Why the Huffington Post UK faces a tough battle

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Today is a big day for the UK media with the long awaited arrival of the British edition of The Huffington Post http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/# . The HuffPo has had a huge impact on US media and is apparently in the nation’s top the nation’s top three news sources. Can it repeat that sucess here?

Well it chose a good day to launch given the huge phone tapping story that has exploded in the last 48 hours. However can it keep that momentum up? The mainstream media has in general been fairly cynical about the launch. Up until a couple of years ago the broadsheets tended to speak very warmly of the HuffPo (as it always tends to about US blogs though often not UK ones). However that warmth evaporated when the site was firstly bought by a large, scary, agressively expansionist media company in AOL and then announced the launch of a UK edition.

So there’s no great surprise that in writing for The Guardian http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/pda/2011/jul/06/huffington-post-uk (the paper that could lose the most from the HuffPo’s Uk launch), Jemima Kiss praises the site for its innovation stateside but suggest that it isn’t offering a great deal that’s new in its UK edition.

Rob Hinchcliffe, writing in The Drum http://www.thedrum.co.uk/news/2011/07/06/23261-review-is-the-huffington-post-… agrees too saying its celeb blogging formula that works so well in the US, is unlikely to appeal in the UK. After all several of its most high profile bloggers – like Alistair Campbell are just reposting articles from their own blogs. And as for Tony Blair blogging – well that’s a great launch day news story but I’ll believe it when I see it.

Ultimately I think that the bad news for Arianna is that the UK media, from The Guar and Telegraph through to Spectator, Guido and even the BBC is that they have monitored the HuffPo and mastered the tricks (instant reads, live blogging, guest bloggers) that made it successful. Even if it innovates in the future you can bet that the UK media will be conducting similar experiments very soon after. Also with a few notable exceptions (Guido, Anorak, Football blogs) the lead that UK blogs had over established media has disappeared, mainly because heritage media has woken up to how to attract online traffic.

Further I think it unlikely that HuffPo is quite as big a deal in the UK as the British media community thinks. I don’t have a steer about what its UK traffic is but I rarely see links from the HuffPo being tweeted by non media types.

A couple of years back Gordon Macmillan at Wallblog wrote a very incisive story http://gordonsrepublic.brandrepublic.com/2009/10/29/a-huffington-post-for-eur… about why a HuffPo type site had not launched in the UK. There have been a couple of attempts most notably The First Post, which I had a very small involvement with and is now owned by Dennis Publishing. It does reasonably well, but barely appears on Fleet Street’s radar as it can’t compete with the established media brands in terms of numbers. I think the HuffPo UK will struggle in the same way.

Still, if anyone can make it work it is aol. So good luck to the team, but don’t expect too much support from the UK media. Those content links from other big media players are going to be a lot harder to come by now.

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