Concerns News Corp is ‘massaging’ digital numbers as Supercoach users added to tally

News CorpSenior media buyers are questioning News Corp Australia’s claim today it has reached 200,000 digital subscribers, pointing to the inclusion of non-news properties including fantasy football league Supercoach in the tally.

News has previously not included Supercoach in its numbers, and claims last July it had passed 100,000 digital subscribers only included figures from major mastheads such as the Daily Telegraph, Herald Sun and The Australian. However, today’s announcement sees the inclusion of paid members of the AFL tipping competition and also the investment newsletter Eureka Report.

One major media agency CEO, who declined to be named, told Mumbrella: “200,000 is obviously a good headline, but without a breakdown of where the numbers are coming from it is quite meaningless.

“The question we really want to understand is how many people are paying for quality journalism, in something like The Australian, versus someone signing up to win some money by tipping footy.

“Obviously those are two very different consumers and both have very different ways of using the platform. We want to understand the difference between those two.”

News Corp Australia declined to release a breakdown of the numbers and at present only allows The Australian, which at the last audit had 57,000 digital subscribers, and The Herald Sun, which has 39,000 digital subscribers to be counted by the Audited Media Association of Australia (AMAA) metrics.

“You have to wonder why they won’t give a breakdown of the numbers,” said another media agency boss. “It makes you wonder if they’re not padding their numbers. I mean the fantasy football league… really?”

However, another senior media buyer, who also questioned the inclusion of the Supercoach, said he thought the 200,000 figure was most likely accurate. “The Supercoach thing is pretty funny but in the end 200,000 (digital subscribers), when you look at their print circulation, is about 14 per cent of daily print circulation and it sounds about right.

“The issue here is around News Corp being transparent. They’re more than happy to be transparent with The Australian’s numbers because it’s doing well.”

A spokesman for News Corp confirmed the decision to include the fantasy football league in its digital subscriptions had been widely discussed internally, but justified it on the basis that “it’s more because people have to subscribe to news services to access them and therefore they are part of our digital subscriptions.”

A company spokesman later added:

“All 200,000 are legitimate digital subscriptions to News Corp Australia products. We wanted to capture the full range of digital subs that we offer across the business.

“We’re proud of SuperCoach but it represents a very small proportion of the 200,000 – the vast majority of which is composed of paid digital subscriptions to our journalism.

“We previously made the decision to audit The Australian and Herald Sun digital subs. The market was different then to now. It doesn’t give us any competitive advantage to announce the breakdown of the numbers at this time.

“Having said that, if we stopped reporting The Australian and Herald Sun through the ABC, people may wrongly assume it was not going well – when in fact digital subscriptions have shown good growth, as the ABC data shows.”

News Corp’s media kits do give some indication to the audience behind Supercoach, with the website boasting a unique audience of paid and unpaid users of 146,000 in August of 2013, while the media kit of the Eureka Report shows that it goes out as a paid newsletter of some 13,000 subscribers.

Media analyst Steve Allen also raised the issue of potential double counting with the Eureka Report numbers. “News paid a lot of money for the Eureka Report in 2012.”*

“I think there is a bit of massaging going on here. While I think it is legitimate for The Australian and Eureka Report, being of the same audience, to be bundled I am curious as to whether there is any double counting and at what level.

“We don’t think 200,000 digital subscriptions is a ‘let’s challenge the world’ kind of number. It shows progress but we will be very interested to see what the audit bureau says in two weeks time when it reports.”

News Corp said it was only buddling access to Business Spectator, the sister publication of Eureka Report. “To be clear, a subscription to The Australian gives full access to both its content and that of Business Spectator. A subscription to Eureka Report does not give full access to The Australian or Business Spectator. The two subscriptions are separate, are not sold in a bundle and there is no double counting,” said a News Corp spokesman.

The News Corp announcement today also notes it is launching a new subscriber benefits program, +Rewards with digital subscribers being offered incentives such as a six month subscription to music streaming service Rdio, a free 12 month subscription to a digital edition of a NewsLifeMedia magazine or free movie tickets, in an effort to better drive people to subscribe.

News Corp Australia’s chief operating officer Peter Tonagh said, in a statement: “While we are absolutely delighted to have passed the 200,000 digital subscriptions mark, we take nothing for granted and continue to improve our product offering and add even more value for our members.

“The latest iteration of our digital suite will deliver what our customers want – more relevant and richer content, published more often throughout the day, on whichever device they prefer.

Last April Mumbrella revealed how News Corp was preparing to dramatically revise its paywall strategy. The publisher abandoned its existing ‘freemium’ paywall model which had struggled on the Herald Sun in favour of a metered model for major tabloid mastheads such as the Telegraph, Herald Sun and Courier Mail, allowing people access to a few free articles before asking them to pay.

Media buyers Mumbrella spoke to all urged News Corp to follow Fairfax Media and allow all their digital subscriptions to be audited by the AMAA, so the success or failure of the new strategy could now be understood by the market.

“They need to release audited numbers. News need to be as clear as possible, there needs to be clarity so we understand where subscriptions are coming from,” said one media buyer.

Nic Christensen 

*A previously version of this story quoted Steve Allen incorrectly stating that The Australian and the Eureka Report are bundled.


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