Print media to revive, attention spans to grow: Edelman event hears 2016 predictions

Next year will see the resurgence of print publications and the growth in people's attention spans for consuming media, a panel session featuring senior figures from media, entertainment and politics heard this morning.

Panel: (l to r) Ed Williams, Michael Spencer, Kirsty Wark, Sue Perkins, John Witherow, Tessa Jowell
Panel: (l to r) Ed Williams, Michael Spencer, Kirsty Wark, Sue Perkins, John Witherow, Tessa Jowell

Edelman UK & Ireland CEO Ed Williams told the session at the agency’s London office: "I think next year we could potentially grow our attention span rather than shorten it. We all worry about our attention span going more and more like a goldfish – if you look at mobile video content, the average time we view it is two or three minutes."

He highlighted the success of a New York Times experiment that let readers download an app to view a 15-minute documentary about refugee children. He said the app has been downloaded more than any other in the publication’s history, with the film watched by up to two million people, suggesting people are willing to invest time in the right material.

It also points to the ability of journalists to innovate, Williams said: "What they’ve shown is there’s technology that can draw you into a story in the way TV can, but it can be even more immersive."

Also speaking at the Edelman Christmas Ball event in London, which focused on expectations for 2016, The Times editor John Witherow predicted "the resurgence of print", while the fall in newspaper sales would "steady" next year.

"We're seeing in publishing that people are going back to books rather than reading Kindles because you retain the information much better in print. The Times print sales are actually up year on year. The organisation is in profit for virtually the first time in 230 years. And it’s a very positive message – people are really interested in reading."

Similarly, Williams predicted further growth in popularity of traditional media platforms.

"Last year I said I thought this year would see a revival in traditional media, and this year suggests that actually, the most popular news sites are not BuzzFeed and Huffington Post, they are a lot of the traditional news media like John’s paper.

"You are seeing young people come to trusted, big media brands and I expect to see that to be accentuated in the coming year."

Europe was discussed at the session, which was mediated by Newsnight presenter Kirsty Wark and featured former Labour secretary of state Dame Tessa Jowell, Great British Bake Off presenter Sue Perkins and Michael Spencer, CEO of financial services company ICAP.

Williams said the campaign in favour of keeping the UK in the EU lacked the "emotional argument" of its pro-Brexit rival, and urged the former to "get down and dirty".

"There is no emotional argument as far as I can see that’s being deployed by the 'in' campaign. It feels very much like the London bubble, it feels quite ‘businessy’, and unless they mobilise themselves and get down and dirty, I’m worried that [the EU referendum] is going to be extremely close."

Jowell agreed, and called for an "argument of passion" in favour of staying in the EU.

"It’s very difficult to get people enthused about the status quo. I’m very strongly in favour of us staying in Europe but we have to build an argument of passion that appeals to the heart, but at the same time has a very clear account of the way in which Europe needs to become much more flexible, much more nimble and much more able to change."

The former Labour culture secretary also said it was a "serious failure" that David Cameron had difficulty displaying passion for staying in Europe, because he needed to be wary of Conservative Eurosceptic MPs.

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