Will The Sun on Sunday save Rupert Murdoch’s UK newspapers?

Rupert Murdoch took the decision to close the News on the World on Tuesday it seems as that was the day his News International registered the name ‘The Sun on Sunday,’ the working title (and likely real title) for the NI paper that is slated to take the place of the NoW.

Taken as a whole NI loses money in the UK thanks to the bottomless pit that is The Times but The NoW has been profitable, making about £10m. This is a tiny amount in relation to the Murdoch’s News Corporation which makes between £1.5bn and £2bn a year, depending on the fortunes of his Fox film studio (James Cameron’s Avatar hugely boosted profits in 2009).

So you might ask (as many New Corp investors do) why Murdoch bothers with UK newspapers at all. The answer, of course, is that they’re in his 80-year old blood (he hit the big time back in 1969 by buying the NoW for £34m).

Will The Sun on Sunday (eerily reminiscent of Daily Mail publisher Associated Newspapers’ successful the Mail on Sunday) succeed?

The Mail on Sunday struggled at first, needing the tough love of Mail editor-in-chief Paul Dacre to survive a poor launch.

Murdoch undoubtedly has the journalistic resources, and the deep pockets, required to succeed with a new title. But a number of questions remain.

Will he go for, in effect, a seven day Sun, bearing in mind that attempts at seven day publishing in the UK by other publishers have so far foundered. The MoS has a separate staff from the Daily Mail.

Sunday newspapers are different beasts from daily newspapers, being dominated by comment and analysis with a plethora of separate sections to attract advertising. They are also not as profitable as they were as Saturday papers have grown in size and sections.

And when will it (whatever it looks like) appear?

Indications are that News Corporation’s bid for the 61 per cent of UK satellite broadcaster BSkyB that it doesn’t already own (the real financial game in town, BSkyB makes over £1bn profit) will have to wait for government approval until September now.

The excuse is that the phone hacking scandal at the NoW has resulted in an unexpected flurry of submissions in the current consultation period (up from the expected 60,000 to over 100,000) and civil servants at the Department of Culture, Media and Sport are reading them very, very slowly.

If Murdoch were to launch a NoW replacement before his BSkyB bid is approved (or not) it would appear very cynical indeed.

So it looks as though we’ll have to wait a while for The Sun on Sunday and there must still be a possibility that it won’t happen at all.

Murdoch is currently hanging out with his fellow media moguls (including WPP’s Sir Martin Sorrell and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg) at the Sun Valley Idaho annual ‘summer camp’ networking event.

He won’t be short of advice about how to mend his fortunes (some of it may even be well-meant, Murdoch senior is actually quite popular among his peers). Some of them will be saying ‘forget newspapers.’

That’s unlikely but he’s already shown with his ruthless decision to close the NoW that the health of the overall empire comes first. To Murdoch senior that also include the fate of son and heir James, who confessed yesterday to mishandling the phone hacking scandal.

One reason, surely, why Murdoch senior is backing under fire NI CEO Rebekah Brooks so strongly is that while she’s taking the bullets son James is avoiding some of them. If she goes, then the pressure (already intense) on James will increase.

So The Sun on Sunday almost certainly isn’t top of the Murdoch agenda. but without it (and without the £10m or so profit contributed by the NoW) Murdoch’s UK newspapers look sick indeed, losing about £80m a year with no imminent sign that The Times and the Sunday Times are likely to improve their loss-making fortunes.

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.

One comment

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    Newspapers are dead. We are just waiting for all there readers to die with them.