The naked truth 

13 July 2011 tbs.pm/1270

If you wanted excitement, intrigue and unpredictability in the world of media news then this past week simply had the lot, starting off with what seemed like a minor escalation of the News Of The World phone hacking scandal and culminating in News Corp being shown the door in respect to a BSkyB takeover for the foreseeable future.

(Not forgetting of course the events that caused Murdoch to pull the plug on one of Britain’s oldest and most profitable newspapers in the process.)

Put simply, News International’s tentacles into the worlds of politics, policing and private affairs suddenly became a major liability to such an extent that its credibility was promptly put through a public relations shredder due to the scale of it all.

The News of the World closed because it was too close to the epicentre of the storm; The Sun survives because the majority of its readers probably don’t care, and The Times/Sunday Times currently survives purely because it isn’t a tabloid but its credibility must have been severely dented by recent events, perhaps to the point of no return.

And given that The Times happens to be the least profitable of the bunch, it must surely be time for News International to consider a sell off if nothing else, which also raises a related issue as to whether News International can justify a UK presence whilst owning only one newspaper, even if The Sun on Sunday is waiting in the wings for a future launch.

The Times may have been retained not only to retain some form of link with more affluent decision-makers (and related advertising sales) but possibly also as some form of tie-in to promoting BSkyB at a future date. Take BSkyB out of the equation and The Times’ strategic worth may suddenly become somewhat weaker as a consequence.

Indeed you can probably now hear the sound of furious number crunching at News Corp HQ as the Murdoch clan frantically decide what to do next with their now-troublesome English patient(s). Stay in for the longer term and modest profits or pull out, lick your wounds and move on?

Perhaps one of the big advantages that were to be gained if the BSkyB bid had succeeded was the fact that BSkyB represents a huge success story in terms of persuading people to part with their money for “added value services”; the holy grail of publishing in terms of monetising various forms of new media.

Put simply, the people who currently subscribe to one of Sky’s packages could perhaps be more easily persuaded to part with even more money for a subscription to a News International-owned publication whether it’s of the traditional printed variety, a website or iPad news feed subscription.

This is somewhat different to the currently perceived notion that the internet has somehow devalued content to the extent that publishers are finding it increasingly difficult to persuade people to part with their hard-earned money for content when provided online (as opposed to being obtained for ‘free’ via copying and piracy).

Murdoch desperately wanted to prove a point in so much that a new media subscription model in particular stood a chance of working, and BSkyB being one of the most successful pay-TV operators in the world (never mind the UK) was a golden opportunity to not only prove that point but to set an example to others so that they would fall in line.

(And given the desperation exhibited by many traditional commercial media outlets, they would have fallen in line pretty quickly when shown the way whether they really wanted to or not.)

The fact that no general internet news provider without a link to some form of traditional media (television, radio, newsprint) happens to be truly popular with UK internet users was an added bonus; websites like Digital Spy may have no direct traditional media links but still remain relatively niche compared to the gossip powerhouse that is Mail Online.

News Corp was perhaps banking on the worth of paid journalism and the strengths of traditional news gathering to see off any future challenges from the ‘free’ internet, not withstanding future attempts to restrict flows of information whether it’s ‘borrowed’ news quotes or pirated commercial content (movies, TV programmes. etc.).

Plus Sky had proven in the past that people could be persuaded to do something that they weren’t used to doing in the past, namely paying extra money for ‘better’ television

Of course the BBC was no small obstacle to this capitalist dream of media paywall domination, especially in relation to the amount of news and information provided for ‘free’ by its wildly-successful website.

Significant pressure was exerted on Gordon Brown in particular to try to curtail this but to no avail, though the revenge subsequently exacted upon the (then) Prime Minister was an illustration of just how disruptive News International happened to be if you upset their plans in any shape or form.

If James Murdoch can stay out of jail then whether or not he wishes to stay on at BSkyB will depend on

All things considered, the one event of the last few days which I found to be the most surprising was the speed in which News Corp’s bid for BSkyB evaporated, and not more so when the Conservative Party joined Labour and the Liberal Democrats in a motion openly condemning the News Corp-BSkyB bid.

Even given the unprecedented scale of recent events, I was fully expecting the bid to continue in a low key fashion after a cooling off period given the importance attached to it, but because News International’s (and by definition, News Corp’s) activities had been so wide-ranging, the resulting collateral damage simply became too much to entertain.

Not least because MP’s and ministers from all parties had become fed up of being collectively blackmailed by News International for so long to the extent that NI representatives were interfering with peoples’ private lives in order to exert their all-persuasive influence.

Indeed if News International had been more parsimonious in relation to its lobbying activities, the News Corp-BSkyB bid would have stood a significantly higher chance of actually succeeding

in a sense the outcome was down to the very fact that the current Conservative government is actually a coalition as opposed to an outright majority.

What was also evident at the end was a massive sense of relief amongst MP’s in the chamber; a frankly astonishing moment to behold

Of course , but given the mood of the House I don’t expect News Corp to make a bid for BSkyB for at least the lifetime of this Parliament