If there was a consistent theme to the sessions at DMS ’17, it was that publishers are betting the farm on diversification of revenue streams. And most are being loud about the progress they’ve made towards that goal.

ESI Media has seen more change than most publishers over the past few years. It closed (or ‘sunsetted’, to use the most common euphemism) the print edition of the Independent last year, and has seen some early signs of success as a digital-only entity. But that upheaval was also a catalyst for other changes, not least a renewed focus on its events. At Digital Media Strategies ’17, ESI Media’s Dan Locke and chief revenue officer Scott Deutrom discussed the new face of ESI. Dan Locke explained:

“Our portfolio changed rapidly when we sold the i newspaper and decided to sunset the print element of the Independent. With the London Evening Standard, supported by strong sub-brands, and the Indepedent, standing on its own two feet, that has sub-brands with Indy 100 and events as well.

“You don’t sunset a print side of a business, keep the same structure and hope for the same outcomes. The digital excellence, talent, the understanding of the capabilities we have in-house… We’re seeing good results from that. It feels completely different.”

Part of that re-examination of ESI’s portfolio and its relationship with its audiences across those titles was an acknowledgment that its events arm had significant room to grow. Ahead of the conference, the managing director of ESI Commercial Jon O’Donnell told TMB that it now wants to trade off that relationship with audiences to accelerate the consumer events side of the business:

“One of the reasons why events as part of the media mix have become so important is… when you look at the decline of the high street and the rise of e-tailing, it’s left a bit of a hole where customers no longer come face to face with a brand to the degree that they used to.

“Whether that’s sampling or other experiential opportunities that aren’t available online, the idea of the events team is that we can bring audiences to brands through creating these live content experiences in verticals such as business, theatre, fashion, film, food and all of those kind of things.”

Despite that increased focus on events and a streamlining of the print side of the business, Locke was adamant that since the success of the new products is predicated on the editorial expertise within those existing titles, ESI Media will “always” be a publisher:

“We distribute 900,000 copies of the Evening Standard every day. We’re always going to be a publisher.

“I would say the events company element, we want to grow that. It works as a team within our business, so why wouldn’t we? I don’t think it’s ever going to take over. We invest heavily in our journalists and journalist teams. That’s why people come to our brands. Events is another way of building on those content pillars that we do.”

But Deutrom was keen to note that, regardless of the format and medium of ESI’s content, the brands are extremely focused on delivering significant ROI for their advertising partners. Eschewing the usual vague disdain for programmatic and its effects on digital advertising he explained that ESI has a relentless focus on a few metrics that define that ROI for partners:

“Viewability is the constant metric. It keeps us honest, keeps our pages running faster. Viewability and brand safety tend to surface quite frequently for us.

“We are always looking at the integrity of our data; clean, up to date and cleansed. Those things are the outbound things. We’re always optimising our campaigns.”

Deutrom also pointed out that ESI is ramping up its video capability, noting that he has three or four times more demand for video than they have video inventory to sell the ads against, in line with the rest of the industry. He explained that since ITV and Channel 4 command such high prices for video ads, every player in the UK environment benefits from the halo effect of that high pricing.

At a conference where diversification was very much the word du jour, it was evident that ESI, catalysed by the changes in its print portfolio, is as far down the road to true diversification of revenue stream as most UK publishers.