In a wide-ranging interview with WNIP, Immediate Media’s Platforms CEO, Sean Cornwell, sees the publisher’s focus on eCommerce and subscriptions as key moving forwards. The publisher is also looking to evolve from being a “text-centric” publisher to becoming “audio and video rich”.
It’s been a busy few weeks for Immediate Media, the UK special interest publisher owned by Munich-based media conglomerate, Burda Media. Not only has it acquired Nutracheck, the specialist calorie and nutrient tracking app with 350,000 subscribers, but it’s also launched the Olive Shop as an eCommerce complement to its gourmet home cooking brand, Olive.
Sean Cornwell, Immediate Media’s Platforms CEO, says that eCommerce and subscriptions are now a key focus for the publisher moving forward. Speaking to WNIP, Cornwell said, “The ad market is softening, and although we still expect our ad business to grow in 2023, eCommerce and our digital subs business is going to grow much faster next year.”
“What’s encouraging for us is that post-pandemic we’re seeing 20% plus YoY growth whereas many companies who did well during the pandemic saw a big drop-off afterward. Our Food Group eCommerce business alone has gone up 2.5x over the past twelve months YoY so there is a lot of momentum going forward.”
We are earlier in our journey on eCommerce than some, but we see it as a big part of our revenue mix moving forwards.Sean Cornwell, Platforms CEO, Immediate Media
“We’re continually launching and testing products. For Radio Times’s website, RT.com, we’ve gone into ticketing successfully over the last six months, and as you know we’ve just launched the Olive gourmet shop. We’ve also got some white-label propositions and eCommerce partnerships in the pipeline for 2023.”
Subscriptions, audio, and video
Immediate’s foray into eCommerce comes alongside a renewed focus on its subscriptions business, “Subscriptions is a big focus for us. It’s always been in our DNA and we have one million subscribers in the UK. We are very focused on building on that.”
“We have launched three new digital subscription propositions over the last 12 months…our Good Food App has gone from a free service to a premium service, we’ve launched a freemium model on Gardeners’ World, and History Extra is now a fully paid proposition.”
We’re big believers in subscriptions and we want to build on this. Nutracheck has 350,000 subscribers, and combined it now makes us one of the biggest digital subscriber businesses in the UK.Sean Cornwell, Platforms CEO, Immediate Media
The publisher is also looking to evolve from being primarily a “text-centric” business to becoming, in Cornwell’s words, “audio and video rich”.
“We’ve had great success, especially in our podcast business. We were one of the first publishers to go into audio in a big way, fifteen years ago, and our audiences have grown massively – our History podcast has had over 150M downloads alone. Podcasts have become a seven-figure business for us now in terms of revenue.”
It’s hugely important to give users the content they love but in the shape and format they want, how they want it, when they want it.Sean Cornwell, Platforms CEO, Immediate Media
Immediate Media is no stranger to acquisitions, having itself been acquired by Hubert Burda Media five years ago. Since then, the publisher has gone on its own shopping spree, snapping up BBC Good Food in 2018, and in a cruel twist of fate, River Street and Upper Street events in 2019 just prior to the pandemic
Cornwell says that Immediate’s acquisition strategy is a team effort, “We are always very active in the market looking at businesses. We have a small internal team led by Katy Gotch, our strategy director who spends a lot of her time focusing on potential acquisitions that can help and support our strategy. But it’s a team effort. You have to meet a lot of companies!”
The company’s latest acquisition is Nutracheck which Cornwell says will operate as a standalone business, “Nutracheck will continue to run independently out of Nottingham where they are based. But there is a lot we are doing to support them and unlock further growth. It’s not just a one way street either, we hope to learn from them too.”
Cornwell then stresses the need for any acquisition to have a strong cultural fit, “We spent a lot of time with Nutracheck and what was very clear is that they are incredibly obsessed with their customers in a way that really resonated with us. It’s a purpose-driven business that aligns closely with Immediate.”
“Immediate is on a journey from a pure publisher to a true platform business, with content and services at its heart. We are built very much around people’s interests, people’s passions, helping them to live their best life, and Nutracheck fits that very much in terms of our mission and purpose.”
Advice to other publishers
Asked what advice he would give other publishers looking at acquisitions, Cornwell says that a good balance of business strategy and cultural fit is essential, “The most important thing to ask is what is the strategic rationale in acquiring them and also if there a good cultural fit. Once they’ve been established, you then have to ask what support and leverage you can provide for them to flourish and grow further than they would have otherwise done as a standalone business.”
“We have central areas of excellence at Immediate and the brands can access these to build and grow. There is a bit of push and a bit of pull, a healthy tension – you need that brand and category expertise but you also need that higher-level strategic view…it’s very much our center teams working with our MDs of each brand.”
When acquiring a business, understand what the USP is of that business and don’t mess with it. Mess with it at your peril.Sean Cornwell, Platforms CEO, Immediate Media
Finally, we asked about Immediate’s prospects for 2023 amidst a clearly softening ad market. Whilst admitting that we are entering a macro recession and cyclical downturn, Cornwell remains upbeat about the prospects for premium publishers, saying, “We think there will be a flight to quality brands and publishers who have audiences with high engagement, reach and trust. Our brands tend to be category leaders and we have confidence in our business.”
At the end of the day, you must understand what your subscribers really value and what it is that drives their core user needs.