It's been 18 months since Immediate Media acquired some of the UK's best known cycle magazines and websites.
Now the dust has settled, BikeBiz speaks with group managing director Julie Harris about all the changes of the past year, whether already massive brands still have room to grow, the digital and print balancing act, and the huge untapped audience of female cyclists...
Immediate must have seen some massive changes since it took on the cycling titles in May last year. Has it been a logistical challenge to bring it all together?
Absorbing such a big new part of the business is obviously a huge undertaking, both from a physical and organisational perspective. First of all we created a new Sports Division within Immediate and merged the cycling brands with our existing 220 Triathlon brand, creating new cross brand opportunities as well as economies of scale for both.
We also built the facilities to enable our brands to flourish, including world-class bike testing facilities and bespoke photo and video studios. All these enabled us to power our developments within the space and allow us to do bike testing on an industrial scale. Given Future’s business was in Bath and we have a large Immediate office in Bristol, it was a convenient move for most, and our focus was minimising disruption for those effected.
Immediate is all about fostering one winning culture and since the move we have put seven members of the new sports team through our integrated leadership programme. We have worked hard through regular “All Hands” meetings, Immediate events and Bristol specific gatherings to help ensure the team know the company strategy and feel part of the Immediate business and culture.
And there’s been reorganisation in terms of senior personnel...?
I am delighted that we can announce our new MD for Sport, David Maher-Roberts. He will be responsible for the Cycling and Triathlon portfolio across all platforms and joins full time on November 9th. David has a background in both print and digital having spent 11 years at Future where he was a board director responsible for European expansion (via M&A and licensing) and led the first global digital launches of GamesRadar and TechRadar. He has the perfect mix of digital and print experience as he has since worked in several roles developing innovative product and business strategies for digital media and tech firms globally.
Meanwhile experienced publisher Alison Worthington has joined to oversee our Sport print titles, including Cycling Plus, Mountain Bike UK and Procycling. Alison brings 14 years of experience at Immediate in editorial and publishing roles. She will also drive Immediate’s Sport events strategy including the National Triathlon Show which has been completely re-imagined and is taking place at the Olympic Velodrome in April 2016. Stuart Forrest, digital publisher of RadioTimes.com is interim digital publisher of CyclingNews.co.uk while publishing director Dave Clutterbuck focuses on BikeRadar.
We are also really excited to welcome Will Findlater as global editor-in-chief of BikeRadar. Will joins from Haymarket where he was editor-in-chief of market leading, multi-platform technology brand Stuff.
How does the cycle portfolio fit in with the Immediate portfolio?
At Immediate we only focus on special interest. We are a content and platform business but at the heart of everything we do are passionate, engaged communities who build their interests around our market-leading brands. We focus on the things our consumers really care about, what they spend their time and money on. Cycling, and the highly engaged consumers who interact and participate within it, is a perfect fit for Immediate and plays to the company’s strengths and expertise: and we see huge opportunities for development. These are international, market leading, highly profitable print and online brands with an influential, upmarket audience.
The cycling media world has vastly changed even since last May, with well-known mags moving online only. Could that happen to your cycle portfolio? How do you approach the print and digital balancing act?
For us as a company we don’t view it as print versus digital, but rather our businesses are built around the needs of our consumers. The reason we have outperformed all our major competitors is a broad based strategy that works across multiple platforms. Wherever our communities are, we will be. In print we remain very strong and we are serving a still healthy demand for magazines and are passionate about those brands and the deep engagement they have with consumers.
Despite a plethora of rivals and new launches, Cycling Plus is head and shoulders ahead of its rivals, outselling its nearest rival by nearly 2:1. Meanwhile we dominate the mountain biking sector holding a combined 70.5 per cent share of the market, with flagship title MBUK occupying a 50.6 per cent share alone. But print is just one measure as we cross publishing boundaries, both in terms of platforms and a growing international footprint. Immediate is now the world’s biggest cycling media company with an audience of 4.4m road cyclists and 3.3m mountain bikers engaging with our brands every month. We see huge opportunities in digital and in online video and we are rapidly growing our footprint there – we have two global power brands in BikeRadar and CyclingNews that have immense growth potential.
Is there room for huge sites like BikeRadar and Cyclingnews to grow further?
We have world leading global digital brands who have shown consistent growth and we believe have even greater potential. BikeRadar is the world’s largest and most comprehensive source of cycling products and news. Featuring over 25,500 product reviews, the site caters for intermediate road cyclists and mountain bikers. The site is constantly innovating with brand extensions including a training platform – BikeRadar Active, a new beginners section – On Your Bike and the integration of mapping functionality.
We also think there is a huge untapped audience of female cyclists. We recently launched BikeRadar Women and we are developing how we can target and grow this potentially huge audience that has been underserved by the industry to date. We have a significant in-house production team in Bristol working on our video content, which has now generated around 2.5 million views per month and almost 260,000 subscribers just on BikeRadar’s YouTube channel. It will only become more important as a medium.
Meanwhile Cyclingnews is the place to go for news about the world of competitive cycling. The Tour De France showed how powerful a website it was as it out-scooped all the national and international sports sources with a string of exclusives. The riders on the Tour and the circuit trust our expert team. Our users know this and is why we have seen impressive growth. For the July we had 3.2m users, up 30 per cent year-on-year.
You’ve said that the cycle portfolio is moving into a new phase of development. What kind of plans can you share?
We are very excited about the launch of the National Triathlon Show at the Olympic Velodrome in April. We will run our first Cycling Plus Sportive alongside it and will be developing a more experiential part to our business to connect consumers with the brand and with our key clients. We continue to invest in our digital brands, both here and overseas, and we are developing new products and services for our highly engaged consumers. Additionally, we are launching one of the biggest in-depth studies into the market to reveal trends and the behaviours of different groups of cyclists which we will be unveiling at a conference in the next few months.
Where do you see your cycle portfolio in five years time?
Cycling is a great sport to be in, it fits perfectly with the Immediate story and it’s only going to become bigger. We have ambitious growth targets and with the backing of private equity we are confident we have made and are making the investments to hit them. We see ourselves at the heart of the cycling eco-system, which gives us a unique perspective on the market, the participants, the consumers and the opportunities.
We don’t see ourselves as Publishers, we see ourselves as global experts, connectors and providers within the cycling economy. When you look at it through that lens, the sky really is the limit for this business and we intend to work with and partner as many other great brands in this industry as possible to accelerate that growth.