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March 22, 2024

‘Profitability is versatility’: CEO says video-led future bright for The Independent

Journalism is the "secret sauce" at the heart of a successful online business says Christian Broughton.

By Dominic Ponsford

The ramping up of video coverage is going to be a change as big for The Independent as the closure of its print edition seven years ago.

This was the claim made by the title’s chief executive Christian Broughton when he was interviewed at the latest networking breakfast for media leaders hosted by Press Gazette at The Gherkin in London last week.

Most digital publishers have reported revenue down last year, with display advertising most badly hit, according to a new survey from the Association of Online Publishers.

But according to Broughton The Independent has had a strong start to 2024 leading it to increase its revenue target for the year.

“The ambition to reinvent The Independent into a force for TV production is going to be as big as, if not bigger, a reinvention as from print to digital only.

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“It’s what people want. People love documentaries, the big streaming services love them and we have a great brand for entering that market.

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“Everything converges: whether your brand started life as a paper, TV channel or whatever. We’re all digital media companies now.

“And so we’ve got to run our businesses and serve our audiences in the best way as possible not being ruled by the strictures of where it began.”

Video and e-commerce revenues growing at 40%

The Independent has grown revenue every year since going digital-only, most recently posting revenue of £46m in 2022 and a £1.9m operating profit.

The key to its continued revenue growth in a tough online advertising market has been varied revenue streams including: e-commerce, video advertising, sponsored content, a premium content model driving paid subscriptions and a drive to increase signed-in users which command a premium for advertisers.

Broughton said: “I think that the profitability is about versatility, about how we can reinvent ourselves, about how we can go with what consumers want and where business rewards us.”

The title now employs 330 people, 60 of whom work in the US. E-commerce and video revenues are said to have been growing at a rate of 40% a year over the last four years. The Independent now has six million signed-in users.

The title publishes video both directly on its own site and via its Youtube channel, which has 800,000 subscribers.

Broughton said that developing their own on-site video player had been a game-changer.

“We now have three times the view-through rate on sponsored content because we deliver that through our own video experience, rather than a third-party solution. We’ve designed it with a really nice UX.”

Youtube gives publishers a share of advertising revenue (believed to be around 55%) and Broughton sees it as a complimentary to on-site video.

“I think some people worry that Youtube will compete with what you are doing on your own site. I don’t see it that way. If you are on Youtube, you are on Youtube, and if you are on The Independent, you are on The Independent.

“If a Youtube link is going to get to the top of the search results then you’d better be on Youtube rather than let it be someone else.”

In December The Independent’s foreign correspondent Bel Trew won the Marie Colvin prize at the British Journalism Awards partly in recognition of her documentary The Body in the Woods about Ukraine’s many missing war victims.

Broughton said: “I’ve been blown away by how much impact our foreign reporting gets.

Bel Trew has always brought back astonishing work. The empathy levels in her reporting are incredible.

“But when you put it in video. Wow, it just got immediate global attention. It was spine-tingling how much attention that got from around the world.”

Christian Broughton: Why future is bright for online journalism

Looking at the revenue picture for the year ahead, Broughton admitted that the risks publishers face are varied including: the loss of the news tab on Facebook, uncertainty around Google referral traffic, the end of cookies on Chrome and costly changes being insisted on by the Information Commissioners’ Office over the way publishers are allowed to collect reader data.

But he insisted that online journalism can still be at the heart of a growing and profitable business.

“The Independent is a wonderful and malleable and versatile brand. It can lean into whole new business areas.

“The amazing magnetism of journalism is the secret ingredient which gives us a whole load of metrics any other industry online would love to have, to have that number of return visits, to have that engagement and to have that trust.

“We earn trust day by day by putting lives on the line. We do real reporting, and that earns us a special place in our readers’ worlds. If you stand for something in journalism people will come and stand with you.

“And so we’ve got to run our businesses and serve our audiences in as best way as possible for the future… not being ruled by the strictures of where it began.”

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Select and enter your email address Weekly insight into the big strategic issues affecting the future of the news industry. Essential reading for media leaders every Thursday. Your morning brew of news about the world of news from Press Gazette and elsewhere in the media. Sent at around 10am UK time. Our weekly does of strategic insight about the future of news media aimed at US readers. A fortnightly update from the front-line of news and advertising. Aimed at marketers and those involved in the advertising industry.
  • Business owner/co-owner
  • CEO
  • COO
  • CFO
  • CTO
  • Chairperson
  • Non-Exec Director
  • Other C-Suite
  • Managing Director
  • President/Partner
  • Senior Executive/SVP or Corporate VP or equivalent
  • Director or equivalent
  • Group or Senior Manager
  • Head of Department/Function
  • Manager
  • Non-manager
  • Retired
  • Other
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.
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