Steve Barrett, editor of Media Week
Steve Barrett, editor of Media Week
A view from Steve Barrett

Web charging and technologies can plug revenue gap

Interesting that Media Week has unveiled an influx of senior investors who are joining media trading platform MediaEquals in the same week the debate about newspapers charging for online content reignited.

MediaEquals' appointments Richard Eyre and Andrew Walmsley will be well known to Media Week readers.

The former as chair of the IAB, senior adviser to Starcom, Media Week columnist and former chief executive of Capital Radio and ITV.

The latter is co-founder of digital media agency I-Level, which celebrated its 10th birthday last week. They don't usually back losers and are renowned as visionary thinkers.

Meanwhile, speaking at MediaTel's Future of National Newspapers conference last week, NI Commercial's managing director, Paul Hayes, reiterated his company's commitment to introducing paid-for content across its newspaper websites.

Of course, most newspaper groups - and especially NI - already charge for various services or content on their sites. The conundrum in the UK is that charging for news is stymied by the BBC's vast rolling online content resource.

As this week's feature shows, it is still only niche publications such as the Financial Times and The Wall Street Journal that are making a real go of charging for core content online.

The link between ad trading platforms and paid-for content is the decline in ad revenue that has forced online charging up media companies' agendas, as well as the streamlining of ad operations, with trading platforms one option under consideration.

Some believe newspapers and other media companies - such as ITV - should adopt a Google-style ad model, with each slot or spot traded auction-style to the highest bidder in an automated way. This is where providers such as MediaEquals come in. Smaller, leaner media owner sales teams then concentrate on creative solutions and added value.

Media companies are also looking at technologies from the likes of former MySpace executive Jay Stevens' ad network optimisation outfit The Rubicon Project, which could help newspapers especially by facilitating ad revenue from their vast overseas traffic.

Charging online can plug the gap at one end, while greater efficiency and clever technology can work on margins at the other. This is presumably what investors such as Walmsley and Eyre aim to tap into.