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Emily D. Swoboda

Tabloid Turnaround

8 September 2008

EiG Preview

How an Iconic Brand Made a Splash Online
Sept. 23, 4:30 PM, Room 117

Presenter: Pete Picton, Editor, The Sun Online, UK

See Pete Picton present at the seventh annual European iGaming Congress & Expo in Barcelona.

A 44-year-old British tabloid known for being brash and bold has proven successful in making the transition from traditional media format to new media.

The Sun launched in 1964, but steadily declined in revenues and readers until its original owner, International Press Corporation, or IPC, was forced to sell the newspaper. In 1969, IPC sold The Sun to Rupert Murdoch, who would go on to become the world's largest media tycoon, and head of News Corporation.

While The Sun reports some hard news, it is known and loved for its sensationalistic reporting on celebrities and scandals involving the entertainment and sports industries. The Sun is "junk food news" and makes no bones about -- and has found huge success because of -- it.

Perhaps The Sun's most famous feature is its Page Three girls, which have stirred controversy and boosted the paper's popularity since 1970. Appearing scantily clad to topless, the Page Three girls are a daily fixture in tabloid.

But, The Sun has also been successful with certain gaming ventures, which started in print form and migrated to the newspaper's online platform.

Today The Sun enjoys the highest circulation of any English-language newspaper in the world, form after which many other newspapers have sought. Canada's Toronto Sun has a "Sunshine Girl," but she has never gone so far as to be topless.

Pete Picton, the online editor of The Sun, was the man behind the newspaper's migration to the online platform nine years ago. As one of the keynote speakers at this year's European i-Gaming Congress and Expo, Mr. Picton will share the story about putting the newspaper online and all the elements required for such a massive undertaking.

IGamingNews spoke with Mr. Picton, who offered a glimpse into the success The Sun has enjoyed by reaching a broader audience -- more details of which he will share with the EiG audience on Sept. 23 at 16:30.

"The goal of The Sun, as a brand, is to be able to reach our readers wherever they are," Mr. Picton said. "So, that's either through print, through online or through mobile. We're strong in all platforms. The idea being that in the morning on your way to work you can pick up a copy of The Sun newspaper. Lunchtime at your office you can go onto the Web site. At night if you're about at a football match you can pick up the latest football results on your phone."

Mr. Picton, who is also a part-time stage and screen actor, explained that extending the brand online meant taking the content into other areas. And in doing that, The Sun took a simple concept and tailored it -- well, sexed it up -- to fit the newspaper's image.

"For most sites that would mean a straightforward RSS reader, which is very functional, but a bit dull," Mr. Picton said. "So, what did we do to make ourselves different? We took our most popular Page Three girl called Keeley and we animated her into a desktop application. What she does is she walks across your screen and puts up an RSS reader."

The Keeley girl is not the only option available on The Sun, however; those who are more bashful may employ the all-text (and fully-clothed) traditional RSS feeds.

"We've had two big successes in gaming. One has been bingo, which The Sun has always done," Mr. Picton said.

(The Sun introduced bingo in 1981, to be precise.)

Bingo, having arrived on the scene in 1968, is a deeply rooted social tradition in the United Kingdom, according to Mr. Picton. That year, the Gaming Act was passed by Parliament, which permitted bingo play in members-only clubs.

"Lots of old cinemas were converted to bingo halls and it's very traditional to go there on a Friday evening and meet all your friends and it's a very social occasion," Mr. Picton said. "And The Sun as a newspaper circulated in-paper bingo games.

"So, we developed a couple years ago a bingo game on the site and it's been hugely popular. It's worked because it's a good game and the social aspect of our bingo game worked really well. So, as well as playing the game, there's a bit of a chat room on them -- and that's proved brilliantly popular."

Mr. Picton said recent laws banning smoking in public places in the United Kingdom has resulted in a huge dropoff in bingo hall customers.

"They would go and play bingo in a big hall and they'd have their drink and have a cigarette," he said. "Now you can't smoke so that is a problem."

Turning to online bingo has solved the problem for those who want to play and have a drink and a cigarette, Mr. Picton said. But the traditional social element was missing.

"Well, online we've put the social element they had before in the comfort of their own home and it's worked brilliantly well," he said. "We've had a proposal. We've had groups of them meet and go on coach trips together. It's sort of become its own beast really. So that's worked really well."

The Sun also has online sports betting and casino games, provided though a partnership with Bet365. But its other self-branded game has also proven to be very popular.

"The other thing that's worked brilliantly well for us is Dream Team, which is a fantasy football game," Mr. Picton said. "Traditionally it was in the paper. You could just see how online would grab hold of that and make that work very well. It's been hugely successful."

Mr. Picton acknowledges that he is not in the gaming industry nor is he a gaming expert -- nor does he aim to be. He represents a successful brand that made a smart move from one form of media to another, and gaming happens to be a very successful part of that brand.

"It's about a brand that does many types of things and gaming is one of them," he said.

Tabloid Turnaround is republished from
Emily D. Swoboda
Emily D. Swoboda