AOP: Sly Bailey: Dark 2009 Will Be Groundhog Day For Publishers

It’s not as if no-one anticipated what might occupy Sly Bailey’s keynote to the Association of Online Publishers conference in London this morning – the Trinity Mirror (LSE: TNI) CEO has been a vocal opponent of BBC Local’s online video plans and has tried valiantly to find the positives when all the indicators in Trinity’s recent ad sales performance point the other way.

No surprise, then, that she again called the £68 million BBC plan “a threat to the development and diversity of the local media sector online and potentially to its print-based cousins … it is anti-competitive, unnecessary and will waste public money replicating existing growing commercial offerings”.

Still, Bailey isn’t saying the BBC alone will kill local newspapers; the ad recession may do that all by itself – she forecast “tough times ahead”, backing recent observations from PwC, Enders, WARC, Hi-Media and DMGT that even web ads are slowing: “Digital businesses can no longer rely simply on a rising tide of growth. The latest market figures show that the downturn in the economy is now affecting digital media, with growth rates in internet advertising revenue falling in 2008 and the market expected to be more challenging in 2009.”

Trinity is certainly trying to grow a digital business to replace falling print revenue (witness the hyperlocal initiatives that Bailey says are threatened by the BBC) – something she said is “the right thing to do”. But she said publishers had to convert eyeballs in to cash, lest they simply run out of money. If Bailey sounded more confident than July, when she reported a 15 percent freefall in ad sales and upcoming £40 million savings, note her gloomy prediction today: “Remember 1999? Well 2009 will be like Groundhog Day. For the lucky, we should expect consolidation and, for the less, fortunate failure.” More at