Content Aware media news: February 29, 2024

Published: 01 March 2024

Google vs Microsoft - try not to get hit by a stray punch

In a clash of titans where spectators can easily become sacrifices, it looks sensible to choose a side

Rob Corbidge, Glide's Head of Content Intelligence, this week writes about the turbulence buffeting the boss of the world's dominant search firm, Google CEO Sundar Pichai.

Tough times for Google historically seem to translate often to tough times for publishers and media, so we hand the reins of leading this weeks Content Aware to Rob, who peers into the mists of what could happen if Google unseat their CEO. It could well be a great opportunity for content makers.

It emerged this week that Meta and Google's share of the US advertising market is actually in decline. Their combined share of US ad dollars has gone from a peak of 75.7% in 2021 to a predicted 72.8% this year, according to data published in the UK Press Gazette from WARC .

The same Press Gazette report says that according to Insider Intelligence, Google’s online advertising market share in the UK (excluding YouTube) will decline from 38.3% in 2022 to a predicted 34.3% this year. This gives the Big G/Meta duopoly a combined UK digital advertising market share of around 60.6%.

Now, before I get accused of hopeless optimism, the data above reads to me as if the entity that has been strangling the industry I love has slightly reduced the pressure on one finger on the hand that is around our collective commercial throat.

Yet something is changing, even if indications are that increased ad spend is to going to retail advertising, such as Amazon.

We've also seen a major tech stumble this week. One which indicates Google may well have an issue with company culture, as its new Gemini AI produced some utterly bizarre answers, pushed unwanted ethical views, and had an image function that produced ahistorical imagery pretty much guaranteed to offend everyone, wherever they sit on the political spectrum.

It had been supposed that Google was being cautious with AI, feeling it had a brand to protect and not wishing to foist some half-built, tested-on-a-Friday-afternoon AI application out of the door and into the hands of users simply in order to react to the rise of OpenAI. Surely it would spend the time to make something measurably better, built from superior datasets, able to provide reliable answers and not prone to AI hallucination. Because it's often better not to be first with tech, right?

No. Somehow Google shipped Gemini without someone raising a flag that anyone in power paid attention to. The fact it happened indicates Google has an issue of culture. In the heat and light of the Gemini fiasco, Google has muttered about "improving guardrails" on the application. Yet the guardrails they need are quite possibly internal check barriers, not system barriers.

"We’ll be driving a clear set of actions, including structural changes, updated product guidelines, improved launch processes, robust evals and red-teaming, and technical recommendations" according to Google CEO Sundar Pichai as he explained the steps that would be taken following the AI debacle.

For a business with enough money to buy Saturn and turn it into a gaseous amusement park, it might be asked why such basic procedures weren't already in place to stop Gemini shipping.

A good company culture can be one of the fundamentals that turns a business into a mission for motivated employees, and give the kind of competitive edge an entire army of management consultants couldn't alchemize. 

Google had once been a benchmark for creating such a culture, motivating people from top to bottom with an idea that Google is different, that it has a mission. If you're a "Googler", then you are something special and exceptional and even if a person exits Google, many of them retain that sheen of successful expectation working for the world's leading tech company has given them. 

Many of us have seen the lengths people in tech will go to connect themselves with Google, with even the most fleeting of associations being seen as worthy of sitting at the top of their resume.

This aura of power and purpose is receding rapidly. 

Despite his apology and attempt at explanation one has to consider Sundar Pichai's position to be extremely vulnerable right now. 

He's doesn't look any more like the right man to dig them out of the mess they are in, and clearly there are aspects of the business he oversees that he doesn't actually understand. 

But I'm not writing an investment note here, and if Google keeps Pichai in place to oversee yet more unexpected corporate FUBARs, then... good. A diminished, less confident Google has to be good for publishing. They might even need some friends.

Corbidge comments on... the wobble which might unseat Sundar Pichai
As Google seems to be looking for banana skins to dance on, our man of brickbats and letters looks at the tightrope boss Sundar Pichai is currently walking. At the heart of it is the apparent loss of mission confidence within Google itself, and what looks like a fundamental misreading both of what searchers want and what Google actually makes these days by CEO Pichai.

A new contender emerges!
Meanwhile, as Pichai clings on, Microsoft President Brad Smith - who has recently seen his company rocket past Google in multiple spheres - is emerging as the man who arguably holds more cards than anyone to strike deals with the people who own the content, publishers. He's got billions to give, why not start the conversation?

"AI will kill publishing..."
Surely on Smith's radar, publishers and legislators worldwide are increasingly speaking with each other on the subject of copyright and AIs scooping it all up. Here's how a group of the UK's largest media figures presented their case for copyright protection to a parliamentary committee this week. A common theme is developing in the cases being made.

A musical  lesson?
Here's the latest salvo in how the music industry tries and handle content usage by tech and social platforms, not for the first time showing a far more robust approach than publishers typically choose to display. Would the same approach work for publishing?

The wait of expectation
Speaking of lawmakers looking at the business of content, here's how a US case with potentially seismic implications that is rumbling on in the US. One interesting question: if YouTube was a newspaper, how much would it weigh? Probably a lot less without the ads, that's for certain. (Don't forget to smash that subscribe button though!)

Banking on the big events
It's an election year in many major democracies, as well as a year of Olympics and one of the biggest global football tournaments to boot. If you are in any doubt about rolling out live reporting coverage to raise your voice amid the din which will surround all these events and everything else that lends itself to live report coverage, our friends at Chartbeat have looked at the engagement boost it can give. Obligatory plug: Glide has Live Reporting tools as standard for users, free.

Do robots have wallets? They might need them
A court in China becomes to the first to rule against an AI for having stolen art from its creator.

A funny thing happened on the way to the front page
As US show host Jon Stewart continues his return run on Central Comedy's The Daily Show, the power of comedians to act as journalists and for satire to tell truth has been the subject of an interesting study of comedy writers becoming accidental real-life opinion formers.

BBC looking at AI can help
Do you have your own AI policies codified yet? Here is the BBCs latest announcements on how it is going to experiment with generative AI to improve what it can do with its content. Crucially, no signs that it is going near the technology to actually publish content, for obvious reasons.

No entry allowed
How many of the world's bigger news sites are blocking AIs, and which ones are they blocking? Perhaps just as revealingly, how many have no blocking in place at all? Reuters Institute investigates.

Poultry meet stuffing
There is a definite feel of turkeys being paid to promote Christmas here, as Google pays publishers to write content using its AI tools - cutting cheques of up to a giddy "5 figures per year" too!. This sounds like the rumoured Genesis AI floated last year. .

Not enough air to go around
What do BuzzFeed, Rolling Stone, Forbes, Popular Science, and Better Homes & Gardens have in common? Well, despite what you might think, they have all become experts on air purifiers, according to this deep dive on how reviews content guidelines can appear to turn sites and publishers inside out to satisfy Google guidelines.

Rob writes every week about matters and issues effecting the industry of media and publishing. Read more 'Corbidge comments..' here.