Immediate Media’s Francois-Regis Coumau on the company’s move into TV

Immediate Media is still probably best known for its print titles, including Radio Times, BBC Top Gear Magazine, BBC History and Gardeners’ World. But the West London based publisher which has recently celebrated its fourth anniversary isn’t stopping there. “Strategically when you are looking at the next five or ten years I don’t think that’s enough,” said Chief Executive Tom Bureau in a recent interview. “So we are now focusing on the third part of our proposition – becoming a platform business.”

While print will remain a key part of the platform strategy (‘you don’t throw the baby out the bath water’ says Bureau), it’s no surprise that recent hires to the leadership team have been from outside the traditional publishing industry. These include CIO Toby Hoon, who joined Immediate from Tesco, and Group Managing Director Francois-Regis Coumau who was formerly General Manager, eBay Europe. 

Indeed, it was Coumau who behind the company’s latest acquisition of Redditch-based business Jewellery Maker – a 24 hour Jewellery channel on Sky Channel 665, Virgin Channel 756 and Freesat Channel 807. We talked to Francois-Regis about the deal with Jewellery Maker and what’s next for Immediate Media.

Buying Jewellery Maker is a bit of a change of direction for you isn’t it? You’ve never acquired a TV channel before.

I think it’s pretty bold right, but very much in tune with Tom (Tom Bureau, CEO) and the company’s vision – diversifying the source of revenues and expanding and broadening our set of skills and platforms we can play with, so we are in better shape for the future. It’s a very consistent and logical move, but it is a new era. We’re buying gemstones in India, a big warehouse in the Midlands, we’ve got TV studios with live TV production and it’s a proper end-to-end retail operation. It’s a move that can change the nature of our business. 

Can you tell us more about the nature of the deal with Jewellery Maker?

It’s a carve-out. It was a business that belonged to a TV shopping group that is more focused on finished jewellery and, therefore, the craft element of Jewellery Maker was not core to their proposition. Our intention is to keep all of the existing staff. We’ll also have some continuity with the current Managing Director, Paula Bennett, staying on for three months to ensure a smooth transition. It’s a very engaged community so keeping some continuity is important. At the same time, I’m on a very rapid learning curve. 

How will Jewellery Maker fit in with your existing businesses?

Obviously our ambition is to develop and grow it as a standalone unit, but we believe there are quite a few synergies with our craft portfolio – we are the leading publisher in the craft sector with about 15 publications. We know that around quarter of our audience is into jewellery making so there are some obvious opportunities to introduce Jewellery Maker to that audience. At the moment, Jewellery Maker is a strong business but has a pretty narrow customer base which is very engaged. There’s a great opportunity to grow that customer base by connecting it to our own craft audience. 

Does Jewellery Maker have its own magazine?

There is a small, simple magazine that goes out once a month to customers. The point for us is to develop our competence in TV shopping, retail and commerce, not to do a magazine on jewellery making. 

How important is mobile for you as a business?

It’s very important for our existing brands with mobile becoming an increasingly important part of our websites’ consumption. It’s also important for Jewellery Maker which comes with its own app on iOS and Android which allows you to watch the show and buy at the same time. Viewing of Jewellery Maker is also increasing on mobile. For our own brands, we are pretty strong on subscriptions via mobile and several have their own dedicated apps such as the Discover TV app for the Radio Times which is doing very well. Obviously all of our websites are mobile responsive and optimised for mobile too. 

Do you think Immediate Media will do similar deals to the one with Jewellery Maker in other key verticals?

Immediate Media has been quite acquisitive and I don’t think that’s going to change. Clearly acquisitions play an important part in delivering our strategic goals. We’ll look at any areas where we can leverage some synergy of our existing assets – typically our set of engaged customer groups and brands – and which lead us into sources of revenue that are different from publishing. It’s quite exciting to see a legacy publishing business has the ambition and boldness to move into a new area that makes sense on paper, but is quite different. For me coming from an e-commerce background, it’s also exciting to see how you can plug commerce into a company like Immediate Media. It’s all about how do you move from being only in the content market – which is nice and we’re doing very well in it – to being in a much bigger pond. Craft is a £3bn retail market.  

Obviously a lot of traditional publishers are struggling with declining advertising revenues and cover sales? Is that why you see this kind of move into TV and e-commerce as increasingly important. 

We are fortunate for that not to be the case because we’ve got strong brands and a strong set of consumers, but it’s not growing as strongly as e-commerce. We need to position ourselves for the future and getting into a position of growth and the transaction side of things is a smart move. 

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