It was a brilliantly audacious and bold move to put the Times behind a paywall 3 or so months ago. Rupert Murdoch, Rebekah Brooks and Editor James Harding must have considered how to make the model work and had to agree that what they were selling was better than what I could get for free. Here is the news report in July from Rory Cellan-Jones
Murdoch has previous, obviously. It may seem bizarre to think of it now but back in the early nineties Premiereship, or at least first divsion footie as it was then before 1992, was free to air. Every footie fan in the land could watch all the big teams and some little ones compete in the beautiful game. Then along came Rupert Murdoch with his commercial ambitions to make BskyB a success and he alighted on his most brilliant idea. What can I buy that I can put on BSkyB that people will actually want so much they will pay for it? Movies? Original content? Football?
It didn’t take long for him to figure out that football fans would fork out handsomely for endless quantities of variable quality football. Even the BBC and ITV couldn’t really argue, they couldn’t offer endless football games and analysis. There we Period Dramas to put on and documentaries. Not enough time for wall to wall football. Murdoch had more airtime than you could wave a red card at…everybody won, the football leagues the football players. TV rights paid for great football players (and Wayne Rooney), the games got better, the stadia sold more than a damp butty and seats were invented. Everybody benefited.
The only loser was the part time fan. The BBC had more money to pay for more documentaries, football suddenly had jacuzzis and infinity pools of cash and all the ardent die-hard football fanatics had already signed up, even if that meant beans for a year. Murdoch took away a passion so universal that people would track it down and pay the ransom.
Now, I like news as much as the next guy, but I am not going to start singing “you’ll never blog alone” to the Times Foreign Editor, Sean Ryan.
When he misses a full stop I won’t cry “oh my god, it was a sitter”
Nor will I shout “His editor’s a wanker” when his column is shorter than I would like it to have been.
But despite the lack of must-have content, Murdoch and his executive team have gone the route of fewer subscribers, more passion for news and its high end purveyors. And, we should remember in the early days of Sky there were few subscribers then too. Part of me tells the other part of me not underestimate Murdoch, but the other half says he’s lost it, he bought My Space.