Category Archives: Media/Journalism

TAM Ireland Plannervision 2017 – The Goldilocks Approach To Television


This is the video of a presentation I gave at TAM Ireland’s Plannervision conference on 17th September, in which I look at a less biased, more effective approach to thinking about television. Apologies for the sound, you may need to turn up your headphones!

The crux of the argument is that it’s critically important that we as a broader industry are introspective, aware of our own biases and start to take a more integrated look at television and digital.

As the great psychologist Daniel Kahneman said: Humans have an almost unlimited ability to become blind to our own biases and ignorance’, and this has led to hyperbolic thinking around TV’s death. 

The Goldilocks approach to television is a theory that attempts to find a middle ground in the extremely polarising arguments that hamper the industry, to find a way through the bias and overconfidence.

Within the presentation, I give three examples of how this approach will benefit the industry.

For links to data and other sources, see below. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to get in touch via @shaneoleary1 or

What Irish media companies can learn and steal from Bloomberg Media…

There probably aren’t too many positives to being in the publishing industry in Ireland these days. Margins are being squeezed, competition is fierce and the move to digital hasn’t made up for diminishing returns in circulation and print ad revenue.

The Facebook/Google duopoly is hoovering up ad revenue and forcing companies to make Faustian pacts to share their content, while trust and credibility in media has taken a hit the world over in the past year.

Something needs to change. For the majority of Irish publishers, the choice is between a slow (but increasingly faster) march to death or changing things around and trialling new ways to make money using existing resources.

There is one big positive about trying to come up with a winning strategy in the media industry. Unlike in most global businesses with media the vagaries of language and national relevancy mean publishers can observe and copy the models of media companies in other country markets, without falling into a ‘me too’ trap.

One of the best pieces of advice that I ever received was that

“there’s always going to be someone out there who has faced your exact same problems and come through, so find them and ask them how they did it”.

In media it’s no different. And this week, I came across a short presentation that I’d recommend media execs. around the country should print out and read through with a fine tooth comb.

Speaking at a digital publishing summit organised by Digiday, Bloomberg Media CEO Justin Smith delivered this. For me, it’s the clearest summation of the modern media business model that I’ve seen. Across 11 areas, Smith offers a pithy, one line strategy for publishers to aim towards. He examines how to fend off platforms, how to maintain and grow revenue levels and what ancillary businesses make the most sense for media companies to enter into.

Here are a four key points that really hit home for me when I think about Irish publishers.

1) Obsess over differentiation

Most breaking news is commoditised. Indeed most journalism is commoditised. The only value is in differentiation and being a high value outlet for your readers. What marks you out as being a product that people will want to pay for? In a dog eat dog world, what’s your competitive advantage? Is it brand? Tone? Journalists? Sources?

Differentiation and uniqueness means you can charge more for advertising, and also potentially charge for a subscription. But if your content is based on taking stories from elsewhere, re-writing ‘news’ and chasing clickbait headlines, the game is already up unfortunately. Just like in the old days, unique voices, strong editorial slants and investment in journalism that stands out from the crowd is the only way to succeed. The race to scale is over and there isn’t enough digital advertising money to go around, so your only option is to be very valuable. 

Here’s the key question to ask: Would anyone miss your company if it died tomorrow? If the answer is Yes, you’re in business.

3) Fight to keep a direct relationship with your audience

Publishers used to be in control of their own distribution channels. Readers could either buy the paper or come to their site. But as the importance of social distribution has grown, the direct relationship between publisher and consumer has lessened. Only 23% of Irish consumers recognise the news brands responsible for a piece of content on social media. We’ve become blinded. The brand gets stripped away, the publisher struggles to gain recognition and much of the credit is wrongly inherited by the platform.

Thus, as Smith says, it’s vitally important that publishers struggle to stay connected to the people who buy and consume their product. Subscriptions are the holy grail, but there are other options – live events, apps, accounts, email etc. Brands have quickly figured out that building your house on the rented land of social is dangerous, since one algorithm change can take your ‘community’ away. It’s about owning the relationship rather than outsourcing it.

Another media critic that I rate, Rafat Ali is very strong on this topic too.

“Building direct relationships is the only way to build a long lasting media company, email works very well.”

5) Reinvent brand advertising and wean yourself off programatic

Programatic is inefficient and ready to explode, while adblocking is rife because of annoying, intrusive digital display. Thus, giving away free content in return for digital ad monetisation hasn’t been the cash cow that many publishers hoped. According to a report this week, last year, The Guardian conducted a test where it bought its own ad inventory on open ad exchanges so it could get a sense of how much of the money put into the ad tech ecosystem made it back to the publisher. In the worst case scenario, The Guardian found that for every £1 spent on its inventory, just 30p actually made it back to The Guardian.

Relying on programatic is unsustainable, so its up to publishers to regain control and begin to revalue some of their assets in the eyes of brands. Already, most of the large global publishers have custom content houses, and their advertising deck offers everything from branded events to sponsored content to video licensing. Smart brands want different, attention grabbing ways to advertise. It’s up to smart media companies to concoct and sell these opportunities, without mixing up editorial and advertising too much.

Monocle magazine is a brilliant case study in how to offer beautiful, effective advertising options to brands in print and online, without needing to sell your soul to do so.

10) Do things that platforms can’t do

The media industry has to get it into its head that it’s no longer Goliath. In the shadow of Google & FB, its David. And the only way to take on the duopoly is to do things they can’t or don’t want to do. As Smith says, the onus is on publishers to use their strengths like storytelling and expand into areas that others can’t reach. If it’s a matter of ‘who can offer the most optimised advertising’, there’s only going to be one winner, but media brands can offer tailored, bespoke ad packages that offer real value for brands looking to reach a high worth audience.


There’s some great advice in here for publishers. Not all of it is applicable, but it tallies very much with stuff I’ve been saying for a few years. There are no quick wins to the situation that Irish publishers find themselves in, but with a smart strategic approach and a focus on long term sustainability beyond short term clickbait metrics will ultimately pay for itself.

The full deck is available here and is well worth a look:


The Second Captains paywall – A smart, calculated experiment in new media models…

Full disclosure before we kick off – as you can see below, I’m a huge Second Captains fan. I’ve got the mugs and yearbooks. I know all the quotes, I’ve seen the TV show and I’ve followed the lads since they were fledglings on Newstalk.

And I’m also an avid media watcher, meaning this week’s announcement that Second Captains is moving from its cushy nest in Irish Times towers towards the wilds of a paywalled, community funded model from next Monday made me irrationally excited.

Maracana with the lads

A photo posted by Shane O Leary (@shaneoleary1) on

The Captains have decide to offer fans a ‘metered paywall’ model, in the guise of a New York Times or Irish Times, and will begin charging users €5 a month for a new ‘World Service’ edition.

The show will be kept ad free, and two free shows on Monday will remain, but in place of Thursday’s double bill, they will instead put out one daily podcast between Tuesday and Friday.

Mark, Ciaran, Ken, Simon and Eoin have shown plenty of balls in their media career. They’ve backed themselves to move from Newstalk, set up their own podcast against the backdrop of some scepticism, pitched and their own TV show, and won a new audience through their summer stand-in slot on RTE Radio 1.

In all of this, their fans have followed them.

But this is a different kettle of fish. Asking people to pay 5 quid a month is where the rubber hits the road.

Niche or enormous, there’s no middle

I’ve spoken before on this blog about how media is fragmenting and new models are emerging. Essentially, to succeed in modern media, there are two choices.

On the one hand, you can strive for enormous scale and hope that pays off. Try to make money by monetising your readers through display, print or paywall subscriptions, try to speak to everyone and cast the net as wide as possible. This requires experimentation and a reliance on distribution platforms, since most of us consume our media through social feeds now (and also leads to clickbait). Buzzfeed is probably the best example, but most daily papers play this game too.

On the other hand, you can be really, really valuable to a small cohort of people and hope that they love your work enough to provide enough income. Often, this requires a heavier paywall and ancillary revenue streams like events, merchandise etc. You can see this in effect across media, in places like The Economist, The Farmers Journal, The Information, Skift and in podcasts like ‘The Anfield Wrap’ and Marc Maron. In a similar vein, individuals like Tim Ferriss have created their own mini media empires too. It requires that you understand your fans, are very close to them and relies on you continually creating lots of value for them.

There’s very little middle ground between these two options, and media companies without serious scale or serious relevance are getting squeezed badly.

With the Second Captains paywall, the lads have chosen the latter route.

‘1000 True Fans’

They might not have heard of it,  but the way Second Captains as a brand has grown takes a lot from the ‘1000 True Fans’ approach, first coined by Kevin Kelly. According to Kelly, because of the lowering distribution costs on the internet, it’s now much easier to reach the people who really love what you do. The 1000 figure is just an arbitrary number, but the essence to his point is that if you can find a certain number of people who will buy anything that you put out, who really get huge amounts of value from what you do, and then service them directly without intermediaries,  you’re in business. It’s a theory that’s still very relevant in 2017, as the lads will attempt to prove.

If you lived in any of the 2 million small towns on Earth you might be the only one in your town to crave death metal music, or get turned on by whispering, or want a left-handed fishing reel. Before the web you’d never be able to satisfy that desire. You’d be alone in your fascination. But now satisfaction is only one click away. Whatever your interests as a creator are, your 1,000 true fans are one click from you.

The way Second Captains has grown its following has been both methodical and masterful. This move to paywall hasn’t come all of a sudden. They haven’t just started asking people for money, their growth has been staged, they’ve built slowly and smartly creating products and events, branching out into other media and even building their own brands through journalism.

With the new model, they’ll likely be ramping up these extra revenue streams, but critically fans are already used to paying. According to producer Mark Horgan, speaking in the Indo this week, “The way our audience has developed is interesting. Many are the same people who listen every week and they want more. They’ve been dedicated since the beginning. It’s also rolling the dice in some ways, but it’s perfect for this type of journalism. At our last event, in December, we sold out in hours. Part of the deal with the new membership subscription is that members will get first call on tickets.”

The benefit of radio and podcasting is that it also really lends itself to creating strong relationships with fans, since your in their ear for 4-5 hours every week. It seems the lads are now ready to monetise all the work they’ve put in to these relationships.


So what are the economics like? From the outside, this seems like a gamble. Why move from under the brand of a large media group (The Irish Times) that can offer you distribution and fame?

But Killian Woods put out this interesting set of tweets during the week, and, even with back of fag packet sums, the money part seems to make sense.

When you really analyse it, the risk here is small and calculated. The lads have a hugely valuable brand. That won’t be going away. They own their own channels too, which is crucial.

And even if this goes wrong, the worst case scenario is they go back to usual podcasts and sell advertising. I’m also pretty sure that another media company would come calling very quickly. But it won’t go wrong. They’ve done the sums, they know how much their fans love them and they’ve seen other models in media make money this way. This is never going to be an explosive growth business, but I’d be pretty bullish that it’s a smart decision.

Irish people are willing to pay small recurring amounts in subscriptions for a high value service, particularly in sport, and particularly if it’s a company with a strong value offering that you can’t get anywhere else.

Best of luck Second Captains, and congrats on a ballsy call that should show the way for the rest of Irish media.

They never go home those boys.