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Is there a future for publisher events? Yes, as News UK launches new events business

News UK, one of the UK’s biggest news publishers and a wholly-owned subsidiary of Murdoch’s News Corp conglomerate, is launching News Live, a new standalone events business that will develop new live experiences as well as managing the media group’s existing events. 

The new division will be headed by David McLean, General Manager of News UK’s content studio, Bridge Studio, and reflects ‘increased demand post-pandemic from brands for experiential content as well as growing advertiser interest in multi-platform campaigns’.

The timing is unusual to say the least, coming during a prolonged period of disruption for publisher events, both B2C and B2B. Back in January, Press Gazette found that the Covid pandemic had cost UK publishers at least £2Bn in lost events revenue with many publishers either scaling back or reticent to commit to events moving forwards. Future plc, as just one high profile example, has seen events revenues down 75% since the start of the pandemic and estimates that it won’t be until 2023 when event revenues recover fully.

Speaking to WNIP, David McLean says that although there remains a risk, publishers must plan for a “world where the virus is being managed and look ahead to the future”.

Sections of our audience are showing great enthusiasm for live content, while some remain cautious. With a hybrid model, we can easily adapt to everyone’s preferences.

David McLean, General Manager of News UK’s content studio, Bridge Studio

Part of News UK’s confidence rests in the testing of their events with trade marketing audiences first, “We were lucky because we were doing some trade marketing events, which meant we had the opportunity to test without going to our real customers. We quickly found out what worked and what didn’t work.”

“At the start of the pandemic we pivoted many of our B2B and B2C events to virtual formats, trying several platforms and providers to refine the experiences we could offer. We now have an established and accomplished virtual offer that we are mixing with in-person experiences at venues.”

McLean adds that the overall event experience is more important than whether it is held in-person or online, “Whether you are in the room or watching remotely, the experience has to be great. And we’re not going back if the world goes back to normal tomorrow. We’ll still do hybrid events, as it allows us to access so many more audiences which is what clients want.”

We are confident in our ability to pivot our business as we did at the start of the pandemic. We are examining our entire business to see where we can bring content to life experientially.

David McLean, General Manager of News UK’s content studio, Bridge Studio

As for advice to other publishers looking to either expand into events or resurrect a badly hit revenue stream, McLean says that the events industry, as with many industries, needs to set recovery plans for the future, “The pandemic has taught us many lessons that we should not forget. For example, there will be some events that we will continue to offer hybrid solutions for long after the effects of the pandemic have dissipated, as there is a new demand there.

We neutralised a lot of the revenue effects of the pandemic because we could offer something new to clients, and this is what other publishers need to be focusing on.

David McLean, General Manager of News UK’s content studio, Bridge Studio