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Julian Linley, editor in chief of Digital Spy talks global expansion

Entertainment site Digital Spy is without a doubt one of the greatest British online publishing success stories of recent years. The late 90s start-up site, which was bought by Hachette and is now part of the Hearst stable, has since gone onto become a key player and innovator in British online media.

Now it boasts a new editor in chief, ex launch editor of Heatworld, Julian Linley, whose ambition is to turn Digital Spy into a global media mega-brand.

Here he explains what is unique about the site, why video is so central to its DNA and how Digital Spy is sizing up a huge global opportunity.

What did you think of Digital Spy before you were appointed editor in chief? Was it on your radar while you were at Bauer?

We watched Digital Spy very closely when I was at Heat (and around the time we launched Heatworld), and I was very inspired by it, and thought it an incredible brand. One of the reasons I took on the role (of editor in chief), was even though it was giant of a brand it felt like a sleeping giant, not that famous, and I sensed a very real opportunity. I have always loved the online and digital worlds and found it a bit weird that you had to wait a week (Heat is published weekly) before your stories were published. Even before the Internet I got frustrated. I love the immediacy of the web and Digital Spy.

The Drum reported that you have been tasked with transforming the Digital Spy platform into a global entertainment news brand, what changes are you making to achieve this?

That's my vision, that's what I took to Hearst. I could see a global opportunity for Digital Spy. Here's a crazy thing. Digital Spy is the only purely entertainment site in the UK. Lots of people write about entertainment, but Digital Spy is the only dedicated site. 

There’s nothing like it on a global scale either. Entertainment is being released in a global way now. For example, Star Wars films come out across the world at the same time. People are seeing things and talking about them in different countries at the same time. What we write about in the UK is just as relevant to readers in Brazil or China. There is the scale there. 

I have also begun to change the working structure of Digital Spy. My ambition is that there will always be someone writing for Digital Spy no matter what the time. We don't want to miss anything. No matter where you are in the world, no matter time you wake up, you check in with the brand and there will always be the latest entertainment news. Once we have established this, we can roll out more content to native audiences in the different countries.

Digital Spy ()

How important have video and images become to Digital Spy

When I inherited the brand we already had a video team on board. Video is core of the future of the brand, we may even be just a video brand one day. Two thirds of our video content is curated from other people. There are lots of great entertainment stories in the video format. There are hours of video created all over the world and it requires specialist knowledge to find the best video content, frame it, add the right headlines etc and then present it to our audience.

There are a lot of people creating video, even someone as big as the BBC, whose content gets lost in the huge amount that is being delivered. We hunt down the best clips and deliver them often to a much larger audience.

The other third is created content, the stuff we make and own. We are about to launch a series of video franchises where we have created a number of different things that celebrities can interact with and do, which we will then push out to our audiences via social media. 

The last month has seen ‘online magazines’ from medium sized publishers launch in Facebook (The Verge’s Circuit  Breaker)  and Twitter (via Medium). Is this a strategy that you think is going to appeal to the larger magazine publishers?

Social platforms can be quite overwhelming as every day there's a new piece of of kit that helps us to get to know our audience better, and reach them in a new way. However, I have a roadmap and I am trying to take each week as it comes, while trying to shift the brand towards my goals. And all these social platforms help me to achieve these goals. I am very focused at the moment on Facebook and Twitter and coming down the line after that is Snapchat. 

I do want to stretch the brand to a younger audience - the average of our reader is now around 33 years old and they are very intelligent - we cross over more with The Guardian than any other media.

We are 100 per cent about the quality of our audience. Our engagement is the key. Our average dwell time is four minutes - which is enormous for a website. Another thing about Digital Spy is that everybody trusts us. Post-Leveson trust is something that has evaporated online. Audiences don’t believe what they read. They do with us. It puts us in an immensely powerful position.

We are not in the business of raking over celebrities’ private lives, beach bodies etc, that is not the story of the brand. I want to build on our reputation for being trustworthy. I want our audience to be proud that they have read our content.

What recent media startups have impressed you?

I really love what Now This News is doing. They are embarking on a strategy that I would take if I had a startup in that they are only focusing on social and everything they do is video. I wonder if their business is a bit ahead of its time though?

Also another very clever online proposition is T B Seen, which I have worked on. It is a site where lots of celebrities create lots of content about their lives which sits on top of a cashback platform. Audiences don't trust the cashback concept as it feels to be good to be true, so the celebrity ambassadors give it credibility. There's great content, a good new ecommerce proposition, and advertisers are interested too. It is a clever, modern, smart shopping experience.

Julian is just one half of the Hearst offering on the upcoming FIPP London Media Tour. Participants will also hear from Judith Secombe about the ongoing success of the legacy brand that is Good Housekeeping and how it continues to go from strength to strength.

The FIPP London Media Tour, taking place on 23-25 May, will visit 12 media and digital companies. See first-hand the innovative projects that they are working on and learn from their insights and experiences. 

Don’t miss out on one of the last places. Book today.

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