I recently heard about a TV news website that’s only accessible to subscribers to the TV channel. They are resisting moving to an open access model because they believe people stick with the TV channel because of that news: opening up the site, they argue, would give people less of a reason to stay with the service.
Do they have research to back this up? It’s not clear. But equally, it’s worth asking where the evidence is in the opposite direction. I can think of two examples: NBC’s recent admission that it was wrong to think online watching would cannibalise TV viewing; and this quote from a recent Pew survey into news consumption: “Today it is not a choice between traditional sources and the internet for the core elements of today’s news audiences.”
Aside from the cannibalisation debate, though, there’s a wider misunderstanding here: even if you somehow have a stranglehold on all your news and no one else reports it, online, ever (raising the question: is it news?), the news website is still part of your marketing – if people can’t access the site, they won’t know about the news offering, and they won’t subscribe. A deputy editor on a regional newspaper recently told me how spikes in online readership were closely mirrored by spikes in print sales. Presumably the same applies in TV news, which means closed access sites are denying their TV arms potential viewing spikes.
Working in the other direction, neither can you stop your existing subscribers knowing that ‘your’ news is out there on the net as well. Forcing them to login to read will only make them less likely to visit your site anyway, meaning fewer eyeballs, and less advertising revenue. And with audiences migrating online anyway, this isn’t exactly a future-facing strategy.
What experiences or knowledge do you have in this area?