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Ashley Highfield

Ashley Highfield66 posts

Ashley Highfield is a British media executive. After starting his career as a management consultant he worked in interactive TV before he was hired by the BBC in 2000. While at the BBC he oversaw the launch of the iPlayer, and grew the corporation’s online business. He is currently the CEO of Johnston Press, a regional newspaper publisher.


Attends Elizabeth College

Highfield attends Elizabeth College, a private school in Guernsey. While there his interest in computers is sparked by the BBC Micro, a low-cost computer made for the corporation by Acorn.

It’s a thing that you learned to program and connected up to a television set. The amazing thing now is that they’re all totally useless.


Sent to South Africa, works with ANC

Moves Country

Highfield is sent to work in South Africa, where his is employed by the ANC shortly after it is pitched into crisis by the arrest of Winnie Mandela in relation to the death of activist Stompie Moeketsi Seipei. Amid allegations of financial irregularities, Highfield is asked to get the books in order. He employs Olive Mungadze, a Zimbabwean, who is the only female black chartered accountant in sub-Saharan Africa. During the project, Mungadze and Highfield go into a remote Afrikaaner diner in Transkei.

I had never known an entire restaurant stop eating and just turn round and stare at me, a suited white businessman, with Olive, a suited black woman. They just stared at us for the whole dinner. An utterly different world. It was only 1993.

Joins Flextech, releases The Doll’s House


dolls_house__flextech300At Flextech, highfield creates sites for Discovery, Playboy and Parliamentary channels. He builds the business from just himself, to 100 staff. He launches The Doll’s House, an online reality show for the Bravo channel.

It was a number of girls in a house under constant surveillance by webcam. It hit the headlines when, not surprisingly, a visiting boyfriend got caught in bed with one of the girls on webcam.

He successfully invests in the dotcom boom, including the online mapping site MultiMap.com, and the ticketing agency Way Ahead Group.

When I lucked in during the dotcom boom I bought myself a Ferrari.

While at the company he is presented with their “worst dressed man” award.

3 Oct, 2000

Joins BBC


The BBC announces that Highfield will join the corporation as Director of New Media & Technology, starting in October. He is the youngest ever member of the Executive Committee, reporting directly to Director General Greg Dyke. The new media division consists of interactive television, BBC Online and a new research and development department called Imagineering, which has been rolled out over the past two months.

BBC Online is an incredible achievement and the advances made in interactive services are very exciting. I hope my experience, combined with the power of the BBC brand, will be an unbeatable combination.

2 Jul, 2001

Guardian Media 100: No. 81

Other Awards

Highfield is placed at 81 in The Guardian’s Media 100 list of the UK’s most powerful media people.

He will be judged on modernising the corporation’s attitude to digital media and reaching a young, tech-savvy audience, which the BBC is in danger of losing.

22 Jul, 2002

Defends increased BBC web spending

Makes Statement

Highfield defends the previous year’s decision by the BBC to almost double the amount invested in the corporation’s websites. The corporation spent £100.4m on the internet last year, compared with £54.2m the year before. Including interactive television, the total expenditure rises to £111.6m. Highfield says future spending will be capped at 3%. Commercial rivals and some MPs have criticised the BBC’s spending, arguing it is using licence fee-payers’ money to provide online services already offered by the commercial sector.

Having arrived from the commercial sector, I’m always acutely aware of this. Whenever I think about where we’re going to put our money, I always carefully consider the consequences for the private sector. I trebled the amount we spend on nations and regions, increasing the number of Where I Live regional sites from 13 to 37. It doesn’t block out any commercial interest because most existing regional sites are heavily based on classified advertising.

A large proportion of the extra money was spent on upgrading the BBC’s server technology to cope with the increase in users following September 11.

Part of our original commitment was to encourage people to come on to the web and I think we’re doing that. Of the 500,000 visitors who used the Test the Nation site on the day of the broadcast, 300,000 had never visited the BBC site before.

12 Mar, 2003

Announces 100 job cuts

Makes Statement

The BBC announces 100 job losses across its websites as it looks to control costs. Highfield says the corporation’s spending on the web will fall by £6m in the next financial year to £68m and by a similar amount the following year. After several years of explosive growth in staffing and spending, BBCi will only receive inflation-linked budget increases from now on.

We have strategically positioned the move towards interactive TV because we’ve seen how popular it can be and it reaches people that don’t necessarily spend a lot of time on the web…We’ve got to work out what people look at and what they don’t.

7 Jul, 2003

Guardian Media 100: No. 25

Other Awards

Highfield is placed at 25 in The Guardian’s Media 100 list of the UK’s most powerful media people.

The heat is being turned up on the Beeb’s internet activities after the culture secretary, Tessa Jowell, ordered it to justify the £112m it spends each year on its online and interactive services…The Beeb’s less popular websites are facing the axe (including Crimewatch and Watchdog), while its focus on interactive TV will shift away from high-profile “events”.

12 Jul, 2004

Guardian Media 100: No. 33

Other Awards

Highfield is placed at 33 in The Guardian’s Media 100 list of the UK’s most powerful media people.

Highfield, perhaps the BBC’s most consummate empire builder, has spent most of the last year on the back foot. In the run-up to the government-ordered Graf report into the BBC’s new media operations, he spent a great deal of time defending the BBC’s online reputation, commissioning KMPG to rebuff accusations that bbc.co.uk unfairly distorted the marketplace.

20 Dec, 2004

Plans to challenge Google


In an interview with The Guardian, Highfield says that the BBC has the potential to challenge Google.

We have got the best content in the world and a more flexible rights framework than anyone. We have the best brand, I would argue, online in the world in terms of trust and impartiality. We’ve also got access to some of the best technology in the world. If you glue all of that together we should be in a prime position to create the best next-generation search navigation tool in the world. We haven’t yet found out across all genres what new media can do. Where we have, like in education, the digital curriculum has become a great example of a product that owes very little to radio or television and is very much of the medium.

In response to the BBC governors’ response to Philip Graf’s review of BBC Online he has been required to cut funding by 10%, axing sites deemed not to pass the corporation’s new “public value” guidelines.

In order to free up the required funding we must start to behave more like television and radio, decommissioning sites or cutting back on funding, or even archiving them as circumstances change.

18 Jul, 2005

Guardian Media 100: No. 23

Other Awards

Highfield is placed at 23 in The Guardian’s Media 100 list of the UK’s most powerful media people.

Highfield has had a much better year than last, when he was regarded as very much on the back foot after the government-ordered Graf report into the BBC’s online operations.While a string of websites have been shut as a result of Graf and the government’s green paper, Highfield’s new media department is expected to be one of the prime beneficiaries of director general Mark Thompson’s controversial plans to make annual savings of £355m.

24 Oct, 2005

No 1 in Marketing magazine’s Power 50

Other Awards

Highfield is awarded the top spot in Marketing magazine’s Power 50 selection. The magazine says:

The reason Highfield made number one in the Power 50 is that, so far, the BBC has not just made sense of digital but managed to drag its enormous self to the very front of its development. Highfield has led it there, while [Director General Mark] Thompson is a digital convert himself.


I wonder if it’s our place in the industry, which Tessa Jowell once described as the creative R&D for the nation. Whether we’re expected to innovate because we can, because we can take a long-term view on it or because we are funded differently; that we can be expected to take risks and try things out. And I think having the UK’s largest content web site, that’s got to be one of the reasons why we’ve got this huge role as a route to market. But I do hope it’s more the positive aspects of what we can do to help drive the industry – drive the market – than the 900lb gorilla that distorts the market…First and foremost is our audience, which is why we get the licence fee. You’ve got 16 million people (using BBC.co.uk), so we have an obligation to be there. It’s not something we can play around with any more. For me, number one is meeting these sometimes frightening audience demands, but not doing so in a way that distorts the market. Far from it. What we are trying to do is make sure that, in getting out to more and more people, we don’t end up dominating share.

24 May, 2006

Royal Television Society speech


In a speech to the Royal Television Society, Highfield clarifies the role of the BBC in the commercial Internet landscape. In the previous week, a group of companies, including Associated Newspapers, the Commercial Radio Companies Association, the Newspaper Society, News International and the Telegraph Group, called for greater restrictions on the BBC asking for limits to be imposed on its digital remit.

[The Corporation] absolutely doesn’t want to be a MySpace or a Flickr or a Friends Reunited. [We want our digital presence] to shift from being a gateway to being a conduit, a channel for conveying content and frequently neither the start nor the end of the journey…I believe our audiences value bbc.co.uk as a portal, as a safe haven for many, which offers a starting point and a trusted guide. But we also believe our audience want much more as well. To find our content where they want it, whether within their favourite portal like MSN, their community like YouTube, or their environment like the Second Life virtual world website. They want to contribute their content – this we know – but not necessarily always on our site.

17 Jul, 2006

Guardian Media 100: No. 21

Other Awards

Highfield is placed at 21 in The Guardian’s Media 100 list of the UK’s most powerful media people.

Ashley Highfield is among the most important technology executives working in the UK today,” said one panellist. “Yes, but talk about being in the right place at the right time,” said another. “Mark Thompson should be credited with the vision, not him.

13 Aug, 2006

Independent interview


The Independent interviews Highfield, in his new position as head of Future Media and Technology at the BBC. He says he plans to use the department’s £250m to £400m budget and and 1500 staff to put Britain at the forefront of internet-based technology by opening the BBC’s video archive of the BBC, some 1.2 million hours of film, for free.

I think we are about to go from the predominantly text-based, predominantly static world into the video-rich, dynamic, two-way engaging environment. That for me is when it starts to get really interesting. It’s more than putting a newspaper online it’s where you can really start to empower people and give them total control over their media consumption…What we [The British] have is an opportunity now in Web 2.0 to actually get ahead of the game, because we do have one of the most advanced creative industries, our television industry is world renowned…[The BBC] has one of the world’s largest archives, if not the largest archive. And yet, because we’ve got so few channels – routes to our audience – inevitably 99.9 per cent of that content stays on the shelves. We ought to liberate it and make it available, how, when and where our audience would like to consume it.

On the UK approach to education and technology:

The streaming of people in England into arts and science means that people who can explain technology are few and far between. It’s so rare in the creative industries to find creatives who are interested in technology, because a lot of them look down on it. It wouldn’t happen in America or Germany. It’s very rare as well to find technologists who have been taught how to sell their ideas. It’s one of the reasons why the entrepreneurial culture here hasn’t made many dotcom successes.

15 May, 2007

BBC ‘still innovative’


Responding to Greg Dyke’s comments that the iPlayer is losing ground, Highfield defends innovation at the BBC.

No one in the UK content market could innovate faster. The only thing that might stifle innovation would be the process of approving new services because that can take a long time. With BBC Trust approval framework for new services, we won’t always be able to be number one to market, but that doesn’t mean we wouldn’t or couldn’t be innovators.

He says the Company can help the transition to mobile:

The BBC can play this role of trusted guide, taking audiences through new mobile experiences and helping to build the market.

9 Jul, 2007

Guardian Media 100: No. 37

Other Awards

Highfield is placed at 37 in The Guardian’s Media 100 list of the UK’s most powerful media people.

So why has Highfield, director of future media and technology and a member of the BBC’s executive board, fallen nine places in this year’s MediaGuardian 100? Answer: the iPlayer.[T]he project has been hit by successive delays and rebrandings and has given rival broadcasters the chance to steal the march on the corporation.

14 Apr, 2008

Appointed CEO of Kangaroo


Highfield is appointed CEO of Kangaroo, a video-on-demand service owned by BBC Worldwide, ITV and Channel 4, and due to launch in 2008. He take over from Lesley Mackenzie, who has been managing the project as interim CEO. As well as overseeing the roll-out of the new service, Highfield will lead negotiations with third party content owners and the future distribution of the service on other platforms.

This is a fantastic opportunity. Kangaroo is a historic partnership with a combination of innovative technology and terrific content and I’m looking forward to transforming the way audiences watch television.

10 Nov, 2008

Joins Microsoft


Highfield leaves Project Kangaroo after four months to join Microsoft as managing director of their UK online operation. He will be replaced on an interim basis by Ron Henwood, while a search for a replacement is conducted. Kangaroo Chairman Ben McOwen Wilson:

We would like to thank Ashley for leading Project Kangaroo through a crucial stage in its development, and we wish him well for the future.

26 Jun, 2009

Claimed £47,517 expenses while at BBC

The Guardian reports that Highfield claimed £47,517.76 in expenses from the BBC, between 2004 and 2009, with his highest being for £14,613.68 in 2006-07. His pay in 2007 was £466,000. The expenses include subscriptions to Sky TV and for the purchase of iPods. BBC:

These subscriptions were paid for where the BBC deemed that they would not in normal circumstances been taken for personal use. This was in order for Mr Highfield to be fully informed about emerging digital and interactive technology.

11 Nov, 2009

IAB Engage 2009 speech

Gives Talk

Highfield gives a presentation at IAB Engage 2009. He talks about where the television industry is going.

What took the telephone 100 years to achieve mass market penetration, took the television industry 50 years. It took the PC industry barely 20 years. In the UK this year we reached a tipping point where there are more PCs sold than television sets…When low-end netbooks become ubiquitous and disposable the idea of receiving your video content through traditional means almost becomes absurd…Whilst TV has to change dramatically, video content has an extremely rich and monetisable future.

24 Mar, 2010

Bournemouth University media masterclass


Highfield gives a media masterclass at Bournemouth University’s media school.

The Internet market is now worth £4 billion, in just ten years. Half of that is access, so the ISPs have £2 billion. To put that in context, the whole television market in 50 years is only £8 billion. The whole radio market is half a billion  It wasn’t wrong, the dotcom bubble, it was just vastly inflated, and the expectations were too soon. To give you the BBC statistics: A couple of years ago, during the height of the dotcom boom in 2000 we had an audience of about three million to our website. Our audience in February was 8.5 million in the UK. Our audience has best part of trebled in just two years. That to me is the dotcom revolution.

6 Dec, 2010

Sky News Tech Talk


Highfield is asked four questions by Sky News Tech Talk. Why did Microsoft create MSN? How successful is MSN today? How will the online media landscape and MSN evolve going forward? and If you had to leave your job today, what three businesses would you start? On the latter:

The first trend is obviously mobile. We [Microsoft] have seen the explosion of mobile consumption of all our services. So something around the mobile, particularly in location services…like the next generation of Foursquare. On the web, highly-visual search…we are just at the beginning of a new journey, a different way of navigating and searching. And the trend that we are seeing with the launch of xBox Kinect, where we see a user interface that requires no remote control…That’s the beginning of a journey where natural language, voice commands and motion commands are going to be huge.

20 Jun, 2011

IAB Mobile Engage speech

Gives Talk

Highfield speaks at IAB Mobile Engage 2011. He talks about the growth in the mobile phone market, the lag of mobile advertising behind consumer uptake.

I think that mobile advertising is going to increase much more rapidly i.e. we are going to get through 5 and 10% of total budgets within two years, not the four or years it took Internet advertising. It’s self evident why: Most brands and companies have gotten used to digital advertising. I think that the benefits of mobile advertising, highly-targeted, highly social, highly engaging, is going to mean that the rate of adoption is going to happen far, far quicker.

28 Jul, 2011

Appointed CEO of Johnston Press


Highfield is appointed CEO of Johnston Press. He will start on November 1.  He will be given a £500,000 “golden hello” share package, in a compensation package that is biased towards equity. The publisher currently has only about 7% of total revenues from digital sources, and it is struggling with a huge debt burden and tough advertising market. Chairman Russell:

His combined online and media sector pedigree will be a major strength in enabling us to grow our business again. On behalf of the board I would also like to thank John for his major contribution to the company and wish him well for the future.

21 Mar, 2012

Rules out paywall. Launches iPad apps

Gives Talk

At the MediaGuardian Changing Media Summit 2012, Highfield says he will not introduce a paywall at Johnston Press. He plans for Johnston Press’s 255 titles to derive 20% to 25% of advertising revenue from digital within three years. Currently 5% of total income comes from digital.

The danger with content behind a paywall as News International did is that it is not indexed [on internet search engines such as Google], you then fall off the social graph and then no one cares what The Times says. It can be a spiral, a dangerous place to end up. Regional [newspapers] are about community, engaging with communities, and you have to be by and large free to do that. It is interesting but nothing we are about to follow soon.

Highfield is also launching a combination of paid-for iPad apps and 140 free mobile phone apps, such as the Scotsman at £7.99/month, to drive revenue and readership for its regional papers. The mobile apps have added 2 million new unique users, boosting the publisher’s total digital audience to 10 million. Highfield also says that he can see new models such as “newspaper first to digital first” and perhaps by 2020, “digital daily, print weekly”.

We need to make a digital transition, we need to do it and need to do it quickly. But this is not a panic situation. I don’t believe in a glide path to oblivion, but I’m not saying we don’t have to grasp the nettle. [Regional newspapers] are social, local and mobile but we just haven’t claimed that territory. It is going to be hard but there is survival.

28 Mar, 2013

Received £700,000 compensation

It is reported that Highfield earned more than £700,000 last year, his first full year at Johnston Press, His compensation comprised £400,000 salary, with bonuses and pension contributions of £301,000.

7 May, 2013

Future of News interview


Highfield talks to Future Medialab about the future of news, responding to the question: In five years’ time, how do you expect news to have changed?

In some way, news will be the same, people will still want to know what’s going on around them, particularly local and regional news news. The want to know things that matter in their community. What will change profoundly is the medium through they get their news. Increasingly on mobile people want utility information: traffic, travel, weather, breaking headlines, sports results. And in the newspaper they want more in-depth, investigative journalism. Things they can pore over for longer.

27 Feb, 2014

Media & Telecoms 2014 speech

Gives Talk

Highfield gives a speech at the Media & Telecoms 2014 conference, titled Reinventing Local Media.

I became convinced, reading enough articles by Mark Sweeney, that the official name of our company was “beleaguered Johnston Press”…There was a tsunami that hit the regional and local press industry. In just one year, 2007-2008, Johnston Press’ share price fell 99%. The dotcom crash that hit the local press industry happened eight years after the dotcom crash, but my God, it was every bit as severe, and every bit as rapid. That was the shift of the classified industry, particularly in motors and property, away from print and on  to Autotrader and Rightmove. Well that shift’s happened. That’s gone. The industry that we are now in, of providing local news and information to people in communities that really matter to them, is a pretty stable business. Since then we have had a four-fold increase in share price.

29 Oct, 2014

‘Worst is over’ for local papers

Makes Statement

Highfields says, contrary to the predictions of media pundits, that Johnston Press will still be printing newspapers in five years. The decline in Johnston Press revenues has slowed from 4.3pc in the first half of the year to 3.1pc in the third quarter. The company cited 40pc year-on-year growth in the audience for its websites, to 27 million users in September, as the main force behind the improvement.

We’re increasingly confident in saying the worst is over for the regional press. We might not be completely out of the woods but the growth in digital audiences, and in fact the performance of print, tells us we’ll get there.

4 Nov, 2014

MediaPlay 2014 interview


Highfield is interviewed by Douglas at Media Playground 2014 conference. They talk about the death of print, going mobile-first, the long-running spat between the regional press and the BBC and the future of local journalism.

You need to get digital growing pretty rapidly to make up for print decline. We are getting to that digital tipping point.

6 Feb, 2015

BBC’s future of news ‘misguided’

Writes Article

Highfields writes an editorial for The Yorkshire Post, about the BBC’s moves into regional news.

When I first read the BBC’s Future of News report last week I’m not sure what depressed me most – the inflammatory language used, the misguided sentiment behind it, or the fact that the BBC intends parking a tank on every local lawn and offering its version of hyper local news controlled from London W1A…Ithe BBC needs to focus on what it’s brilliant at – creating world-class content – and stop trying to be all things to all people. The BBC sets the standard for national and international news. They simply don’t have the resources to be brilliant at everything..I do still dare to believe that we can actually create a genuinely collaborative partnership – one which allows the BBC to play its role in the provision of local news but which still allows local media to thrive in the communities they have been serving for hundreds of years…Fast forward to a digital world where there is not supply from a television and radio broadcaster to a print publisher, but a flow of digital content to and from a national media brand to hyper local titles.

10 Mar, 2015

Journalists job losses warning

Makes Statement

While speaking at the Digital Media Strategies conference, a gathering of more than 400 CEOs and senior leaders from the media industry, Highfield warns that the number of full-time journalists working across the group’s local titles will fall from its current figure of about 1,000. He says Johnston Press is aiming to increase the proportion of its revenue from digital advertising to about 23% in 2015, up from 17% in the current financial year, and that the group is headed towards a point at which digital ad revenue is growing four times faster than print declines.

The economics of this business means we will end up with fewer full-time journalists on our books. What you end up with is a much more fluid model with contributors producing a larger percentage of the newspaper. That’s not something we can duck. The economics of the digital world are going to mean our businesses can grow, not just survive but grow, but we need to go about things in a different way. It doesn’t mean the front of the book or the quality of editorial oversight will be diminished.

27 Apr, 2015

Received £1.65m pay in 2014

The Guardian reports Highfield received £1.65m in pay in 2014, including a £645,000 bonus, more than triple the £592,000 he was awarded in 2013. The company’s remuneration committee also granted him a pay rise of almost 7.5%, or £26,000, from £404,000 to £430,000 for 2015. Johnston Press reported a pre-tax loss of £23.9m last year. Underlying profits rose from £54m to £55.5m. Highfield received a £483,000 annual bonus, including cash and a deferred element that became due after three years, for hitting a number of performance targets, such as increasing digital revenue by 20% from £24m to £28.8m, and growing the company’s digital audience by more than 30%. He also received an additional bonus for reducing the company’s debt from £302m to £184.6m, and further compensation from a share performance package, equivalent to 125% of his initial salary, which vested last year.

20 May, 2015

Appointed Vice Chairman of NMA


Highfield is named vice-chairman of the News Media Association, which represents the national and regional newspaper industry.

Newsbrands are experiencing a renewed surge in confidence as their digital audiences and revenues continue to grow, and the power of print as a highly effective editorial and advertising medium is more widely acknowledged. The NMA has a critical role to play in highlighting the strength and adaptability of of newsbrands – in print and digital – as communications medium.

1 Jun, 2015

Media Briefing interview


Highfield is interviewed by MediaBriefing’s Thackray about how Johnston Press has been addressing the structural challenges facing the business, how it is adapting to digital, and how it plans to tackle mobile. Highfield:

People do not buy a local paper to turn to the small ads and sell a push bike. With that having migrated… you can argue it was a major missed opportunity for the regional press not to make more of those verticals like motoring or property… but that’s the past, and now we have a much more stable environment, and our audience numbers… have never been bigger.

14 Jul, 2015

Issues profit warning as advertisers cut spending

Financial ReportMakes Statement

Johnston Press reports that full-year profits would be down by around 5.5% and half year profits by around 5% after it saw a fall in advertising revenues and circulation sales in the 26 weeks to 4 July 2015. The company said advertisers chose to hold off and slash spending across print and online amid the uncertainty caused by the election. The share price falls by more than 16%. CEO Highfield:

Trading conditions in the first half of 2015 have undoubtedly been challenging, especially in the period around the general election – a time when there was also a high degree of uncertainty in the wider market.

27 Sep, 2015

Rejects BBC local journalists plan


Highfield responds to the BBC’s suggestion that it would fund 100 local reporters to provide public service material for regional papers.

[It’s not an olive branch], More like an olive leaf. It looked to us like BBC imperialism through the back door. The whole idea was flawed. Essentially, by hiring more journalists, it meant the BBC putting another workforce into the regions who could well end up competing with us. We are worried about the BBC’s plans to get more local, as per their charter announcements, and worried also about their false belief that there is a market failure [by us] which gives them the right to fill the vacuum.

Rejecting the 100 reporters idea, the publishers prefer a quota system in which 25% of the BBC budget spent on regional news would be made available for publishers to fund their own journalists to provide content for newspapers and the BBC.

There are issues around impartiality, but our guys can write impartial copy. It is solvable. And it would be an attractive proposition for our staff to have the chance to appear on camera. It will make working for the local media more attractive. I believe we can find a symbiotic win-win relationship. The BBC can take our content and pay for it. And we can take BBC content and extend our audiences. What’s not to like?

He also addresses the conflict addresses the conflicts arising from his role as a member of the advisory panel created by the government to review the BBC.

I’ve been absolutely transparent about it. John [Whittingdale] knows I have views on how the BBC should work with regional publishers. But that is being dealt with through a clear and separate channel, so no one can be in any doubt about the situation. I’m extremely proud of having worked there…I’m a big fan of the BBC. It’s simply about finding the right ecosystem.

19 Nov, 2015

Local newspaper closures ‘blown out of proportion’


Speaking to the House of Commons culture select committee, Highfield says the number of local newspapers closed over the last decade has been “blown out of all proportion”, with most of the 300 being shut not “papers of record” that are vital to most UK communities.

This is something that is often blown out of all proportion. The papers that have been closed were often the freesheets that were opened in the 1990s to mop up low-yielding advertising revenues when the times were good… I think you’ll find the numbers of papers of record that have closed over the last decade is incredibly low. That is something that needs to be understood.

12 Feb, 2016

Johnston Press buys i newspaper


Johnston Press reaches a deal to buy the i newspaper from ESI Media for £24m. Highfield:

This is a transformational acquisition for Johnston Press and an important step towards delivering our long-term strategy. i is a highly-regarded newspaper with a clear market position and a loyal readership. By joining with Johnston Press the combined circulation will be equal to 9% of national daily circulation, making us the fourth-largest player in the market. This enhanced reach represents a significant growth opportunity for Johnston Press in terms of national print and digital advertising revenue. It also rebalances our revenues towards less volatile circulation revenues. With our considerable digital experience the combination of Johnston Press and i will also allow us to grow digital audiences and revenues through the creation of inews.co.uk.

17 Feb, 2016

City AM interview


Highfield says of the £24.4m acquisition of the i newspaper from Evgeny Lebedev. He intends to build the brand’s digital presence, increase the distribution of the print edition, targeting small- and medium-sized retailers like post offices and newsagents, and expand to all areas of the UK, including Northern Ireland, where the paper is not currently sold. He will improve editorial by taking 17 existing members of staff and hiring others to form a team of 50. The paper will also draw content from Lebedev’s The Independent’s website and the Evening Standard for £850,000 a year, as well as from Johnston Group’s regional papers. Highfield says that the purchase is about building scale for Johnston Press and attracting bigger advertising. He says scaling by acquiring small regional media groups would have taken a long time and been very expensive.

We are in one quarter of the coun­try and we want to be in all of it, not least because this is a scale game and we wanted to go after more national advertising revenue and have a bigger train set across which to offer our digital services. I’ve always had a fundamental belief that video didn’t kill the radio star. New technology comes along, but it rarely wipes out what came before it. I think people will still want print for many years to come.

22 Mar, 2016

Profits rise by more than a fifth but further cuts loom

Financial ReportMakes Statement

Johnston Press reports total revenue for 2015 was down by 6.8% from £260m in 2014 to £242.3m last year. However, profits increased by 22.6% to £31.5m by reducing costs to £191.7m from £205.3m in 2014. CEO Highfield says the group hopes to sell some brands and some of its key assets. However, he said he “could not rule out” closing some titles. Debt is down by £14.8m to £179.4m from £194.2m in 2014, with interest payments reduced by almost £10m to £19.1m. The number of people reached through Johnston’s digital titles was up by 40.7% to 22.6 million, with digital advertising revenue rising by 12.4% to £30.6m.

We are a plc and our primary objective is to keep the business moving forward … we have to make profits. We are all on the same side here, which is try to get the business back to growth and get the long-standing debt off our shoulders. The tough trading conditions have already been highlighted by DMGT and Trinity Mirror. We are being prudent in not anticipating it getting better and we are going to make sure we are cutting our cloth appropriately.

Highfield also says Johnston has filled all but two of 50 roles for i for when it takes control of the title on 10 April, filling the roles from The Independent within two weeks.

29 Mar, 2016

Says BBC should pay for regional reporters

Makes Statement

Highfield says the BBC should pay for regional papers’ journalists to cover courts and council meetings. Regional papers are seeking £14m a year from the BBC’s licence fee income to cover public service reporting. The proposed new deal would fund 364 public service journalists.

[The BBC] would be setting aside an amount to fund council reporting. But instead of the 100 journalists being employed by the BBC, and effectively being tanks on our lawns, the idea we are working through with them is that this could be an even bigger initiative with several hundred journalists. But they would be employed by us, and that is the difference, and commissioned to provide council and other quango reporting to the BBC.

Calls for better industry metrics

Makes Statement

Speaking at a “fireside chat” Guardian Media Changing Summit 2016, Highfield calls for better industry metrics.

We’ve created two metrics – newspaper sales and unique users – and never the two shall meet. We need to create a new, single, de-duped, audience-led metric – a total readership-like number that ad agencies and advertisers will buy into.

1 Apr, 2016

Sells 6802 Johnston Press shares

Highfield sells 6,802 shares of Johnston Press stock, at an average price of £0.41 ($0.59), for a total value of £2,788.82 ($3,981.75).

7 Apr, 2016

Plans to take group upmarket


Highfield talks about his plans to  to take the regional newspaper group upmarket. The company will increase the number of ABC1 readers from 2.5 million to nearly 3 million with his acquisition of i. He says he won’t increase to cover price (the paper cost 40p and sells 270,000 copies/day).

Two numbers keep sticking in my head. We have got 9 per cent of daily newspaper circulation and 3 per cent share of national advertising revenues in print. I think the pendulum will swing back to quality. Advertisers want quality audiences in print and online, and that is what we can deliver. Our strategy of moving ever-more upmarket has got to be the right one.

Highfield also dismisses the suggestion that quality is suffering because of cuts to Johnston Press journalists.

If you ask them ‘Do they produce better content than they’ve ever done?’, I’d hope they’d say yes. [Social media, reader-generated content and real-time analytics mean the editorial product has] probably never been of a higher quality. [But] the economics do not allow you to employ the same number of people as 20 or 30 years ago.

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