Trendspotting #9


Magazines on the left of politics have seen little change in their dire circulation figures under New Labour - which, it could be argued, has nothing to do with the "left" anyway. However, there is one flourishing magazine whose distribution and editorial hark back to old-fashioned ideas of social concern. The Big Issue, sold by the homeless, topped 1 million readers in the first three months of 1997. The National Readership Survey says each edition is read by 1,121,000 people. They are an attractive bunch for advertisers, even if not for New Labour, with 71 per cent in the ABC1 demographic and 76 per cent aged 15-44.


ITV's decision to incorporate nightly comedy after News at Ten is an attempt to mimic Channel 4's success. Channel 5 is doing the same thing, but they should both be wary of thinking any old stand-up will bring ratings. The best performances on Channel 4 have been by established comics on Friday nights. Lee Evans' show in 1995 averaged 2.7m viewers; Rory Bremner in the same slot last year took 2.2m - both a healthy 15 per cent share of viewing. However according to media buyer Zenith, the more cultish but less well known Mark Thomas saw ratings of just 1.7m - 10 per cent of viewing on a Friday night.


The Five Nations' rugby championship on the BBC attracts 8 million viewers. When it moves to BSkyB it will get just 1 million, says the magazine Marketing Week, which points out that this seriously devalues the sport for commercial sponsors. Indeed Save & Prosper, which sponsors the Five Nations, is currently renegotiating its contract with the Rugby Football Union. As funding from subscription TV replaces sponsors, the arguments for tobacco sponsorship of sport even after cigarette advertising is banned, become ever weaker. BSkyB paid pounds 87.5m for the RFU's TV rights. No sport should be able to claim that its future will be imperilled by a ban on tobacco sponsorship.


Once upon a time poster advertising was more like property management and was dependent for its income on the TV pariahs tobacco and spirits. Not now. The fall in viewers of ITV as new channels proliferate makes posters a "must have" broadcast medium for advertisers. This was reflected in the The Sunday Times's rich-list last week, where Ron Zeghibe and Francis Goodwin of Maiden Outdoor sneaked into the top 1,000 richest in the UK thanks to shareholdings worth pounds 20m and pounds 18m respectively. Not bad, considering they bought out the company with five other managers four years ago for just pounds 21m.


At the other end of the media rich-list, the Barclay Brothers saw their wealth shrink from pounds 650m to pounds 500m. According to the trade journal Press Gazette at least pounds 50m of this was due to the loss-making European newspaper. Welcome to the wacky world of newspaper economics, boys.

Paul McGann

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