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The value of news media as a reliable and trusted source of information and insight was heightened in 2020. Notwithstanding an increase in audience during the height of the pandemic, news media also felt the impact of the market-wide downturn on advertising revenue as readers increased their use of digital services to access their news.

Coming through bushfires, floods, and then the global pandemic, Australians accessed their news from a number of sources, with digital channels becoming even more critical as people sought up-to-the-minute information regarding quarantine measures, lockdowns, and vaccination programs. With 15.6 million Australians regularly engaging with news brands across platforms1, the immediacy of digital news is undoubtedly one of the drivers behind the increase in overall digital news consumption.

The subsequent decline of overall printed circulation and advertising revenue during 2020 occured as digitisation plans were accelerated by major publishers. While digital advertising revenue temporarily stalled, digital circulation increased in 2020, paving the way forward for an integrated and immersive news media offering.

Leading into the pandemic, all major publishers were looking towards a predominantly digital future to compensate for the loss of print circulation and print advertising revenue, as well as meeting the readers where and when they were looking for news content. With printed circulation revenue dropping -6.7 percent in 2020 to A$735 million, and print advertising revenue dropping more markedly by -24.0 percent to A$882 million, all major publishers leaned into rapid transformation and a shift to a digital future.

While digital advertising revenues felt the sector-wide impact of the pandemic with a drop of -5.5 percent to A$463 million, digital subscriptions increased 23.5 percent to A$375 million in 2020. The University of Canberra’s Digital News Report 2021 states that currently 13 percent of Australians pay for online news, below the global average of 17 percent. This means there should still be room for growth in this area, provided the positioning, value proposition and immediacy needs of potential digital subscribers can be met. 

The majority of news media businesses have continued to look for revenue opportunities outside the two areas covered by this report - subscription or circulation revenue and advertising revenue. The pursuit of a bigger share of total marketing budgets has seen the news media businesses increase the number of direct relationships with advertisers to offer cross-platform opportunities that extend beyond strictly "news" and into other forms of entertainment and customer engagement within their respective portfolios. Given the specific and bespoke nature of these engagements, they are not included in this report. 

Based on these trends, over the forecast period to 2025, print advertising revenue is expected to decline at a CAGR of -10.2 percent to A$609 million, while print circulation revenue is forecast to decline at a CAGR of -5.1 percent to A$577 million. Digital news display advertising revenue will grow at a CAGR of 3.8 percent to A$611 million, and digital subscriptions will also grow, reaching A$580 million, an increase of 11.4 percent CAGR, based on a mid point scenario. 

Structural transformation continued across the sector in 2020, with a number of title closures as well as significant changes to printed editions and newswire services.

As reported in last year's edition of this report, News Corp announced in 2020 that a total of 112 print newspapers would stop being printed, stating that 36 would close altogether and 76 would become online only.2 Equally, the other major players including Nine Entertainment Company and the Australian Community Media announced their own changes - whether to distribution, print centre resources, staffing or centralisation of specific functions to a shared service model - in an effort to reduce costs in the face of revenue challenges.

2020 also saw the sale of AAP’s Newswire Service, which was followed by the launch of News Corp’s NCA Newswire to service multiple News Corp properties and media assets. While AAP was able to gain a level of support for their ongoing role, it is clear that the consolidation of news resources is a strategy that will deliver cost savings and a more tailored news program to major publishers.

The trend towards the integration of print and digital for news media accelerated in 2020 with Enhanced Media Metrics Australia (emma) moving to a “Total Audience” reporting system delivering print figures alongside digital for each masthead. The 2020 emma audience figures showed that readership of digital news grew by 8.1 percent in 2020 and cross-platform readership by 2.3 percent.3

2020 was a year in which regulatory matters took centre stage, most notably with the ACCC report into the role of the major digital platforms in the distribution of news content, followed by the hearing into media diversity in early 2021.

In 2020, the Government directed the ACCC to develop legislation to address the alleged impact of Google and Facebook within news media.4 This legislation passed through the Senate in early 2021 and seeks to create revenue-sharing deals between Google and Facebook and large news media companies for the use of their news content. Since the legislation passed, there have been numerous announcements of revenue-sharing deals between news media publishers in Australia and Google and Facebook, although the intricacies of these deals are not public.

The Senate also held a hearing into media diversity following an online petition by former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. The hearing heard from a range of players from across the media sector including former politicians as well as the major media providers in Australia.

Forecasts at a glance

Digital Newspaper Circulation Market (A$ millions)

CAGR 2019-2025 based on the midpoint forecast scenario

Digital Newspaper Circulation 11.4%

Paper Newspaper Circulation Market (A$ millions)

CAGR 2019-2025 based on the midpoint forecast scenario

Paper Newspaper Circulation -5.1%

Print Newspaper Advertising Market (A$ millions)

This forecast does not include direct engagements between publishers and advertisers that may span multiple properties.

CAGR 2019-2025 based on the midpoint forecast scenario

Print Newspaper Advertising -10.2%

Digital News Display Advertising Market (A$ millions)

This forecast does not include direct engagements between publishers and advertisers that may span multiple properties.
2018 - 2019 figures have been updated to reflect recently available market information.

CAGR 2019-2025 based on the midpoint forecast scenario

Digital News Display Advertising 3.8%

Total Newspaper Market (A$ millions)

Excludes digital video and direct publisher/advertiser revenues.

CAGR 2019-2025 based on the midpoint forecast scenario

Total Newspaper Market -2.3%

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