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IFNCs: Will Incumbents Win Out, Or Is There A Place For Startups?

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The Lord Carter/Ofcom proposals for independently-funded news consortia (IFNC) opened the door to exciting potential multimedia JVs and a wave of smaller new online entrants. But it’s the incumbent news orgs like Trinity Mirror (LSE: TNI), ITN, PA and even ITV (LSE: ITV) itself that are dominating bid discussions surrounding the three pilots…

Are they prepared to work with the emerging band of small, independent and local news startups that are popping up around the UK? Big Media execs at Ofcom’s Have We Got News For You? conference in Cardiff on Friday expressed a desire to do so – but some are surely also seeking what could amount to a media bailout…

— Ron Jones, CEO of one pilot bidder, Tinopolis, said: “We have to have arrangements in place where the winner of the bid is required to enter in to those arrangements and supports those organisations … all these organisations are inevitably strapped for funds

“Those organisations that already have an online presence – it would be a huge waste if we weren’t to build on what we’ve done to date, but our vision is to open it up as widely as possible. I’d like to see that as a requirement of the tender.”

— ITV Wales’ news director Phil Henfrey asked delegates: “How do we involve people that are currently not involved? There are some very good ideas out there like working with teaching partnerships and working with other media like radio … But how does this large national IFNC work with community groups in a way that doesn’t destroy them?”

But Henfrey denied ITV’s output is broken, only it’s financial model – he’s fighting to retain ITV’s place. “I don’t want to come across as the bid for the status quo, but what (we) currently do has got to play a very important part in any future solution,” he said. The imperative is to form a multiplatform “coalition” as a “counterpoint” to the BBC but TV remains the most popular news platform, Henfrey said. “ITN will be working with us on our bid but I hope will be one of many others.”

— Ofcom’s content and standards partner Stewart Purvis said of local online news upstarts: “If you look at our snapshot of Cardiff, you could say, ‘what’s the problem with plurality? There are 51 online sites.’ But, in terms of discoverability, it’s the awareness issue – can one change the awareness of those sites and make a difference to them in some way that’s going to raise their profile?

Purvis pointed to 4iP-funded West Midlands site Help Me Investigate but, so far, ew of the players are talking in any such specifics about looking outside their own radius.