How Rupert Murdoch's grandson wants to sell news back to millennials

Clippet: co-founders Grace Regan and James MacLeod
Clippet: co-founders Grace Regan and James MacLeod

Anyone interested in the future of news tends to keep an eye on what the millennial generation - loosely defined as those born after 1980 - are up to.

When traditional news outlets such as radio, print and TV first began losing readers and viewers in significant numbers, one view was that millennials were less interested in news, instead preferring the distraction of Facebook or Instagram.

60% of those aged between 16 and 24 get their news online, compared with 33% for print and 27% for radio

The stats suggest that millennials are abandoning old formats, rather than the news itself.

According to a 2014 survey from Ofcom, 95% of Brits still follow the news through one medium or another.

The balance is shifting online, with the percentage of readers getting their news through apps or sites greater than those that do so from newspapers.

That’s being driven by younger readers, with 60% of those aged between 16 and 24 consuming news online. That compares with 33% for print and 27% for radio. TV still has a strong showing at 60%.

Like almost every other consumer industry, publishers are looking for loyalty and cut-through in an age of noise and distraction.

News in audio snippets

Two entrepreneurs falling into that age bracket, Grace Regan and James MacLeod, believe they have the answer – keep the news short and hands-free.

The two have co-founded Clippet, a short-form audio news service that offers quick-fire stories on mobile lasting approximately a minute.

CEO MacLeod happens to be Rupert Murdoch’s grandson, a delicious irony that isn’t lost on him. Despite what he describes as a "strong connection to news" through his family, traditional outlets weren’t keeping him engaged. He also said none of Clippet’s funding to date – from a loan and a friends and family round – has come from News Corp.

He told Marketing: "I wanted something that would give me short summaries of news I was interested in, which would let me dive in deep if I wanted."

Key to Clippet’s appeal is its tone, with in-house journalists dropping their T’s through their bouncy, CBBC Newsround-style narration.  It does still follow traditional news agenda, however. Unlike BuzzFeed, Vox and Vice, which are all increasingly investing in original journalism, Clippet takes the main issues of the day reported elsewhere – Jay-Z’s new streaming service, Greek politics – and summarises them in an accessible way.

Editor-in-chief Regan said: "We’ve spent a year developing how we produce editorial content. A lot of what we listened to on broadcast hadn’t changed for 40 years. There’s a set way of presenting news in audio and it’s time for it to be updated.

"It’s why our generation isn’t connecting with the news."

Is audio better than video?

One immediate question is whether there is any demand for short-form audio. The recent success of NPR’s Serial, a 12-episode podcast investigating a murder in Baltimore, may be a one-off, but suggests there is a strong appetite for in-depth stories.

MacLeod doesn’t say why the time might be ripe for short-form audio, saying only: "We felt this format hadn’t seen any innovation in a long time. This was a natural way for it to innovate."

Another trend that makes audio an odd choice is the growth of video. The rise of Instagram, Vine and Snapchat all point to a generation geared towards visual sharing, while Facebook recently claimed it sees an average of 1bn video views a day. Twitter has also recently introduced embedded video in tweets.

That, in turn, means advertisers are putting more of their money into video. According to an IAB/PwC report last year, mobile video is the fastest growing digital ad format, with spend growing almost 200% to £63.9 million in the first half of last year. In total, advertisers spent £202m on video ads over that period.

That doesn’t necessarily bode well for Clippet’s business model, with the start-up hoping to provide sponsored audio content to brands and publishers by the end of 2015. Rather than adopting pre-roll formats used by Spotify and other audio services, the idea is to produce editorialised sponsored audio content.

It is too early to predict whether that model will see success. Clippet is not giving out user numbers, since it only launched in September, and will be looking to raise extra funding in April. 

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