Regional publishers rely for their survival on the local communities which their journalism served. That was the established ecosystem for many decades, until the advent of the internet robbed the publishers of the classified ad section which made up much of their revenue, and falling print circulations as audiences get their local news from digital sources.
As a result, regional publishers have been forced to reappreaise their relationship with the communities who make up their audience and revenue source. For some, that means providing a hub for local businesses that (ominously) cuts journalists out of the loop entirely. For others, it means cutting the size and number of the titles it offers and consolidating them in a central location.
But for a couple of regional players on both sides of the Atlantic, it’s been seen as an opportunity for the diversification of an outdated business model in a way that thoroughly places the publisher at the centre of the community again.
Archant and service provision
In the UK (believe it or not) there are many places which still don’t have access to high speed broadband. It’s enough of a problem that a parliamentary committee argued that:
“Overall, poor broadband can produce a feeling of a two-tier society with the ‘have and have nots’.
“This feeling is most apparent in rural communities which by their geographical nature are often the hardest for the infrastructure to reach.”
And found that “recent data demonstrate that 16 UK parliamentary constituencies still have zero coverage of ‘superfast’ broadband.”
Private enterprise is needed to close that gap, and in the UK regional publisher Archant, which owns newspapers, their attendant websites and a television station among other holdings, believes it’s well placed to be the group to provide it. In partnership with the Diocese of Norwich, WiSpire, a local provider of high-speed broadband, will gain increased support to accelerate the roll-out of rural broadband across Norfolk as a result of Archant’s ambition.
Its chief executive Jeff Henry told TheMediaBriefing why doing so was a good decision both for the company and the community it serves:
“For us, it’s an opportunity for us to diversify with paid revenues from consumers in the area. Providing broadband to rural communities where we’re well-established, a major player in those communities. It was just a natural fit for us.
“We see this as another part of Archant’s wide product portfolio. There’s so many ways we work within the community already which is often overlooked.”
Content and infrastructure providers
We’ve seen content providers become infrastructure providers before. Most notably, Google Fibre, the superfast broadband service now available in three cities across the US, has been well-received and has plans to roll-out to further locations over the coming months.
In addition to providing broadband, Fibre also provides cable television. That would be a boon to any publisher or broadcaster looking to grow their digital audience, particularly in an area where access to their digital content is limiting that growth.
But Henry argues that the broader strategic goal of entering the infrastructure game is diversification of revenue, in addition to serving an audience that desperately needs internet access to stay relevant, rather than simply as a way to increase the ease of discovering Archant’s content:
“I don’t think that we see this as something which is about driving Archant content. That’s really a byproduct of it.
We believe that WiSpire as a service is something that, in providing broadband and good broadband speeds to communities that have been denied that, serves our communities in the same way as our newspapers, live events, television channel.
Mustard TV, our TV channel, will of course benefit from increased distribution, but that’s not the strategic goal, which is to be involved in other businesses that are deeply involved in the communities we serve.”
And Archant, which relies upon and fosters the trust of the local community, is well-placed to provide that service. Henry says:
“We have the best trading we’ve had in the first six months of the year of the last decade. I think that we as an organisation are much more confident about our existing product and our ability to become involved in new product.”
While the timescale for the roll-out isn’t set in stone yet, Archant’s investment in infrastructure could be an excellent test of other regional publishers’ ability to diversify their revenue streams as they redefine the manner in which they serve their community.