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News Corp Australia has tapped 2GB radio star Ben Fordham’s executive producer, James Willis, to lead a flagship video project called Telegraph TV at its largest metro masthead, The Daily Telegraph.
Video content has been identified as the next big driver of subscribers by News Corp, and the project is aimed at beefing up The Daily Telegraph’s video content output, with longer videos, piece-to-cameras and direct-to-email video news updates.
The Daily Telegraph editor Ben English (L) and new video recruit James Willis.Credit: SMH/The Age
The video platform plans were confirmed by four people with knowledge of Telegraph TV, who spoke to this masthead anonymously because the project is confidential and still in development.
Willis, who has served as EP for Fordham for two years, moves to News Corp in December. The finer details of the project are still being finalised before an early 2024 launch. Willis will produce and occasionally host videos published and shared across all News Corp channels.
Daily Telegraph editor Ben English declined to comment when contacted by this masthead.
“I’m super excited,” Willis said, also declining to comment on further details. “It’s going to be outstanding.”
Willis worked to re-establish the 2GB breakfast show under Fordham, helping it recover from an advertiser exodus in its final years with Alan Jones at the helm.
Fordham has proven a reliable replacement for Jones, with advertising revenues rebounding under his tenure despite less consistent ratings. The 2GB breakfast show finished marginally behind KIIS FM’s duo Kyle Sandilands and Jackie ‘O’ Henderson in the seventh radio survey released on Thursday.
Liam McGuire, a senior producer on the show, is expected to replace Willis, according to a Nine source not authorised to speak publicly. 2GB is owned by Nine Entertainment, the publisher of this masthead.
Multiple senior sources at News Corp not authorised to speak publicly confirmed that October was ‘video month’ across the mastheads, with video content being pitched internally as the centrepiece of News Corp’s growth and monetisation strategy.
While Telegraph TV is not directly related to News Corp’s video month, it is the first step in what is expected to be a wider push by the company into video, with News Corp journalists already receiving training from filmmaker Jason van Genderen to shoot content on mobile phones.
The Daily Telegraph has already begun branching out to extended video formats on its YouTube channel, producing a number of mini-documentary series, while its TikTok account has been boosted by content featuring veteran crime editor Mark Morri and reporter Josh Hanrahan documenting Sydney’s underworld. Videos featuring the duo regularly attract hundreds of thousands of views.
The video strategy is a bid to replicate the success of News Corp stablemate Sky News Australia, which has achieved considerable growth on its digital channels. The Daily Telegraph has 20,000 YouTube subscribers compared to Sky News’ 3.75 million.
Last week, News Corp’s global chief executive Robert Thomson updated the market on the Murdoch-owned company’s first-quarter performance. Its News Media segment – which includes the Australian mastheads, American tabloid The New York Post, British tabloid The Sun, and British broadsheets The Times and The Sunday Times – was the worst performer of the bunch.
Earnings for the segment slipped 22 per cent in the quarter, a performance somewhat masked by strong growth in the company’s book publishing segment and Dow Jones business, which houses The Wall Street Journal.
News titles in the Australian market were singled out, with total revenues down 7 per cent and advertising revenues down 5 per cent – a partial contributor to the fall in profits.
“We are more profitable, more digital and less dependent on the ebb and flow of advertising,” Thomson said regarding News Corp’s move away from advertising and print revenues.
He said the focus has shifted to recurring digital revenue streams, such as subscribers, but after several years of rapid growth, the Australian mastheads have now suffered four consecutive quarters of stagnation.
Digital subscribers across The Australian, The Herald Sun, The Daily Telegraph, The Advertiser and The Courier Mail more than doubled between September 2018 and September 2022 from 442,000 to 929,000. Since then, the numbers have plateaued, falling by 6000 in the most recent quarter.
Publicly available corporate filings do not disclose a breakdown of subscribers. However, The Australian Financial Review reported in August that subscribers to News Corp’s national masthead – The Australian – had grown by 15 per cent across the 12 months ending June 30, while subscribers to the other metro titles fell by 2 per cent.
Content on the paywalled metro masthead websites is often syndicated by the free-to-access news.com.au, which continues to grow its reach as Australia’s top digital news brand, according to ratings agency Ipsos.
Sydney-based Lachlan Murdoch is now officially chair of News Corp.Credit: Getty
Thursday marked a new era for News Corp, with Lachlan Murdoch officially appointed sole chair overnight in New York at the company’s annual general meeting. In his last outing as chairman, Rupert Murdoch praised his son’s belief in the purpose journalism serves society.
“Lachlan is a principled leader and a believer in the social purpose of journalism,” he said.
Thomson too paid tribute to the new chair’s passion for journalism last week, noting his “multidisciplinary expertise and philosophical integrity”.
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