BBC Global News, Vice, NPR Execs Say Covid-19 Is Forcing Their Outlets to Reevaluate Respective Business Models

By A.J. Katz Comment

BBC Global News CEO Jim Egan, NPR svp of news and editorial director Nancy Barnes and Vice Media global news and entertainment president Jesse Angelo participated in a “State of News” panel at the 2020 IAB NewFronts yesterday. They were mostly optimistic about the state of the industry, but not overwhelmingly so.

“This is a moment in history like no other,” said Barnes. “It’s challenging on a lot of fronts because you’ve covered a pandemic, an economic meltdown, racial injustice, and we have a major election in the U.S., and all of our journalists are experiencing many of these storylines even as they’re having to go out and cover them.”

Barnes said that the demand for news is significant right now, and necessarily so, but expenses are going up while revenues are declining, making this moment extremely challenging for news outlets.

“It’s too early to tell,” Egan said about the state of the news industry. “This year has been so epic in terms of events all around the world, and it’s very difficult to make any generalizations about what’s going on.”

Egan added, “The coronavirus pandemic, just like climate change and all of the other issues we’re facing, proves that globalization is here whether we like it or not” and that 2020 “is a year of mobilization in the U.S. and U.K. Young people are engaging with issues and news, and that’s likely to have profound consequences.”

Vice’s Angelo said there are “glimmers of hope” around the news industry. “Digital media is a tough business across the board … perhaps toughest in news,” but over the last couple months, “you’ve seen more industry leaders stand up and say, ‘Hey, we need to fix this problem,’ and we need to be able to figure out ways that we can support quality journalism because it’s vital to the future of the world and vital to democracy.”

The conversation later moved to Covid-19 and how it has forced these news outlets to reevaluate their respective business models.

The pandemic changed how BBC Global News produces its programming, but Egan has taken some positives from this challenging time. “We’ve been getting to participate in conferences and sessions like this, and we’re all getting used to the idea of Zoom call interviews being broadcast quality,” he said.

Angelo echoed Egan’s remark about production challenges, and added that the pandemic is also prompting Vice to rethink its office space and “what production personnel, what journalists, what people actually need to be in any one of our 25 offices around the world,” he said.

With NPR’s business model, “we have enormous shifts of habits underway,” said Barnes. “We don’t know how many of those habits are going to be permanent and how many we’ll drop back, but we probably will never have as many people at our offices as we had.”

For NPR, Covid-19 has also sparked ideas for new products, including coronavirus newsletters, a podcast and an evening broadcast show. “And we’re looking at all the platforms where the audience is consuming now in ways and more heavily now than they had been four months ago and trying to figure out how do we pivot in the moment to serve them where they are and bring our sponsors with us to meet the audience,” Barnes added.

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