European Interactive Newspapers Study Results Ready Next Week

By: Steve Outing

The Interactive Publishing conference in Zurich, Switzerland, next week should be quite interesting. The results of the First Annual Study on Information Services Offered by European Newspapers will be presented, offering the first comprehensive look at newspaper industry new media/online activity in Europe.

Combined with the Kelsey Group's survey of interactive newspapers in the North American market over the last 6 years, the European study will result in a comparative analysis of interactive publishing developments on both sides of the Atlantic. The study's authors expect 200 newspapers to take part in the survey; early findings show much activity in Italy, France, the UK and Scandinavia.

The survey is being conducted by the University of Zurich's Department of Communication in conjunction with the European Newspaper Publishers' Association (ENPA). The findings will be presented by Prof. Heinz Bonfadelli at the Zurich conference on Wednesday, November 15.

I will be speaking at Interactive Publishing on the same day, presenting my own numbers for growth in the worldwide newspaper online services segment and discussing revenue strategies for newspaper new media ventures. I hope to see some of you in Zurich! You can find out more about Interactive Publishing at the conference Web site. The conference runs November 15-17.

If you represent a European newspaper and have not taken part in the survey yet, contact Bonfadilli at +41 1 257 66 64.

Media giants combine "firepower" for Web service

The Washington Post is joining forces with ABC News and Newsweek magazine to develop a World Wide Web site covering the 1996 elections. The service will be called ElectionLine. The Wall Street Journal quoted an ABC executive as saying of the service, "Combining our editorial firepower with that of the Washington Post and Newsweek puts us head and shoulders above everyone else."

This venture is part of a larger trend for media companies to join forces online. The reasoning for such alliances is sound: It's often better to ally with your competitors than fight them, especially on the Web where an online newspaper service may be nearly identical to a service created by a broadcast entity. Without the ElectionLine alliance, you can be sure that we would have seen 3 separate political Web sites from the 3 companies, all offering pretty much the same content but each with a slightly different approach. An alliance allows the combined Web service to leverage the strengths of each media partner. It will be interesting to watch what the companies come up with.

That's the positive note. Is there a down side to this and similar alliances between giant media companies online? Consider that the long-term trend in the media business has been for media properties to be congregating in the hands of a few powerful companies -- newspaper publishers owning broadcast outlets, independent newspaper companies being gobbled up by giant chains like Gannett and Knight-Ridder, and so on. Many critics contend that this trend has had serious negative consequences, with independent voices being silenced and a homogenization of media content.

The online news business is shaping up in similar ways. The biggest online news providers in cyberspace probably will turn out to be joint projects of print and broadcast companies. Already, we are seeing many newspaper online services partnered with local TV and radio outlets., the new Web service introduced last week by the Boston Globe, includes as partners several television and radio stations.

Most of the early media alliances in cyberspace seem relatively benign. A TV station might provide content to a newspaper's Web service -- say, live traffic reports, radar weather images, or video clips to accompany news stories -- in exchange for a piece of the revenue pie. But media powerhouses on the Internet are beginning to emerge, and the long term trend may include more join ownership of online news operations.

Is this bad news? Probably not, because the Internet is a wholly different news environment than print or broadcast. Because the barriers to entry are so low for publishing on the Internet, small companies can afford to compete with the media giants. I fully expect that some unknown players will make it big in the online news publishing business, and will give the big media companies a run for the money. While tomorrow's online news services may include some giants, don't expect them to dominate the Internet.

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