Cannes Questionnaire: Piers Morgan on ad blocking and the extinction of newspapers

Digiday covers that latest from marketing and media at the annual Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity. More from the series →’s U.S. editor-at-large Piers Morgan is feeling particularly jubilant when we sit down for an early morning coffee on the publisher’s gargantuan yacht in Cannes. The reason: he’s just found out he’s made it to the top of some “weird crush” list.

Naturally, he doesn’t keep his eye glued on such things. “The only reason I even saw it is because [presenter] Susannah Read, tweeted it just now with the hashtag ‘insufferable’,” he laughs. The source of this delight — an article in Metro called “15 Men You Shouldn’t be Ashamed of Having a Guilty Crush on” — has Morgan at the top for his ability to be “Controversial, outspoken and famous for denting many a celebrity ego.”

Morgan isn’t visiting Cannes Lions for the duration this year, because he has to get back to the U.K. to fulfil his duties presenting on ITV’s Good Morning show, which is going to get heated in the build up to and aftermath of the EU Referendum.

Digiday spoke to Morgan about he’s tackling Cannes, and his thoughts on the future of publishing.

Here are the takeaways:

How’s Cannes treating you so far, feeling fresh faced?
When you get to my age you can take anything.

What did you do last night?

The Mail had a really nice dinner party prepared by the great chef Raymond Blanc and had Gary Barlow was here, and Engand footballer jack Butland. Really good night.

What time did you get to bed?

I was a bit of a lightweight because I had to do this panel this morning, so I went to bed at about midnight, but I’m staying at the Carlton and there was a massive rave going on outside my window until about 3am so I may as well have stayed up and gone big.

What does your Cannes diary look like?

Well normally I’d come down here for a nice week of frivolity with the Mail but because of the EU referendum I have to go back straight away. Yesterday I was interviewed by Sir Martin Sorrell, and he turned the tables and asked me the questions, which is good. Things should be flipped around. There’s a lot of ho hum stuff in Cannes.

What’s the most pressing thing for you at the moment?
It’s the battle for the soul of my country: What is Britain, what do we stand for? Do we really want to be a floating little island doing our own thing?

You said yesterday that print newspapers won’t exist in the next 20 years.

They won’t. It’ll make no economic sense for newspapers to continue chopping down trees to run papers. They’re on ticking clocks. There’ll be casualties. The newspaper landscape will look very different in 10 years’ time, a lot will have merged or closed down.

So will the Mail still be able to afford the biggest yacht in Cannes once print ad revenues totally disappear?
Absolutely. MailOnline generates a lot of cash now. As its number of unique users go up, when print is no longer around, so will the revenue. We have an open model. Paywalls don’t work for tabloid papers, the genie is out of the bottle on that. The Sun has gone back to having everything virtually free again, and it had to because it was getting killed. Having said that, I can see a time when there will be sections of MailOnline where you can charge a premium for something people are prepared to pay more for. But our of being free for all has proved successful.

What about ad blocking? 
The challenge with ad blocking is once you have consumers blocking, you need to find unconventional ways of getting the messaging to them. It will become more prevalent I guess. Native advertising will help, but the challenge is how to make it compelling in a way that doesn’t feel like cheapened editorial, and make it a seamless part of the editorial edit proposition.

How well is native advertising done currently?
As a consumer, I don’t like it when I’m being tricked. It’s bad native advertising when you read something and think it’s genuinely editorial, then you realise the sting in the tail that it’s not. You feel pissed off and cheated and hate everyone involved. You must be transparent.

Where are you on the importance of the church-state divide in native content production?

We need to take our heads out of our derrières and recognize that the future of our business depends on being able to finance what we do. And there is a large chunk of change that can come from native advertising which will only get bigger. We all need to stop being so precious about our beloved editorial integrity, and work with clients. But the trick is to make it transparent. You don’t con anyone or devalue your brand if you hold your hands up at the start at say this is sponsored editorial. It’s when you try to sneak it in, I don’t like that. Be transparent and upfront and clear and don’t treat people like idiots.

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