The launch this weekend of the Sun on Sunday is set to trigger the biggest British tabloid battle for years and generate a cash bonanza for broadcasters as rival newspaper groups fight for advertising space to promote their titles.
Rupert Murdoch's News International (NI) is likely to offer his new paper at a cut price in an effort to lure back the 2.6 million readers the company lost with the News of the World's closure over the phone-hacking scandal last July.
But other newspaper groups, most notably Trinity Mirror and Richard Desmond's Northern & Shell, will challenge the media mogul with big advertising campaigns after enjoying a boom in circulation in the last seven months at a time when the press industry is struggling.
Mr Murdoch's decision to bring forward the launch of the new paper sparked a frenzy of activity in the media sector yesterday as newspaper companies sought to buy up air time for television advertising and to cut deals for promotional campaigns including CD giveaways.
"We may see a good old-fashioned price war or some really innovative campaigns," said Jeremy King, editor of Media Week. "One question from the point of view of media agencies would be whether advertisers who take strong moral stances would be happy to put their brand into a newspaper that's still highly associated with the News of the World. On the flip side, they will know that for the first few weeks everyone will want to see what this new Sun on Sunday looks like."
The Sun on Sunday, which will be edited by Dominic Mohan, right, may, according to Sun sources, sell for a cut-price 50p or 75p in its first week, while being produced for only a third of the cost of the News of the World. That could create a new price war in the Sunday popular newspaper market, something in which Mr Murdoch is very experienced. Only around 20 of the 200-strong former staff of the NOTW will find work at the new paper. Hayley Barlow, the former NOTW PR woman, tweeted yesterday: "Thrilled colleagues & friends on The Sun live to fight another day. Meanwhile former NOTW colleagues & friends fight to live another day". Many of those laid off when the Sunday tabloid closed last July have not found work and some said last night that they were hoping NI would consider them for further positions.
NI is said to be planning an ambitious print run of around 2.5 million copies and will be hoping to lure back the 800,000 buyers who have stopped purchasing a Sunday paper since the demise of the NOTW. But the company's rivals will not allow it to simply take back the gains they have made.
Trinity Mirror has the most to lose. Its Sunday Mirror has seen sales increase from 1,087,000 last June to 1,753,000 last month. The biggest winner in percentage terms has been Mr Desmond's Daily Star Sunday, up 111 per cent to 644,804.
Media industry sources said last night that both Trinity Mirror and Northern & Shell (which is expected to heavily promote the Daily Star on Sunday on its Channel 5 TV platform) were planning to "match or even surpass" the spending on television advertising this weekend by NI, which itself is planning a "significant" outlay.
"It's going to be a very big week," said one senior media buyer. "One problem is the availability of air time. I think we will end up with a real bun fight on Thursday and Friday for the key spots."
News International's advertising campaign will be created by Sir Martin Sorrell's WPP, which recently won the company's £28m account. Another WPP business, Mindshare, has held the NI account for planning and buying media space since 2005.
Media experts have mixed views on the venture. "There's no guarantee that it will work as well as the NOTW," said James Moody, strategy director at BDA Creative. "The Sun has a very different brand from the NOTW which suited the occasion of Sunday mornings perfectly." But Stewart Easterbrook, CEO of media agency Starcom MediaVest Group, said: "It may energise the Sunday newspaper market and not just be for News International's benefit."
A key figure at the new paper will be the design expert Simon Cosyns. Currently a joint deputy editor of the daily paper, Cosyns was shown joking with Rupert Murdoch in one of the official photographs of the News Corp chairman's visit to the Sun newsroom on Friday. He is thought to have been responsible for the design of the new title.