For whom is the digital bell starting to toll? If our futures are, indeed, tied to being more social, more local and more mobile than the rest who is winning in Leeds right now?

Here’s a question. In the, say, ten years since the Web started to turn our world upside down, what is the biggest, single innovation to come out of the five major, regional newspaper groups in the United Kingdom?

What one platform, one change of direction, one app, one paywall, one strategic purchase or timely exit made you sit up and really take notice?

How have JP, Trinity, Archant, Newsquest and Northcliffe re-armed, re-built and re-designed themselves as news platforms fit for the 21st Century?

Or have they simply rested on their 200-year-old brand laurels and trusted that the next generations of readers will – without hesitation or question – follow them into this new, digital landscape without a sideways glance at any new arrival in ‘their’ metropolitan spaces if we are all about to follow Eric Schmidt’s famed dictum to be ‘mobile, social and local’ in the future?

Actually, re-phrase that. More important still is whether the next generations of advertisers will – without hesitation or question – follow them into this new, digital landscape without a sideways glance at any new arrival in ‘their’ metropolitan spaces?

I say ‘their’ because the Newspaper Society have already seen off the challenge of the BBC in terms of local video in their spaces. That sense of ownership, of proprietorial-stroke-fuedal rights to these metropolitan landscapes still seeps out of every boardroom pore and public NS utterance.

There is, for example, absolutely no other way of communicating local authority public notices to the people of Yorkshire than through the print pages of the Yorkshire Evening Post and Co.

Why ask the question now? Because I was in Leeds on Friday; sat on, to my mind, the very front-line of ‘local’ and wondering who the big winners and the real losers are going to be in one of the smarter, digital cities out there. In fact, I might even argue it is the smartest city out there. Certainly in terms of new content players building up new, young and engaged audiences in the face of those still wedded to staining trees. Round here, we’ve long held Leeds folk in high regard.

The picture at the top of the page is the home news page for the Yorkshire Evening Post [Average net circulation Jan12-Jul12 33,805].

And the one here is for one of our fellow, NESTA DestinationLocal winners: LeedsOnLine: The City, Talking. It is worth comparing the two; and keeping one thought firmly at the forefront of your mind – that, in every likelihood, the winners of the race to command the hearts, the minds and, above all, ad incomes of the people of Leeds will be those that are more social, more local and more mobile than their rivals.

Whether or not they have been in that space for the better part of 200 years.

So, lets do social. After all both platforms are all social; there’s their Facebook link. And one for Twitter. Right now, it is hard to argue against Facebook’s domination of social. Certainly amidst what you would look at as the core audiences of your traditional evening newspapers.

When I looked the FB page for the Yorkshire Evening Post had 19,222 ‘likes’. LOL had 52,710. On Twitter the roles were reversed; the YEP had 22,721 followers; LOL a mere 6,333.

Either way, it would be hard for anyone to claim that the Post was winning the war to be the most social news platform in Leeds.

More importantly, from a potential advertiser perspective which would I prefer to target? The one with 19,222 likes on FB – or the one with 52,710? And which of those can I gut for greater demographic data to make sure my ad spend is ever better targetted within that city?

Local? I’m not going to do a head count of truly local stories; the Darwinian fight for survival will go to the one that can commercially adapt to the new, digital landscape the quickest. On the occasion I opened the page for the YEP – and, who knows, maybe it was because I viewed it in Norwich – I saw the generic, nationwide Dominos Pizza ad pictured above.

On LOL, it is for Leeds Digital Fashion Week.

But let’s talk mobile. And apps. Because there the YEP already has one… it is buried deep within the new JP DNA, that all platforms will go mobile. A tablet app. For iPad. And Android.

The first time I met Simon and Lee, the guys behind LOL!, was at a NESTA workshop; they are one of the ten winners – along with #21VC in Loddon, one of the two, English ‘regional’ winners of the NESTA funding.

To build… An app. ‘LOL! Leeds Online will develop a map based interface that allows access to its content via a mobile app. In addition to providing users with geographically relevant content, the app will use the map as its dashboard, allowing users to upload, search, read, comment, rate and tag news items…

As smart as I think they are, the point of this piece is that LOL! are not the only people to threaten JP’s grip on that city’s attention. At some point, one of OfCom’s 21 ‘Local TV’ enterprises will emerge holding the keys to the Leeds ‘TV’ space.

There are five bidders. ‘Made In Leeds’ is just one. By early 2014, someone else will be competing for eyeballs and ad bucks at that local level.

And I can think of at least one other player in this local ‘TV’ – aka video – space that could roll a very large tank down the A1. Against whom the lingering ‘might’ of the YEP brand would have little or no answer.

Leeds, for me, is worth watching. It may well deliver a lesson for every other city in the UK as to for whom the digital bell is starting to toll…


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