing to the 30 local-language magazine editions as a particular strength.

In addition to its global campaign, National Geographic has made conscious moves to broaden its appeal, following the recent appointment of staff photographer Chris Johns to editor in 2004.

"Pick up the magazine a few years ago and it was all on stuff like polar bears, which was great, with good photos, but it was not altogether relevant for our audience," Moore admits.

Johns has switched the emphasis to focus more on interest destinations, such as the Ukraine, Africa and China.

"We have seen this reflected in our readership figures and newsstand sales," Moore says.

In business audience terms, the latest figures from Ipsos Mori's Europe 2006 report show a growth in National Geographic's readership of 0.2 per cent, increasing circulation to 861,000.

Moore sees little point in creating content that will compete head-to-head with news media though: "People are turning to us to find out what the real story is. We have a large research department that verifies every fact from three different sources.

"But we're not going to become a Newsweek and provide business news because that, to a certain extent, is becoming a commodity."

But if mainstream media owners are relaxed about the prospect of gaining new fans among Europe's business elite, many in the international business media community flatly deny there is any audience migration in the first place.

Jonathan Davies, the executive vice- president of CNN International News advertising sales, says: "The numbers I've seen don't entirely support the argument. The growth of news channels has been faster than the growth of entertainment channels.

"Entertainment channels are still larger but the gap has narrowed. And our reach has grown considerably in the past five years, so we're feeling pretty confident."

The Economist's EMEA director, Olly Comyn, also scoffs at the notion that international business media could be losing its following. "We've seen no effect," he says.

"Revenues are up 30 per cent and our circulation is up 10 per cent worldwide. Our sales at Heathrow are up 15 per cent year on year."

Michael Toedman, the vice-president and international managing director at BusinessWeek, adds: "Our audience is international executives who work in international businesses and, for them, BusinessWeek isn't an optional read, it's required."

What is puzzling, however, is that media owners have been trying their hardest to reach business people when they are not thinking about business.

CNN has embraced what Davies calls "softer shows", such as Mainsail, Art of Life and Living Golf. And The Economist launched an annual lifestyle publication called Intelligent Life in June 2004 "to reach readers when another part of their brain is working", according to Comyn.

BusinessWeek has even produced a supplement called Golf and Business Life, which brings in "advertising that the publication would not get otherwise", Toedman says.

A clue to why business publishers are taking lifestyle content so seriously can be taken from their views of the modern executive.

For Davies, today's business traveller is an almost utopian vision for advertisers. They could be viewed as "a 40-year-old, dressed smartly in Armani, Tods, Dolce & Gabbana clothes, possibly a smart suit, no tie, nice suntan, and accessories, as well as reading Conde Nast Traveller, and most likely will have young children".

And Comyn adds: "I see business people on PSPs, on iPods and on their BlackBerrys. What I'm not seeing is a lot of people reading newspapers."

None of which is to say today's business people do not need accurate and up-to-date business information, of course.

But if executives are getting trendier and funkier, then it is no surprise they are widening their choice of reading and viewing material. Could a business channel version of MTV be around the corner? Don't rule it out.