Arianna Huffington: ‘Australia is fertile ground for our business model’

Arianna HuffingtonThe Australian edition of the Huffington Post has been pushed back again with founder Arianna Huffington telling Mumbrella it will “definitely” launch in the second quarter of 2015, although a deal with a local partner has still not been finalised.

Last month HuffPo’s general manager overseeing international growth Koda Wang said the publication, one of the most popular English language news sites in the world, would launch Down Under in the first quarter of 2015.

But speaking to Mumbrella yesterday Huffington said it would be here “by your autumn”, and will be led by Australian editors and content creators, adding she saw the local market as “very fertile ground” for the commercial model of the publication.

Asked why the Australian launch, which was first mooted in 2011, has taken so long, she said: “I think what happened is for some reason, because we can only do so many launches at once, other launches were finalised earlier and other launches took precedence. It wasn’t planned to go that way but it did because of all the other launches that got to the top of our calendar.”

When asked if she felt the publication had waited too long to set up in Australia, with international competitors including BuzzFeed and the Daily Mail already establishing local offices, Huffington added: “We don’t see the world in terms of competition because we feel that there are always going to be more and more media players in the space and the more good digital players there are the more it benefits everybody.

“They innovate, we innovate, and it becomes a richer playing ground. I don’t see the world in these terms. I think we’re basically focussing on what we’re doing and on constantly evolving what we’re doing, and never seeing HuffPost as done. It’s always a work in progress.”

The site is one of the most-visited internationally, claiming 95 million unique visitors across devices each month, but Huffington said when it launches in Australia it will have a local focus, and will be “led by someone from Australia”.

“All our international editions with the exceptions of the UK and Canada are joint ventures and are entirely rooted to the country, so all the editors would be from Australia, they would all be rooted here and that’s very very important,” she added. “That’s why we would prefer to do it with a partner who is steeped in Australian culture, that’s really important.

“The content is all local but they have complete access to all our international content, so when we have the World Cup in Brazil they have access to the content from Brazilian reporters, or the selection of the Pope in Italy they have all that content from Italian reporters. It’s rooted here but they have also the global newsroom for the international coverage.”

At an event last month parent company AOL’s digital prophet David Shing pointed to “sight, sound and motion” as the future for the HuffPo, sentiments echoed by Huffington, who also said becoming “mobile first” had been a big priority for the nine-year-old venture, pointing to the promotion of its head of mobile to chief technology officer as a sign of its intent.

“I think Australia’s a great market for us in terms of the prevalence of smartphones, in terms of how mobile is more and more important and social is increasingly important,” she added. “It’s not just our journalism and our platform for bloggers but also all our advertising products I think would find a very fertile ground here, whether that’s native advertising or sponsored sections.”

Signalling there was also set to be a redesign for the site, Huffington said the lifestyle section was also an area of growth.

Native advertising has played a large role in the success of the brand, with the HuffPo yesterday taking the unusual step of creating a native ad on its own homepage about myths around native advertising.

But asked if it could be a saviour for online publishers as display advertising dollars become increasingly hard to come by, Huffington was circumspect: “I don’t think there is one thing I think there’s a combination. Native advertising has been very important to us, the Huffington Post was the first to launch native advertising early on in our existence.

“But we’ve had great success with our sponsored sections around causes, whether it’s Johnson & Johnson and global maternal health, or Goldman Sachs and their small businesses initiatives or Chipotle and the food for thought section we have together, partly because the Huffington Post editorially prioritises both covering all that is dysfunctional and not working in politics, business and media but we also think it’s our job to put the spotlight on all the good things happening in the same relentless way.

“So we have a dedicated section called Good News which is incredibly popular, we have a section called Impact which covers stories about compassion and ingenuity both by individuals and companies. Because that is such a central part of our company DNA we find we get a lot of companies that want to sponsor sections around our causes.”

One factor of the editorial success of the site has been the blogging platform, giving a voice to some well-known and less well-known people to voice opinions. Huffington said it would also be a prominent feature in Australia, but admitted it had not gotten as far as looking for talent to sign up.

“We’re not thinking about that yet – we’ll have to finalise our partnership first,” she said. “But we love our blogging platform, which is different to our commenting platform. We like our blogging platform to be a mixture of well-known personalities and complete unknowns with somtehing interesting to say. They have to clear a bar of quality but beyond that I think what distinguishes HuffPost is that mixture, having well-known people, students, young people with interesting views and stories.”

Alex Hayes


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