Mumbrella Question Time panel: Paid online content will succeed if the system is smooth

Despite a string of opinion polls suggesting the public doesn’t want to pay for online news content, the consensus from panellists at this morning’s Mumbrella Question Time was that the business model will work.  

Their comments follow last week’s attack by ABC boss Mark Scott on News Ltd boss Rupert Murdoch’s plans to charge, and Monday’s rebuttal from News Digital Media CEO Richard Freudenstein.

But at this morning’s Mumbrella Question Time, the panellists argued that the move could succeed.

Nigel Marsh, CEO of Y&R Brands, said: ‘Someone’s got to have the courage to move first and do it. It’s entirely reasonable and viable.” He said the process needs to be a “painless interaction”, likening it to that E-Tolls where individual charges go un-noticed once the user is registered.

And Matt Eastwood, executive creative director of ad agency DDB, said many consumers are already paying for content. Citing the example of having watched a news bulletin on his mobile phone for 50c the night before, he said: “I’m paying for news to come to me in many different ways and it’s just a matter of re-orchestrating where the money comes from and where it goes to.”

Mark Holden, managing partner of media agency PHD, said there would be less resistance towards paying for online content if the payment model was streamlined. “When you go into a newsagent to buy a magazine or newspaper you’re not asked to sign up to a year’s subscription at $89, you can make a payment quickly. If we can get micro-payments as a way of accessing content online and you don’t have to sit and fill something in – you can literally just click – the barrier will come down,” he predicted.

The fourth panellist, Joe Talcott, was speaking in his role as chairman of the Australian Association of National Advertisers. He is also group marketing director of News Ltd. He told the audience: “I’ve got a feeling I’m going to be working on marketing it pretty soon.”

Real world demand rather than opinion polls will decide the success of the business model, he argued. He said:

“There’s not going to be a vote on it, there’s not going to be a government saying you’re going to pay for online content, it will be put forth in the commercial marketplace and people are going to be able to decide to click ‘Yes, I want it’ or click ‘No, I don’t want it’. That is probably the harshest place to test something but its the most real place to test something. So if you can demonstrate value and the audience wants it, they’ll pay for it, just like any other products, and if they don’t want it then we have to go back to the drawing table.”

He suggested that opposition from media competitors “confused” him. He said: “What struck me is that if you’re in business and you see a competitor doing something really stupid, typically you don’t put up your hand and say ‘don’t do that’ you would typically say ‘yeah, go for it mate’.”


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