International Business Media: Gambling on world domination

New technologies and territories pose risks as well as rewards for the international media players, Pippa Considine writes.

The international media arena is experiencing an action-packed phase. Established brands are launching in new territories across the world and gambling on their expansion into fresh forms of media.

Demand for a more international perspective on current affairs and business news is increasing. Two entirely new channels are expected to launch by the end of the year - Al Jazeera International and the French government-backed France 24.

Departures in the print sector in the past year (with BusinessWeek and Forbes Global closing their international editions) have been largely attributed to domestic pressures on US publishers - the affluent international readers have certainly not gone away. The Wall Street Journal has modernised, with a compact format, while the new Haymarket monthly World Business is adding to the competition.

In broadcasting, one of the most dynamic brands is Euronews. Its sales and marketing director, Olivier de Montchenu, says the channel has more than doubled its revenue over three years. "As a brand we're more visible," he says. "We now have substantial distribution in the US and Asia." The channel also gained a foothold in Sweden by buying its 21st shareholder TV4 and, in June, secured more space on Spain's Extremadura TV channel.

The name of the game is to be as truly global as resources and audiences will allow. Over the past five years, BBC World has doubled its European distribution, which now covers 75 million homes, and it has trebled its Asian distribution, now in the region of 14 million homes. Having established credibility in the US and recently launched a 24-hour service, it is looking to expand. "It's a hugely expensive business and brand counts for everything," Carolyn Gibson, the BBC World vice-president of airtime sales for Europe, the Middle East and Africa and North America, says.

Overall, audience levels appear to be rising. The European Business Readership Survey - conducted by Ipsos-RSL - is a study of the media habits of the biggest hitters in European business. It has seen a steady increase in its universe. In 1996 it identified around 370,000 senior business executives; in 2006 there were more than 440,000. Its definition of Asia's business elite included 190,000 in 1997; now there are around 230,000.

Al Jazeera International should be available to 40 million homes by December, and France 24 should be in 80 million EMEA homes. France 24 has not yet committed to a picture of how it will be funded.

State-subsidised to the tune of EUR80 million a year, the channel is likely to want to raise revenue through advertising before long. AJI will be funded for its first two years by the Emir of Qatar, with the stated aim of moving to an advertiser-funded business model. But is there really room for all these new channels and services? Viewers may appear to want them, but will they actually tune in and, crucially, will advertisers fund them? It is a risk.

Media buyers and media owners uniformly welcome new international media channels with a fresh perspective on business and current affairs. For the media buyers, it provides healthy competition in a sector where there are a small number of established brands, which one agency executive describes as a "virtual monopoly". Media owners say new entrants will enhance the market's credibility.

However, for its part, Al Jazeera International has first to overcome a degree of squeamishness about the brand. Recruiting famous UK and US presenters is clearly part of the plan, but the Middle East-based channel's screenings of controversial news footage has had a profound effect on audience and advertiser perceptions of the brand in the West.

Most agencies and clients will be not rushing to invest. At Initiative, Jason Hayford, an international account director, says: "If you have a finite budget and a risk-averse client, you're not going to give AJI a punt. We're not doubting the profile or saliency of the channel, but it's a fragile geopolitical situation."

At MediaCom, the account director Adrian Smith believes there will be uptake. "Think of the credibility the channel has gained from the Middle East. Advertisers will be there - hotels and airlines, simply because there are viewers who are upscale and travel a lot."

Media buyers tend to consider France 24 as an attractive proposition for international French brands - including a number of automotive and luxury goods - assuming it has the resources to live up to its posturing as a challenger to BBC World and CNN. "The big question is, will there be enough credibility with these channels for advertisers?" Smith says.

In an area with a group of long-established and credible brands, the same challenge exists for any new entrant, whatever the platform. Malcolm Hanlon, the managing director of international at ZenithOptimedia, says: "Many of the media that we have at the moment have a US skew or a bit of a UK skew, so there is room for a worldwide viewpoint, as long as its coverage is even and non-biased."

That's a tall order. But the editor of World Business, Morice Mendoza, aims to deliver. "We are providing what we believe is a global perspective in a new way," he says. "We are not focusing on business from a US or a European perspective, but looking at ideas and personalities from all regions." Time will tell if the title can compete with the old men of international media, all of which make similar claims.

CNN, though criticised by some for its apparent US focus, has expanded in part by forming joint ventures with local broadcasters. Last year it launched CNN-IBN in India, now one of the country's leading news channels, with the other international brands - both print and TV - also expanding on to fresh media platforms. CNN Pipeline is a new, premium, broadband-video service, which offers video-on-demand.

Discovery Networks is another broadcaster keenly aware of increasing consumer demand for new technology-driven applications. It recently rolled out high definition services and a direct-to-consumer WAP portal in the UK.

This month, Discovery has also entered the global free-to-air television market having acquired XXP in Germany. The channel, launched as DMAX, is described as "a fact-based entertainment channel delivering the inside-track on everything that is important to young, upscale males". It will reach 27 million homes.

It clearly takes money to fund all of this activity in the market. While much is subsidised, there does appear to be an upturn in ads. At The Economist, the EMEA director, Olly Comyn, says there is every reason for international business media to be healthy.

He cites a recovering German economy and a French market both "on fire" with mergers and acquisitions. Other advertisers are choosing pan-regional media that allows them a broad geographical stretch on a limited budget, others simply because they plan to make their domestic brand global.

Hanlon has also observed a new breed of advertiser in the international market: "There are more advertisers targeting this audience. There are Asian brands building brands on a global basis and the same from Russia and Eastern Europe - an upside for new media entities."

That, coupled with a steady stream of advertising from travel and tourism, including the seemingly unstoppable rise of national, regional and city branding campaigns, may possibly be the making of some of the new faces in international media.

NEW SUITS ON THE BLOCK

FRANCE 24

The new, French international channel plans to be on air by Christmas. Two streams will broadcast - one in French, the other largely in English- with an initial reach of 250 million viewers. State subsidy currently amounts to EUR80 million a year, with the French president, Jaques Chirac, behind the launch. But the shareholding is split equally between TF1 and France-Televisions and it will look to take advertising at a future date. Media buyers welcome a French point of view on the airwaves and can see potential, especially for French advertisers.

Score from media buyers: 7/10

AL JAZEERA INTERNATIONAL

Set to launch by the end of the year, AJI aims to bring a different perspective to global news. Initially, it plans to reach more than 30 million homes. The channel, bankrolled by the Emir of Qatar, has recruited an impressive line-up of international talent, including Sir David Frost. While Al Jazeera has the profile to attract viewers, its reputation as a controversial broadcaster will take some overcoming if is to attract corporate advertisers with US interests. Media agencies are happy to see a credible new channel, but are wary of recommending the brand.

Score from media buyers: 5/10

WALL ST JOURNAL COMPACT

In October last year, the 117-year-old The Wall Street Journal launched a new compact format for its international editions. The aim was to make the paper more accessible, and closer to the online operation. It also brought more colour and a broader choice of sites for advertisers, including a front-page ad. Since the relaunch, subscriber numbers are level and the number of registered online users has increased by 40 per cent. Media buyers are not convinced the new format has made much difference, but with online news rising in importance and new ad packages available, it's a welcome modernisation.

Score from media buyers: 6/10 Score from media buyers: 5/10

WORLD BUSINESS

Launched in April by Haymarket Publishing, in association with the international business school INSEAD, this monthly title is pitched somewhere between the Harvard Business Review and UK title Management Today. The title has a circulation of 100,000, with one-fifth of that comprising INSEAD alumni and with 60 per cent in Europe, the remaining 40 per cent in the US and Asia-Pacific. So far, it has attracted a number of blue-chip advertisers, including BT, Shell and Lexus, although there is some scepticism from media buyers about its ability to compete with established international publications.

Score from media buyers: 6/10.

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