Will 4G be the next gear-change for The Guardian?

Is 4G where the future lies for The GuardianI attended the Guardian Media Network’s Future of Digital Media event this week to hear the views of three Guardian thought-leaders – Andrew Miller, CEO, Dan Sabbagh, Head of Media and Technology and Anthony Sullivan, Group Product Manager.

The context was the now and future strategy of The Guardian to transition during this digitally dynamic time.

Andrew Miller described the audience strategy which has been put in place as to grow, deepen and retain Guardian consumers during a time when digital consumption is growing rapidly and exciting but print still accounts for 70% of revenues.

Dan Sabbagh pointed to the imminent introduction of 4G as being the next game-changer for media businesses, a major change in speed which will make everything more immediate. He described its arrival as transformative for media where all types of media will be competing against each other for one thing – consumer attention.

Miller described the tablet likely to bring about increased pressure on the media sector and spoke of plans for Guardian content to feature in social media aggregators like Flipboard. He also acknowledged that other assets owned by GMG will help to fund the necessary transition being made by The Guardian.

Anthony Sullivan cited agile product development as being key to the next stage of this transition. Products are being developed in two week sprints. Gone are the days of building something over a period of months and then launching it.

Mobile browsing is growing fast representing 15-20% of the Guardian’s digital traffic and sport content is leading the way. He pointed to the new m.guardian platform coming soon as highlighting how mobile is taking precedence. The challenge for the future is using data to deliver personal experiences while retaining an editorial voice. The Guardian of the future may offer individual journeys through content but to do so registration will be essential allowing media owners to learn as much as they can about the readers.

Miller said the question he is addressing is ‘what is a news media company in the digital space?’ and is refining costs by using other people’s platforms so that all resource can go into the creation of content.

Sabbagh talked about a balance of exciting opportunities and astonishing pessimism, pointing to a loss of financial confidence in media. He talked of Britain’s world-renowned creativity but lack of world-beating companies to back that up. He pointed to EMI as an example of a company being sliced, diced and ultimately destroyed. The Guardian’s financial position, supported by a trust, led him to express the view that “No rich man tells us what to write and that’s a precious thing”.

My conclusion was the pace of updating and refreshing business models in the media space continues to accelerate and 4G has been highlighted as the next gear-change companies will have to go through.

Matt Bourn is managing director at Braben.