2021: A defining year for the UK news sectorDownload a PDF of this article
A shifting landscape
The start of 2021 has been accompanied by a number of significant moves in the UK national and regional news market – moves that could point towards the longer-term evolution of the industry. As the impact of Covid-19 on news revenue streams and business models continues to play out, several publishing and broadcasting veterans are embarking on new ventures. At the same time, an incoming BBC chairman looks set to help steer the corporation’s long-running funding and purpose debate towards a resolution.
Key developments since 1st January 2021 have included:
- GB News securing £60m funding ahead of launch. Chaired by veteran broadcaster Andrew Neil, GB News will launch later this year and represents the first news channel to launch in the UK in nearly 20 years. Opiniated and right-leaning, the channel will take inspiration from the likes of Fox News and MSNBC in the US with an anchor-led, 24-hour ad-funded format. A similar venture from Rupert Murdoch’s News UK, News UK TV, is also slated to launch in early 2021 after securing an Ofcom licence.
- The purchase of JPI Media, the UK’s third largest regional newsgroup, by National World. Spearheaded by experienced media proprietor and editor David Montgomery, the acquisition will bring strategic change for the Group, which owns the Scotsman and Yorkshire Post. Montgomery has pledged to focus on high-quality, unique content and decentralize management, handing editorial control to local leaders while implementing a modern, tech-driven operating model.
- The appointment of former banker Richard Sharp as the new BBC chairman. As the BBC continues critical licence fee negotiations in the wake of Ofcom’s PSB Review, one of Sharp’s first tasks for 2021 will be to help Director-General Tim Davie come up with a funding model that equips the BBC for the future. Sharp has already indicated a desire to reform rather than overhaul the corporation; and as a former colleague of both Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak, his voice at the table could prove decisive in convincing Government, industry and the public alike of an appropriate model for the future.
- The acquisition of niche anti-Brexit title The New European by an influential consortium of media executives and venture capitalists, including former BBC Director General Mark Thompson and ex-Financial Times editor Lionel Barber. The new owners will increase the editorial budget and predict the business will turn a profit in 2022.