#loveHE: A little more conversation, a lot more action

The global success of Coventry University’s podcasts shows that there is a huge market for intelligent HE-created content, says John Mair

March 16, 2010

It’s the big question that obsesses modern media moguls –just how much is internet space worth? What would it cost to advertise on it? What, to use an old media term, is its advertising value equivalent (AVE)?

Newspapers worldwide have let the internet genie out of the bottle and are struggling to find ways to get revenue through pay walls, clubs or whatever. The trouble is, with infinite cyberspace, just what is any piece of it worth?

Profile-raising is part of the marketing armoury of any modern British university. The domestic market is, or was, very crowded and you had to punch your weight. Today, thanks to Lord Mandelson, demand exceeds supply. Foreign students are the new cash cows and getting their eyeballs to your university brand is all-important.

The Coventry Conversations (which I created and still produce, 210 guests later) are not just public lectures; they become podcasts whose reach is literally global. And they’re all out there in cyberspace (www.coventry.ac.uk/itunesu), featuring one-hour conversations with media movers and shakers from Mark Thompson, the director-general of the BBC, downwards to humble Oscar and Bafta winners including Jon Blair, Jon Plowman and Jon Snow. They’ve proved a success on the web with 482,000-plus hits in less than a year on Coventry’s iTunesU site alone. In fact, the Conversations top the charts in iTunesU Humanities and have made it to the iTunesU front page.

One of our podcasts – featuring Shelley Jofre, a Panorama reporter, discussing attention deficit disorder and its treatment – has been downloaded nearly 2,000 times. Another, featuring Pete Clifton, the head of BBC News Interactive, gazing into his crystal ball, was accessed 6,000 times in six weeks. The figures are mind-blowing.

So, what value do you place on this phenomenon? This month, I and Rares Stoica, a Coventry advertising student, have done an AVE for the Cov Cons (as the students call them) for just the past year alone (March 2009-March 2010). We chose to place nominal values on their internet “readership” – £1 for each hit on a story/podcast and £5 for a download of the podcast. It is rough and ready, but as good as any measure.

We used that to measure the impact of the Cov Cons via other internet outlets, too, such as journalism.co.uk, the main website for working hacks, with its 17,000 subscribers and 500,000 hits per month, and the Coventry student e-newsletter CU Today (cutoday.wordpress.com), with 55,000 hits to 70 Cov Con stories. The events were widely covered in print, and not only in The Buzz, the newsletter created by Coventry journalism students, which ran 50 related stories, but also in more traditional print media from the Coventry Telegraph to The Guardian and The Sun. To measure those we used the conventional AVE measures.

We haven’t yet counted in the YouTube downloads (with our Cov Con starring Jon Gaunt the “shock jock” heading the pack with a score of well over 7,000 views) and the stories in the Coventry student newspaper The Source (at least one per issue). Also not included in this AVE calculation are the intangibles, like the goodwill generated in the media industries (moguls now ring me asking to come and do a Coventry Conversation!) and the good PR within the university. They’re simply too difficult to quantify!

The results are startling and salutary. If we accept the unit values, then Coventry University probably gets at least £1 million of “virtual” AVE from the Cov Cons and iTunesU alone, £75,000 from the university podcasts, £70,000 from CU Today, £30,000 worth from journalism.co.uk and £33,000 from print articles. The total AVE – what it would have cost the university to buy the space for advertising – for one year is well north of £1.25 million pounds.

The Conversations are made on a budget of £5,000; nobody, however grand, has ever been paid a fee – they get train fare and a baked potato if they are lucky. So what are the lessons for other universities?

Primarily that the live audience for these talks (and the number of attendees for the Cov Cons never goes below 20 and can rise to 300) is the beginning, not the end. Record it, podcast it, broadcast it. Bang the drum and make it loud and clear and easy to access. Out there in cyberspace – wherever in the world – they are gagging for your intelligent content, especially if it’s about the internet (search engine optimisation applies here as much as in any other journalism on the net).

The market is there; the challenge is to get to it and then to measure the value to you. Do it. Use cyber advertising space. It’s free if you are nifty. You have nothing to lose but your digital virginity.

John Mair is senior lecturer in broadcasting, Coventry University. He is a former BBC, ITV and Channel 4 producer. He created the Coventry Conversations in January 2006. To see a full programme of the Coventry Conversation events, visit www.coventry.ac.uk/events

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