'Oh, so that's who Richard Morris is..." Lord Hattersley on The Daily Politics

'An influential activist' - The Guardian

'Iain Dale, without the self loathing' - Matthew Fox in The New Statesman

You are a tinker...' - Tim Farron

Friday, 8 July 2011

Murdoch may understand a lot about business but I'm not sure he knows a lot about brands...

I think - and I'm sure many people will agree with me - that the decision to close the News of the World is all about the money. 

But not the money most commentators are talking about.

Firstly, it's not about the BSkyB deal. As Robert Peston pointed out this morning, the Jeremy Hunt decision is about plurality of the media - did Murdoch own too much? And Hunt had already declared that he was happy in principle that Murdoch did not. Sure, closing the NOTW cements that decision - but this was a hurdle they had already jumped over, and Hunt could not reverse that. Here's the quote from the DCMS this morning about the delay in announcing a final decision, and it contains a reference to the plurality issue once again.

"The consultation on undertakings in lieu offered by News Corporation in relation to their proposed merger with BSkyB closes at midday today. The secretary of state has always been clear that he will take as long as is needed to reach a decision. The secretary of state will consider carefully all the responses submitted and take advice from Ofcom and the Office of Fair Trading before reaching his decision. Given the volume of responses, we anticipate that this will take some time. He will consider all relevant factors including whether the announcement regarding the News of the World's closure has any impact on the question of media plurality".

The 'fit and proper person' adjudication is not Jeremy Hunt's - that's down to OFCOM, and closing down the NOTW will not change that dynamic as the same people who ran, edited and owned the NOTW when much of the allegedly corrupt activity was going on are still in place. 

So if it's not the Sky deal, what other money is Murdoch protecting? Is it the advertising spend? Again, not really. I suspect the decision of almost every independent advertiser to pull out of this weekend's paper made a difference to the timing of the decision - but not the decision per se. Partly because a lot of that money will have stayed in the News International stable anyway. But also because if the rumours are true, Murdoch already had a plan in mind for that ad spend 2 weeks ago - and it didn't involve the NOTW...

No, I suspect Murdoch and News International had planned to move the Sun to a 7 day operation already. Indeed there are already rumours it was discussed by management a few weeks ago. It makes perfect sense as he would save a lot on operational costs, sharing both stories and resources over one paper instead of two. And that's still true. So he cuts out the 'cancer' from News International, and saves money into the bargain. It must have looked like a slam dunk. And I think that's the money that's behind yesterday's decision to shut the NOTW.

Except, that while that logic would have worked 2 weeks ago, it doesn't work now.

Because two weeks ago the Sunday 'slot' of a News International tabloid wasn't tainted by the current scandal. Indeed outside of us political obsessives and media land, (to quote Allison Pearson in the Telegraph)

"the public wasn’t too bothered by the idea that the NoW was hacking into celebrity mobiles to update us on Sienna Miller’s on-off relationship with Jude Law. Maybe we should have minded a little more, now that the can of worms turns out to be a nest of vipers."

But now that slot is firmly fixed in the minds of the public as where the people who hack the phone messages of murdered children ply their trade. And everyone is rightly disgusted by anyone or any organisation or brand associated with such a practice.

So far - remarkably - The Sun has escaped association with the values now hung round the neck of the News of the World, and all who sailed in her. But stick an edition of The Sun into the NOTW slot and I think you'll find that people draw a direct link between The Sun brand and what it used to call it's 'sister paper'. And immediately that attribution won't just apply to the Sun on Sunday - it will apply to the current Monday to Saturday paper too.

And I'm guessing the Murdoch's would see that as a bad thing.

So while closing the NOTW may have made great tactical business sense yesterday afternoon - the logic for closing it that applied two weeks ago has long slipped into, well, the gutter.....


Since penning most of this article, I see Robert Peston has blogged the same. Doh! Well, great minds and all that...

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