Times, Three Strike Deal For Free Access Via Mobile Broadband

When News International gave us the low-down on how many people had subscribed to the Times and Sunday Times after their paywall went up, the data left us almost with more questions than answers. Today, we are not much the wiser on those figures, but we do know that the publishers are starting to cast their net further out for more marketing opportunities – and hopefully readers – beginning with a partnership with mobile operator Three.

In an effort to attract more people to their mobile broadband service, Three is offering new users, who take out any of Three’s mobile broadband postpay contracts, three months of the Times and Sunday Times free on tablets and laptops, as well as free access to its iPad app for those using the service on that device. Smartphones are not included in the deal.

Meanwhile, users who sign up for prepaid mobile broadband with Three will get free access to the newspapers on their tablets and laptops, for as long as they continue to top up their accounts.

Postpay users who want to continue to receive the Times and Sunday Times after the three-month period can subscribe for a fee of £2/week, the same tariff being advertised by the Times itself.

This is the first evidence of News International bundling its content with network operators’ data plans. Significantly, it shows that they are willing to think laterally and flexibly when it comes to figuring out ways of attracting new readers. And partnering with a mobile operator selling internet access for devices like tablets is a natural ally in the paid content game for a newspaper publisher.

For its part, Three has made some major headway into the mobile broadband market in the UK, even while remaining a distant fourth in overall mobile subscribers. Out of its total subscriber base of 6.2 million, a Three spokesperson tells us that it has “in excess of” one million mobile broadband users, which she says gives the operator a current market share of over 40 percent in the UK.

Bundling content with carriage is not new to Three, though. The company offers access to the Spotify music service for three months free to users who take selected handsets.

But we don’t know how well this existing content bundle performs: Three will not say how many users it has picked up through the Spotify deal, or how many of those free subscribers have converted to paid users after the three-month period. “Commercially sensitive information,” says the spokesperson.

We have reached out to both Three and News International for more details on how their deal is structured commercially: Three will not comment, and we will update this post if and when the Times gives us a response.