news.com.au boss Julian Delany talks digital ratings and revenue

“Where we are making more money is through commercialising content”

As managing director of news.com.au, Julian Delany had a much bigger smile last month when the Nielsen Digital Ratings (Monthly) confirmed that news.com.au had returned to top spot in the current events and news category after dropping to #2 in July following 20 consecutive months at #1. “It is good to be back on top,” Delany told Mediaweek.

MORE: Julian Delany appointed Chief Digital Officer of NewsLifeMedia

“The election was a big news event for everybody in Australia and news.com.au did well to do 6.2m in that month. To be #2 was disappointing, but we did very well to do a number like we did for a brand that is not really known for its election coverage.”

“The traffic our content team provides is around 68% of total page impressions of any given month.”

As to knowledge gained after losing top spot, Delany said: “We learnt that while you can do a lot of planning for something like an election you can’t necessarily plan for what is going to happen in the news cycle after the election. We didn’t have an election result for a week. If the election had been decided on election night it might not have changed the rankings much.”

To keep the #1 ranking, news.com.au does rely on content from elsewhere within News Corp, but how much of that drives their audience numbers? “I can tell you the exact amount,” said Delany. “The traffic our content team provides is around 68% of total page impressions of any given month. We do get some traffic from the metropolitan mastheads, but it is a lot less after their locked content strategy.” Visitors to news.com.au are not able to bypass the content sitting behind paywalls elsewhere in the company.

“Where we are making more money is through commercialising content.”

“News.com.au content is also available across the entire News Corp network.”

Delany’s role expanded in late 2015 after originally joining News Corp to run news.com.au. A restructure saw him additionally working across all of the digital assets including the women’s network, which is home to Body+Soul, Kidspot.com.au, Primped and the new brand NewsLifeMedia is developing that will be edited by departing Women’s Health editor Felicity Harley.

“The other part of my role is looking after all the product and production for all the other NewsLifeMedia sites including Taste, GQ, Vogue Australia and delicious.”

“One site that is also doing very well is Best Recipes which did 900,000 UA in August.”

Although Delany said all those brands have great digital growth stories, he singled out Kidspot in particular. “It did 2m UA (unique audience) for August which makes it a very big niche audience. It is a fabulous brand for consumers and commercial partners to be involved with.

“One site that is also doing very well is Best Recipes which did 900,000 UA in August. It is a site about user-generated food recipes and it sits within Kidspot.” NewsLifeMedia got the Best Recipes asset when it acquired Kidspot.

“Another site that we have done a lot of work on and are just starting to see the fruits of that investment is Body+Soul. We totally rebuilt the site and introduced more digital-only content for the site. The print product remains another part of the business.”

When asked if NewsLifeMedia combines the print and digital brands as one product that might subsidise each other, Delany noted they are each run separately and must pay their own way.

There is a perception that it remains a challenge to make a digital product return a profit. “It is still hard,” said Delany. “But if you think about it correctly and put the resources in the right space and don’t do things just for fun it can be done.”

Resources in the right place doesn’t mean investing too much for traffic. “Reach is still important, but the engagement around that reach is just as important. Digital is hard and you need to be very careful about what to invest.”

“Serious content still has a big audience on our site.”

As to how revenues are going at news.com.au and elsewhere within the group, all Delany would confirm was that advertising does cover the costs and they are making a profit. “Everyone in the industry knows the monetisation of these brands via online ads is declining. Where we are making more money is through commercialising content. Native and other growing areas are a success story and we are getting more and more briefs from advertisers who want to be involved to target our audiences.”

Delany said audiences are a little more reluctant to click on sponsored content. “We use the same editorial principles that we always use when planning content for a commercial partner. When we create content for a brand it also needs to be able to stand on its own even if it wasn’t sponsored. It is harder because we have to adhere to the commercial brief, but we give it a good shot.”

Although news.com.au is a leader in the online space, Delany said they still see value marketing their brand in other mediums. “Last year a campaign we did went across traditional mediums including radio, television and outdoor. But digital did give us a great return. It enabled us to really target and track what the spend was on. Our agency is Bohemia and when we were talking with them we were able to examine what we spent on each part of the campaign and then get the ROI accountability.”

Being able to track the audience is also critical for decisions about content news.com.au should be generating. “We know what our users are clicking on at any given second.”

But does that content that news.com.au generates in response to audience demand give credence to a perception that online news sites are dumbing down journalism? “The biggest stories at news.com.au have been around the election and the result. Serious content still has a big audience on our site.” Delany rejected the notion that there was too much focus on The Bachelorette or another favourite, the Kardashians. “The Bachelorette does rate well though. Prince’s death was another big moment for us. Jon English passing away was a big moment for us. The demise of Masters was a big story for our finance team. Consumers are still fascinated by those brands and how they are relevant to the audience.”

The digital publisher continues to innovate as it follows the audience where it goes. “That means doing a little more on Snapchat and a little more in Apple News. They are modest numbers on both those platforms, but we are exposing the brand to a new audience.

“Mobile is still where the audience is at. The amount of people on our site on mobile has started to plateau. But that doesn’t mean there are fewer people coming. Consumers have now migrated to mobile devices so that growth is slowing down.”

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