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September 26, 2022updated 26 Jan 2023 1:55pm

‘Cheer the f**k up’: Ex-DC Thomson CEO Ellis Watson on ‘phenomenally exciting time’ for media

By Bron Maher and Charlotte Tobitt

Former media executive Ellis Watson has issued a rallying cry to the industry: “Cheer the f**k up.” In particular, have a laugh and be braver.

Watson told Press Gazette’s Future of Media Technology Conference that making money from news media is not the “hugely difficult fight for the golden fleece that some people are imagining it to be”.

In his keynote speech, Watson said: “We can probably accept that the digital revolution has finished threatening media models and now should just excite them. And people shouldn’t wait and listen to luminaries talking about what is the future of news media or what is the future of paid media, because the future of it, without wishing to sound like some sort of contrived motivator, is genuinely in the room.

“There is something about running or being part of media ownership, providing your shareholders aren’t idiots and they liberate you and choose to really back you to be renegades and dangerous and take decent risks, that should make this a really exciting and emerging time for media… come on everybody, things are great, cheer the fuck up.

“It’s a really really exciting, dynamic time. And I think that providing that you don’t get threatened by the dominance of the platforms that are just pervading opinions of shit, and you create or curate at the very least decent quality content and package it and market it in the way people want, it is a genuinely phenomenally exciting time.”

Watson encouraged shareholders, boards and executives to ensure their teams find what they do “ludicrously fun”.

He added: “There is something incredibly stagnant about the vexation of the challenges of the industry right now which is going to self-fulfil if you take yourselves and it too seriously… The UK news industry is getting a bit boring and up itself.”

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He urged people to “laugh at work every day so much that some wee actually comes out of you”.

This is especially important, he said, because “work is becoming really really boring and sterile and stale.

“We’re encouraging people to stop remote working and come back to work and be in offices and remember what it’s like to be part of a tribe – and by God in media companies is that important.”

Watson urged media businesses to “stop following what everyone else is doing and do it yourself”.

Earlier in the day, News UK chief operating officer David Dinsmore – when asked about the potential use of blockchain and Web3 technologies to create new revenue streams – said: “I remember a former colleague very wisely saying you can spend an awful lot of money trying to get in front of the wave and it’s often a lot better just to wait for the wave to break over you – but you’ve got to be aware the wave’s coming.”

Referring to this, Watson said: “In UK media right now there is this really weird schizophrenic state where everyone’s looking at what everyone else is doing… go and make a few waves yourself and be a little bit braver in your own business model.”

It is also important to be braver “not just with your business models but with yourselves,” he added.

“Again, slightly post pandemic but certainly post corporate conformity in a more enlightened world, thank God the bad consequences of bullying, misogynistic, sexist, dangerous inappropriate revolting leadership is absolutely rooted out,” he said. “We need to be careful we don’t also root out adventure, and bravery, and directness and entrepreneurialism as well.”

Watson’s career has included stints as marketing director of The Sun, chief executive of Celador, the TV production company behind Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?, managing director of Mirror Group Newspapers, chief executive of Simon Cowell’s Syco, and chief executive and chairman of DC Thomson.

Picture: ASV Photography Ltd

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