News & Opinion

The Times and The Sunday Times' head of digital on the publication’s secrets to its digital success

Alan Hunter talks about how The Times utilises digital insights to increase engagement and grow their audience to new demographics.

In a wide-ranging interview with Media Masters, The Times and The Sunday Times’ head of digital Alan Hunter opened up about the strategies implemented to maximise the reach and growth of the publications’ digital iterations despite the criticised implementation of a paywall.

The move to a ‘paywalled’ environment

Despite the criticism around the introduction of a paywall, Hunter argues that in today’s age, more and more people are accepting that we need to pay to access quality content.

The introduction of Spotify and Netflix has signalled a change in particularly younger people’s relationship with paying for content. Giving content and information that costs money to produce, away for free, is not sustainable for brands - with anything in life, quality comes at a cost.

He also acknowledges that if someone has paid for something, the reader is more engaged with its content.

Shaping The Times’ digital offering

The publications’ digital work keeps evolving, as data and reader feedback continuously shapes its digital strategy. When The Times initially kick-started its digital offering, it offered breaking news with the aim of competing with platforms like BBC and Twitter. But reader insights showed that it is the reports, comments and story angles that drives eyeballs to its content and set them apart from other news sources.

A key driver of subscriptions and engagement has been to move away from continually updated content in the digital space, to publishing 3 editions at different points in the day, as a much more impactful method of reaching consumers.

The future of digital at The Times

Hunter strongly believes that digital needs to support but not lead the journalistic direction of the publication. For instance, the Oxfam investigation from a data standpoint did not look like it would be a particularly popular story, but journalistic feeling led them to push on and it proved to be correct.

He strongly believes that search data can help shape how stories are presented on the digital platforms in a way that can draw in new audiences by for example, making headlines search engine optimised. How they share and work with social media platforms is also a big part of the next stage in their digital development.

Recently, The Times and The Sunday Times hit a record number of paid digital-only subscriptions. Find out more.

You can listen to the full podcast on Media Masters.

Sam Hudson 14/08/19

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