How News built junior sport streaming with Facebook cash

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A Facebook post reports that the social media giant's Accelerator programme has helped ANZ publishers secure thousands of new readers and paying subscribers.

Andrew Hunter of Facebook ANZ news partnerships and its Accelerator programme manager David Grant say funding and shared knowledge helped publishers to thrive despite perilous business conditions.

"Australian and New Zealand publishers participating in the Facebook Journalism Project's Reader Revenue Accelerator in 2019 and through 2020 secured more than 24,000 new paying subscribers and more than 160,000 new loyal readers - whether through newsletters, podcasts or site registrations - via initiatives they started or supported with funding from Facebook," they say. "Overall, these publishers generated $7 million in lifetime value for their organisations during the course of the programme directed by Facebook and our partner, The Walkley Foundation."

Walkley chief executive Louisa Graham said the takeup and response from participants were "extremely positive".

"The quality and international experience of the coaches in the programme with directed training sessions were incredibly valuable for Australian and New Zealand publishers.

Eight news publishers from Australia and three from New Zealand joined the Accelerator programme in October 2019, with each provided with three months coaching from experts led by former Dow Jones marketing executive Lynne Brennen, former Financial Times marketing leader Joss Cripps and former New York Times and Washington Post audience development leader Justin Bank.

The programme included three in-person training sessions in Sydney followed by funding to enable reader revenue initiatives. Funding was increased at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic to help the publishers continue to grow their businesses, Facebook says.

The post reports that 15 News Corp regional mastheads in Queensland - from the Cairns Post and Townsville Bulletin "down to the Gold Coast Bulletin (pictured) and Warwick Daily News" - generated more than 5000 new paying subscribers by launching a new product built around live video of junior sport through the programme. It quotes Bryce Johns, executive editor for digital, that the main challenge was "people operating outside their areas of expertise".

"We had to negotiate sports rights, tick the privacy box, arrange cameras and kit to be at grounds... We've picked up a new range of skills."

With local audiences surging, the publisher realised the experiment may have wider applications. "We are now developing a business case to set up a livestreaming unit," says Johns.

"If this trial scales nationally - and all the indications are it will - then we have a major new revenue and engagement stream for News Corp Australia."

Accelerator participants were News Regional Media, The Guardian, The West Australian, The Conversation, New Zealand Herald, Australian Community Media, Crikey, The Saturday Paper, InDaily, The Spinoff and Newsroom.

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