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How big is Murdoch's "stranglehold" on UK news media?

Posted on Monday, July 18th, 2011 at 11:08 am. #

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On the BBC’s website, a story yesterday: “Miliband and Clegg seek media ownership limits” – Ed Milliband told the Observer Mr Murdoch’s large market share led to ‘abuses of power’.“I think that we’ve got to look at the situation whereby one person can own more than 20% of the newspaper market, the Sky platform and Sky News. … If you want to minimise the abuses of power then that kind of concentration of power is frankly quite dangerous.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg told BBC One’s Andrew Marr Show there was a need to “look again in the round at the plurality rules to make sure there is proper plurality in the British press” … “A healthy press is a diverse one, where you’ve got lots of different organisations competing, and that’s exactly what we need.”

So, how big is Murdoch’s market share, in terms of controlling the agenda for national news? Let’s look at the figures including the News of the World, and see how big his empire really is:

Newspaper readership
Murdoch weekday newspapers are read by 18% of the population each week.
Murdoch’s Sunday newspapers were read by 20.6% of the population each week.
NRS, Apr 10 – Mar 11

Television news
Sky News (owned 39% by Murdoch) attracts 5.2m weekly viewers – 10% of the population.
BARB Jun 27 – Jul 03 2011 – total UK adult population from RAJAR Q1 2011

Radio news
Sky News produces news bulletins for almost all commercial radio stations in the UK. Commercial radio reaches 66% of the population each week.
RAJAR Q1 2011

Online news
News Corporation don’t publish their traffic figures. However, both The Times and the News of the World operated behind a paywall, so their figures are likely to be very low in comparison to other organisations. The Guardian posts ABCe figures of 51.8m visitors per month; The Times claims 100,000 paid-for digital subscriptions. It’s likely that the share for Murdoch’s paywall websites is negligible. The Sun, however, is a significantly read website online. In 2007, it had market-leading page impression figures, and attracted 10.5m users. Hitwise reports that in June 2011 the newspaper accounted for around 0.14% of all internet traffic. Sky News online claims 1.7m unique users in March 2011.
ABCe June 2011 | Marketing Week July 2011 | BSkyB | Sun ABCe, 2007 | Hitwise Sun June 2011

Overall reach
How much of our news does Murdoch control, then? It’s difficult to put a figure on the above; but Sky News and online are small, and his newspapers have a roughly 20% share of all the population. Only Sky News’s deal with commercial radio boosts Murdoch’s news ‘reach’ to around 60%, and there is likely to be considerable overlap between commercial radio listeners and newspaper readers. (Commercial radio’s output is also not mainly news).

Who is bigger than Murdoch?
There’s only one contender as a bigger provider of news than Rupert Murdoch… the BBC.

The BBC do not operate printed newspapers.

Television news
The BBC News Channel is watched, weekly, by 15% of the population.
Additionally, BBC News content is carried on BBC ONE, BBC TWO, BBC THREE and BBC FOUR. Just BBC ONE itself attracts 83% of the population each week.
BARB Jun 27 – Jul 03 2011

Radio news
The BBC owns 50 radio stations, and BBC News content is on almost all of them (only BBC Radio 4 Extra carries no news).
BBC radio is listened-to by 68% of the population each week.
RAJAR Q1 2011

Online news
The BBC’s website attracts 19.5m adults each week – 38% of the population. BBC News makes up a high percentage of BBC website traffic.
BBC Annual Report 2010/2011

Overall reach
The BBC Annual Report says it best: “across all platforms 81% of [UK] adults consumed BBC News every week
BBC Annual Report 2010/2011

So – Murdoch media reaches around 65% of the population, and BBC News reaches 81%.

However you examine these figures, it’s clear that the influence of the BBC is considerably larger than anything Murdoch is putting out, even after a BSkyB buyout.

Of course, people could – and do – consume both Murdoch media and BBC News. I’d certainly not seek to claim that the BBC’s high standards of journalism are directly comparable with Murdoch media; and I’d not claim that BBC News is biased (though others have made that claim). I’m proud of the BBC, and proud of the job it does.

However, unlike the differing editorial priorities of The Sun, The Times and Sky News, BBC News operates as one unit, with the same news priorities, by and large, on every output. In a meeting in 2009, I remember then Deputy Director General Mark Byford explaining to senior management what BBC News’s priority stories would be for the year. One news agenda, consumed by 81% of the population – is this a cause for concern?

Politicians are concerned about Murdoch’s influence. Yet, if you ignore Sky, he only reaches 20% of the population with four (currently three) different newspapers, each with differing news agendas. Politicians might, therefore, reasonably wonder whether the BBC’s influence is also worthy of closer examination: and whether it’s entirely healthy for 81% of this country to be getting news from one source with one set of news priorities.

(Comments here welcome, before this article transitions to Media UK).

Oh, good lord, I appear to be agreeing, in a small part, with the Daily Mail
Jem Stone lets me know that Tim Montgomerie said something similar in Conservative Home, with completely different figures taken from OFCOM.
(Both of the above criticise the BBC. I’m going out of my way not to do so.)


commenting at July 18th, 2011 at 11:27 am

HI James,

You’ve slightly massaged the figures here by using Murdoch’s newspaper readership figures as a percentage of the population, rather than of national newspaper sales.

Also the issue about News Corp’s dominance is about whether, if the BSkyB deal goes through, News Corp would be able to use their market dominance to squeeze other papers or TV channels with cross media deals. As the BBC do not take advertising, then it is irrelevant that they have an 80% share. Also as the BBC is funded by license fee payers, those payers have a right to expect programming that appeals to them from the BBC.

It is therefore unfair to compare the BBC’s share with News Corp’s.


Terence Eden
commenting at July 18th, 2011 at 11:27 am

I think (only think!) you’ve made a fundamental mistake.
It’s not about the total %age of the population – it’s the total of the newspaper buying market.

So, let’s say that only 30% of the UK adult population buys a newspaper (based on 15m sales to 50m adults http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/greenslade/2010/dec/14/newspapers-abcs).

If you’re saying that NI gets 18% of the total UK population, that would mean it gets 60% of the news market.

Whether that’s a monopoly or not, I leave to wiser minds.

Or have I misunderstood how you’ve arrived at your figures.

James Cridland
commenting at July 18th, 2011 at 11:43 am

Lucio – I’m comparing like with like: “reach” with “reach” – very fair indeed. Newspaper sales are immaterial if we’re talking about the influence of Murdoch on the news that the UK population gets, then newspaper readership is what matters. Similarly, whether the BBC takes advertising or not is immaterial to its influence on the news agenda. Just for you, though:

Newspaper sales
Of weekday newspaper sales, Murdoch controls 3.2m sales: 33% of all newspapers sold.
Of weekend newspaper sales, Murdoch controlled 3.6m sales: 39% of all newspapers sold.
ABC (June 11)

Terence – once more, this isn’t a competition argument, this is a “who controls the news agenda” argument; so sales figures aren’t relevant, only the number of readers. “Share of the newspaper market” is completely irrelevant to a question about who controls the news agenda – since, as you point out, newspaper consumption is in the minority. But, I’ve compiled those figures, too, for you:

Murdoch’s share of all readers
Weekday newspapers as a whole are read by 49.7% of the population; so Murdoch’s weekday share of all UK newspaper readers is 36%.
Sunday newspapers are read by 54.6% of the population; so Murdoch’s Sunday share of all UK newspaper readers is 37%.
NRS, Apr 10 – Mar 11

Neither of the above matters; yes, Murdoch’s a big player in the newspaper market, but his newspapers only reach 20% of the UK population. For plurality of the news agenda, you need to look further than the declining business of printing yesterday’s news on dead trees.

commenting at July 18th, 2011 at 11:56 am

Current editorial reach is one thing, but I think the bigger issue is NewsCorp using their platforms to change the future structure of the industry.

NewsInt has a subscription business for online and it’s papers. BSkyB has a subscription business for television/broadband. I think the danger for other operators is the bundling together of a Sky/Times/Sun subscription – something that may discourage Telegraph/Mail readers etc to continue buying those publications and indeed subscribe to Virgin/BT Vision etc.

Steve Martin
commenting at July 18th, 2011 at 12:08 pm

The real difference is not in the numbers but between a privately owned commercial organisation with a profit motive and a public service organisation rooted in independence and impartiality.

We all pay for the BBC’s public services so I’d hope and expect its services to reach a high percentage of the UK population. It shows what good value for money they are.

commenting at July 18th, 2011 at 12:08 pm

I understand the point.

But I think the caveats you put in about the differences between the BBC and News Corp/Int are somewhat underplayed.

The BBC’s a public body with a Charter and at least two regulators, and no master to serve except the public. Surely the whole *idea* of the BBC is that it *should* have a massive reach. It’s there for everyone.

Admittedly some people don’t accept the basic premise that they’re different beasts, nor that Byford/Boaden aren’t after the the same influence as Brooks/Murdoch. For me, it’s chalk and cheese – which blows rather a large hole in the comparison you seek to make, however factually accurate it is.

commenting at July 18th, 2011 at 12:09 pm

(or.. in short.. what Steve said!)

commenting at July 18th, 2011 at 12:13 pm

Interesting figures. I don’t dispute them, but I would dispute that “BBC News operates as one unit, with the same news priorities, by and large, on every output.”

The Today programme and BBC News at 10 O’clock (to give it its rarely-used official title) do not have the same news priorities as Newsbeat or BBC Radio Kent or BBC3 News. Yes, I’m sure the organisation has “priority stories for the year” — and of course one Director of News who has editorial control. But that doesn’t mean that each piece of output follows the same narrow agenda, as you seem to imply.

(Disclosure: I work for BBC News. My own views here, not theirs, etc etc etc)

James Cridland
commenting at July 18th, 2011 at 12:28 pm

Tim/Steve – my point isn’t that the BBC shouldn’t have a large reach. I’m glad it does.

My point is unease at one voice – whoever that voice belongs to – having the majority ear of the UK population. That’s not concerned with whatever the BBC charter says, or the differences between a commercial company and a public service corporation.

What would be interesting is some proper research on the amount of different news sources that the UK consumes. I know that I consume BBC Radio 4, the “BBC News at 10 o’clock” (to capitalise its official title correctly), the BBC News website, the BBC News Channel, Sky News, LBC, and some of 5 Live every day. The BBC is the overwhelming majority of my news consumption; so the BBC doesn’t cover a story, I don’t get to hear about it. More concerningly, if the BBC and Sky don’t cover a story (Sky produces much of the news for LBC), then it’s unlikely I’ll ever hear about it. That can’t be good for anyone, surely?

Richard Leeming
commenting at July 18th, 2011 at 12:39 pm

There’s another point here which is the editorial tone adopted by the two organisations. Here, the numbers don’t necessarily inform the power of the organisations’ influence.

The BBC doesn’t write headlines like: “Will the last person to leave Britain please turn off the lights” over a picture of Neil Kinnock’s head in a lightbulb, neither would it claim “It’s the Sun wot won it” after a surprising election result.

The BBC tries hard, and mostly succeeds, to reflect a diversity of views, whereas News International’s agenda is much more specific

James Cridland
commenting at July 18th, 2011 at 12:50 pm

Richard – are you confusing News International with The Sun? The Times doesn’t run those types of headlines; and in any case, Murdoch newspapers only reach 20% of the population.

The larger amount of reach is from broadcast media, which isn’t, by law, allowed to be biased. (Whether Sky or the BBC manage to avoid any bias is anyone’s guess.)

I’d certainly agree that different outlets have different tone (whether Radio 4 / BBC THREE or The Sun/The Times); and I’d agree that the BBC is more inclusive of a range of viewpoints.

Darren Wingham
commenting at July 18th, 2011 at 1:18 pm

I think that the “problem” with Murdoch empire is actually two-fold.

1. Dominance in a marketplace. i.e. using Sky to push out other digital media providers as Matt outlined.

2. In a country where there is a fair amount of impartial news (i.e. TV and Radio). A media outlet which has an opinion or agenda in it’s editorial policy will get attention. And when it has the attention of 20% of the voting public, surely, that can be a dangerous thing.

Whilst I’m no Murdoch fan, we’ve already seen moves by terrestrial TV and Radio to form bigger economies of scale to get a bigger slice of the advertising pie and attempt to dictate the future path of the industry. That’s capitalism, like it or lump it.

However, I feel very uncomfortable when UK papers move into influencing opinion or climb aboard the bandwagon of public opinion in this way…. and even a 10% swing in the opinion polls can change governments.

almost witty
commenting at July 18th, 2011 at 1:35 pm

The biggest difference is that the BBC, unlike News International, is paid for by pretty much every household via the licence fee, and thus is obligated to reach as many households as it can. Plus, the BBC is of course meant to be politically impartial – it certainly can’t tell people who they should vote for come a General Election.

commenting at July 18th, 2011 at 1:42 pm

The debate should be less about whether one person controls a fairly small 20% of the market, but whether there is divergence of opinion within the marketplace as a whole, regardless of ownership.

Does it really matter if one person controls 20% of the addressable market when (theoretically) you could have the rest of the 80% owned by a large collection of people who share an identical and opposing political opinion.

In such a situation is individual owner market share relevant at all?

Let us presume that the two remaining publications are split off – the Sun sold to a right wing owner and The Times sold to a right wing owner, how does that address the allegation that an entity with a right wing agenda owns two major newspapers?

Ultimately, the publications are successful because they deliver what the consumer wants, and the ownership issue is a bit of a red herring, albeit it one that is a useful stick to beat the publications with.

Paul Markham
commenting at July 18th, 2011 at 1:44 pm

The BBC is held accountable by at least 3 layers of regulation.

The Murdoch press is held accountable by no-one save the toothless PCC, and we know that the empire is already lobbying for the relaxation of broadcast regulation. There is no equivalent commercial broadcaster on anything like the scale.

The BBC is in no position to use its dominance to campaign or lobby for changes to its operating environment or in the wider political sphere. The Murdoch media has shown that it is not only able, but that it is willing and keen to do so, in defiance of democracy and as we’ve now seen, in defiance of the law.

Adam Bowie
commenting at July 18th, 2011 at 2:04 pm

I do think you’re being over simplistic by attempting to show that News International’s “reach” is significantly less than the BBC’s.

I’d hate to think you were straying into Melanie Phillips territory James!

The BBC is really irrelevant in this issue.

When determining whether or not a monopoly exists, I do think you need to look at the total marketplace that exists. A majority of Britons do need read a national daily paper, so it’s important to consider those that do when making your assessments.

And James, you may get nearly all your news from the BBC and Sky, but that’s not because there aren’t other news providers in the marketplace. You could watch the ITV News or read the Telegraph (online or in paper). C4 News has been excellent for the last couple of weeks covering the NotW scandal. That you choose not to use these outlets is your decision.

As others have pointed out, the competition issue of overall dominance in news provision from one private company was not really the issue. Let’s face it, we’d all be a lot worse off if Sky News TV, a loss making channel, was shut down completely. Yet that’d have made the abortive attempt of News International to fully take control of BSkyB a much easier thing to swallow from a regulatory perspective. Indeed, it’d have sailed through ahead of the Milly Dowler revelations.

In broader terms, plurality in news provision is undoubtedly a good thing. Yet other news providers are finding it harder to compete. There’s ITN (ITV News, C4 News), the rival newspaper groups, and the agencies. That’s really about it. We know that all kinds of quality and local print media are struggling. Broadly, only the tabloids are profitable, alongside specialist publications like the FT and Economist.

One way or another, news is not being valued enough by readers. The Times shouts loudly about its 100,000 paid subscriptions, but that’s not a terrific number, and will only make a small dent in the vast costs that the paper incurs. The Guardian has thus far not managed to make its very successful online operation profitable. I suspect the Mail is closer to that, if only because the quality of news on its website – built around agency copy – is pretty low. The most successful print publications of recent years are Metro, which is “serviceable” in the way that Ceefax is “serviceable”, and the Evening Standard which is only now getting close to profitablility. They’re both free publications.

For plurality in news provision, providers either need to conjour up new models, or we’re going to need to accept that there’ll be fewer outlets for us to get our news.

When determining whether or not a monopoly exists, I do think you need to look at the total marketplace that exists. A majority of Britons do need read a national daily paper, so it’s important to consider those that do when making your assessments.

Certainly, if newspaper sales fell to say 1m, then frankly monopolies or not might not make any odds.

commenting at July 18th, 2011 at 2:12 pm

I think that you’ve hit on a very important point. If the central argument is the influence through size and reach of a media organisation, it is legitimate to consider the BBC’s role.

Most of the responses have majored on content or language. Whilst the BBC couldn’t claim “it was them wot won it” they certainly influence the presentation of stories through the language that they use, if more subtly. That in turn shapes perception.

Ianvisits – two right wing organisations are still likely to have differences in opinion and priority of content agenda, which leads to different content output. The BBC has one centralised prioritisation mechanism.

Adam Bowie
commenting at July 18th, 2011 at 2:24 pm

Sorry – the last two paras in the previous comment were surplus to requirements…

Richard Leeming
commenting at July 18th, 2011 at 5:14 pm


No, I’m not confusing News International with the Sun as News International owns The Sun – but its certainly the case that after the 1992 election Labour made the decision to cosy up to Murdoch which allowed News International to set the political agenda.

What’s relevant here is the Gramscian concept of hegemony … http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hegemony


commenting at July 18th, 2011 at 9:54 pm

Is those newspaper figures based on sales or survey? i.e. I could buy a newspaper that was then read by 4 other people in my household.

James Cridland
commenting at July 19th, 2011 at 10:13 am

David: yes, I’m using readership figures, not sales figures, for the blog post.

Richard Courtice
commenting at July 19th, 2011 at 4:52 pm

Might I direct you all to http://www.beehivecity.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/For-Vincent-Cable.pdf which is the document that Claire Enders of Enders Analysis Ltd prepared for Vince Cable when he was in government.
It’s illuminating.

Terry Purvis
commenting at July 21st, 2011 at 11:07 am

Reach and influence are not directly related to each other.

commenting at August 2nd, 2011 at 10:36 pm

“Current editorial reach” actually seems to me to be rather important, given that the BBC is doing it’s best to destroy Murdoch, using up vast amounts of space and time to do so. Then sheepishly (or brazenly) putting up an item on their news site entitled “All the other things that have been going on” (while we concentrated on hackgate)

As for the BBC’s “impartiality” and “independence” – you need to read what Peter Sissons said. Noone claims the Guardian is middle-of-the-road or unbiased, but mysteriously the BBC still thinks that about itself, and others do too.

Be clear – the BBC has left-wing slant, and has had for years. It is unbalanced on Europe, on Obama, on Mrs Thatcher (and always was), on gender politics, on Israel. Its political shows regularly include a preponderance of left-wingers commenting. The news is carefully chosen and worded. You don’t need to be a Torygraph or Daily Mail reader to see this (I read neither regularly, I look at the Times and Guardian more often)

commenting at August 3rd, 2011 at 7:28 am

Lucio, the first commenter; ‘As the BBC do not take advertising, then it is irrelevant that they have an 80% share’

Of course it’s relevant – it’s the news agenda that’s important, and who controls it.

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