by Kim Thomas

Summertime blues for leisure sector

Apr 01, 20126 mins
IT Strategy

Press March was yet another month in which News Corp and its UK subsidiary News International have been the subject of many news stories, rather than simply the provider of them.

Few of them have been favourable. Computerworld UK reports on a BBC Panorama claim that News Corp cracked the smartcard codes of its rival ONdigital in a bid to undermine the company’s success.

It goes on to say that after NDS, a software company owned by News Corp, allegedly cracked OnDigital’s system, the access codes appeared on a pirate website where users could use them for illegally accessing free digital television.

As if that wasn’t enough, Computerworld UK also reports that News International has been experiencing problems with its paywall, which has led to customers being charged for subscriptions they had cancelled months earlier.

Paying subscribers were also experiencing problems and had taken to Twitter to complain.

Three stories in the Financial Times relate to the ongoing scandal of hacking at News International titles.

In one, the paper reports that former News International CEO Rebekah Brooks has been detained for further questioning by police officers investigating hacking at NI newspapers.

Another reports that James Murdoch, former chief executive of News Corp., Europe and Asia, has written to parliament’s culture media and sport select committee expressing regret for the hacking, but reiterating his innocence.

As other newspapers become embroiled in the hacking scandal, perhaps News International can feel relieved that the spotlight is being shone elsewhere for a while.

The FT reports on research from ITV news showing that the Daily Mirror, owned by Trinity Mirror, was the second largest client of private investigator Steve Whittamore, who uncovered the phone numbers and addresses of public figures.

(The Daily Mail was the largest client.) The paper used Whittamore 984 times between 2000 and 2003, spending £92,000.

Another FT story reports that Trinity Mirror, which it refers to as an “ailing publisher”, has announced an agreement with its pension scheme trustees to reduce deficit contributions over the next three years from the £100m agreed in its recovery plans, to just £30m.

The paper claims that the publisher “is trying to drive a coach-and-horses through the regulatory principle that the pension scheme should not be subordinated to other unsecured creditors.”

Broadcasting The outlook for the normally beleaguered BBC looks a little rosier. A report in CIO reveals that the corporation is planning a paid for download service, codenamed Project Barcelona, to rival Apple’s iTunes.

Although the service hasn’t been officially announced, the story suggests that the BBC “will make its shows available to customers as download-to-own (DTO) for prices around the £1.89 mark.”

The FT, in common with many papers, reports the news that the BBC’s director-general, Mark Thompson, is to step down in the autumn after eight years at the top.

The paper speculates that his departure could pave the way for the first female director-general, with Helen Boaden, chief of news, and Caroline Thompson, among the top candidates to fill the post.

Travel There’s good news for travel firm Thomas Cook which, according to CFO World, has increased internet sales by 19 percent over a four week period compared to the same period last year.

It had experienced a poor year in 2011, and in November had to secure a £200m rescue package from lenders. An analysis in the FT suggests that, despite the increased sales, the company “remains under a cloud of uncertainty.”

In another story, the paper says that the chairman of Thomas Cook has rejected a proposal by a group led by two leisure industry veterans to inject £400m into the company.

Perhaps the company is hoping that it will be helped to recovery by a new multi-year contract, reported in Computerworld UK, with Anite for the supply of an online reservation system in its UK business.

The system, Travel @com, is also used by Thomas Cook’s rival, TUI Travel.

Betting Betting company Betfair also has reasons to cheer after taking £50 million of bets on the Australian Open tennis finalbetween Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadel, according to CFO World.

The group reported an 11 percent rise in third-quarter revenue to £85.3 million, helped by increased betting on horse races as well as the tennis.

The FT, reporting the same story, said that the company’s revenue had been given a further boost by mobile phone bets, which account for seven percent of Betfair’s total income.

The company has, however, received a setback in Germany, where 15 regional governments have introduced proposals to liberalise state gambling monopolies.

Betfair and other companies had hoped the European Commission would rule against the proposals, but instead the Commission has given the governments two years to prove that their proposals conform to European free-market rules.

Another gambling company, the Health Lottery, is under threat, according to the FT. National Lottery operator Camelot, is to seek a judicial review against the Gambling Commission’s decision to grant a licence to the Health Lottery, which is owned by media magnate Richard Desmond.

Camelot argues that the Health Lottery contravenes the National Lottery Act of 1993, which allows for only one national lottery.

(Read a profile of Health Lottery CIO David Wall in the March edition of CIO UK magazine)

Pubs and restaurants The pub and restaurant chain Mitchells & Butler is the latest to offer free Wifi to its customers, according to CIO.

The contract with O2 will make Wifi available in 1600 outlets, including the Harvester, All Bar One and Vintage Inn chains. The company will also make use of Wifi for operational purposes, and give it the opportunity to “delve into social media marketing”.

McDonald’s, the world’s largest restaurant chain by revenue, has been hit by declining growth in sales, reports the FT, mostly as a result of economic uncertainty in Europe. While the company was still doing well in the US, sales growth in Europe of 4 per cent “fell short of the consensus forecast of 6.6 per cent”.

Advertising No such troubles for the ad group WPP, which is looking forward to a potentially successful 2012, according to CFO World, which reports that the group has posted annual pretax profits of £1.22 billion, a rise of 19 percent from the previous year.

Pic: Jacrewscc2.0