AOL’s digital prophet: Australia is just a ‘mid-sized audience’ for Huffington Post



AOL’s digital prophet has admitted the company sees Australia as a “mid sized audience” for its Huffington Post brand and said he does not understand why there is not more innovation going on here.

Speaking at an Exponential event in Sydney last night David Shing admitted the much-mooted launch had not happened yet because “The truth is with 22m people here it’s a mid-sized audience for us,” but the Australian added “I do advocate for it”.

Last month HuffPo’s general manager Koda Wang told Mumbrella the site would be a market leader in three-to-five years here, and said it was in the process of finding a local publishing company to partner with., whilst Inception Digital Media has been appointed to head the sales function for AOL here.

However a spokesperson has told Mumbrella the sales will be headed by the launch partner for the site, adding: “ Arianna Huffington is flying to Australia next Saturday to visit Syndey and Melbourne and meet with our potential partners. We are big believers and extremely interested in the Australian market, and we are, in fact, planning to launch in Australia in 2015.”

Speculation around the site’s launch has been rife since mid-2011, although the publisher admitted last year it had delayed its plans as it focussed on high-growth markets of Japan and Brazil.

During last night’s discussion moderated Mumbrella’s content director Tim Burrowes the panel was asked whether Australia was too reliant on overseas players to drive innovation in online content space, following the recent arrivals of international operations of The Guardian, the Daily Mail and Buzzfeed.

Annabelle Rogers, the strategy director of M2M Sydney, pointed to the small scale of the market as a reason existing players have not been compelled to push innovation themselves, encouraging people to think about where they are launching content and think about “how they bring us that value, because that’s more important for a brand construct”.

Exponential’s strategy head Tyler Greer said it was a “cultural factor” as we are “in a much more conservative phase at the moment in Australia” adding: “We’re in a market which is dominated by a few monolithic brands, whereas in the US there are so many brands trying to innovate you have to compete. Here’ it’s a lock out, we are very loyal to a handful of brands and channels, and whether its the size of the population or whatever it is the US is much more dependent on startups and entrepreneurs.”

Shing said Australia was ripe for opportunity pointing to the “creativity at the ground level” which could be tapped and while it is conservative “it doesn’t have to be”.

“What’s interesting with this market is it’s small enough you can fail at some things, but it’s also small enough to amplify, and there’s no reason things can’t catch fire like a bush fire over here, and I don’t know what the problem is, whether it’s the money,” he added.

“You’ve got the flexibility, the youth and the charisma but there is something here that doesn’t make itself unique, it looks to things in the US and we look at it and say why shouldn’t we do a stand alone incubation here with something that’s already catching fire and our brand will come with?  There’s lots of potential for incubation here and there’s no excuse not to.”

When asked what was next for HuffPo after Facebook announced it would filter more thoroughly for ‘click bait’ headlines to stop people’s news feeds being filled with them,  Shing said “sight, sounds and motion” were the future for digital media, pointing to the HuffPo Live model, which sees a rolling live online news channel running for eight hours each day with dozens of news and celebrity interviews.

He added: “It’s really about taking all the contagious content we produce and adding a layer of video because it’s relevant and in addition to that when Facebook and Google change their algorithms it doesn’t change our business because we actually build editorial content, we’re not a click bait business. We understand about what makes contagious content.

“What used to happen in publishing is the moment you publish a story it was the end of the story, the new publishing style means that when you publish a story it’s the beginning of the story, so more of that in multiple medias is where we’re headed.”

Alex Hayes


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