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Content Aware media news: March 7, 2024

Facebook vs news is becoming a political football - perhaps a good thing for publishers and media

Published: 10:03, 08 March 2024
Facebook vs news - Meta is taking its ball and eating it

Australia has again found itself to be the latest battlefront in the war between media and Big Tech, more specifically this time the tussle between Facebook/Meta and national Government over a political football called news.

As you will recollect, a few years ago Australian legislators created a mechanic for the likes of Facebook and Google to kick back some money to publishers, via a bargaining code which incentivised Big Social/Search to strike deals with publishers for content usage.

It motivated the US firms to share revenue with Australian publishers out of the goodness of their heart, in a move designed to protect people's ability to find local and nationally-relevant news and information, objectives universally seen to be good for democratic processes.

Ah, just kidding: they have no hearts!

Actually it had to threaten them with Government-imposed deals if they didn't reach their own agreements with publishers. And if there's anything the likes of Facebook and Google don't want, it's governments making deals on its behalf. Because that means regulations and precedents and things that other governments worldwide can point to as inspiration to do their own, like Canada did.

It's worth noting here that - despite what the tech titans were happy to let become a bit of standing misinformation - the premise of the cash-for-content principle was not just some link tax or shakedown based on simply posting a link or surfacing a search result, where the tech firms were in net debt just for being connected to something posted or shown. 

You know the fiction: good guy Google driving all that lucrative traffic to sites and being charged as a result... so unfair!

The deals were instead rooted in the understanding that the platforms were already making extra revenue by serving ads to a user because of the content it was surfacing or linking to. The content was the key to charging premium rates for ads proximate to the content. You know, like a publisher would!

Far from some shakedown, it was basically a revenue share deal: you have made extra money from something you used while already making money, so now share some of that extra with the people who you took it from.

It's a principle almost every reasonable business worldwide takes for granted, whether they like it or not.

And Facebook didn't want to, and they definitely didn't like it.

This is the background to this week's latest blow-up in Facebook's Australian HQ (well, we should say ‘parrot the salvo launched down the line from San Francisco’ - let's not kid ourselves that national FB offices have any power over the conduct of the firm… “Mark, Mark! Listen, you’re going to have to back down and let me make my decision, I’ve told Canberra and now I’m telling you, I’m in charge here!”, said no-one ever at Facebook) which will see them "deprecate" the news tab on Facebook feeds in the country (and the US, incidentally), and end any national deals in place with content owners. 

As David Buttle put it, Facebook has a habit of taking its ball and going home. In this case, it has burst the ball, set it on fire, thrown it into a ditch, and claim that neither it nor anyone ever liked football anyway.

It's not the first time news has become a banned topic either.

If you want to read more on what's happening in Australia, do of course check in on local hero and media terrier Ricky Sutton, who often sat across the table from these firms and was part of the team consulted when the Aussie bargaining code was drawn up. He writes much more about it this week.

So Facebook threw a tantrum again, what's new?

Well, while the advisers in Sydney and California clearly surmised that nothing much would happen, or maybe their move would flush out some sympathisers in the Canberra Government, it looks instead to merely motivate the Senators to stick to their guns and in fact load bigger bullets.

Whatever was on the company's Board Meeting Bingo Card this morning, headlines like "Meta risking mammoth $1.5bn fine" were unlikely to be one.

The immediate reaction by ministers and senators was not to be cowed, but seemingly to take inspiration from the EU's gigantor fine against Apple this week, in billions not millions.

The word is out: while these companies are here and continue to have more money than respect for law, take it. Publishers should adopt the same mindset.

Big Social and Big Search are not motivated by being nice to publishers. But in turn politicians are no longer motivated to be nice to them, which could be the secret weapon in the publisher's armoury to even the fight.

Anyway, on with this week's Content Aware...

Cookie compliance's hidden cost
Turmoil ahead in advertising and marketing. The European Court of Justice ruled today that IAB Europe, an ad industry body and key player in Real-Time Bidding, has been in breach of GDPR for years. A tech solution it offered to help sites and advertisers navigate a user's cookie consent choices is at the centre of the ruling. The tech was itself supposed to solve GDPR concerns. Oops.
Read more

A Google-shaped monster
What!? Two Barry Adams SEO newsletters in close succession (see below)? Something big must be brewing... and it is. Another monster Google update is rolling out, and once more it is targeting all sorts of sites and content. Another nerve-wracking month ahead for site owners everywhere, as well perhaps a chance for quality to rise to the top once again.
Read more

More reading
Search Engine Journal weighs in with more insight into what many are starting to say is Google's biggest update in years.
Read more

Interview with a vampire
And what is Google saying? Well, amongst a flurry of new advice on its search guidance pages is a revealing announcement on what it is doing to make search better, much of it seeming to clamp down on things which were supposed to be impossible already. Where there is a system. someone will work out how to game it.
Read more

Tune in, turn off
More than a third of respondents to a Reuters Institute survey admitted to actively avoiding news. Aside from the societal impact this has, how do publishers in the space speak to an increasing body of people who don't just miss news but make efforts to cover their eyes from it?
Read more

AI and Publishers: Who suing who?
The sides are forming in the next great media vs technology war. But who has already picked their team, and who is hedging their bets? Press Gazette's Charlotte Tobitt picks apart the deals done and being done in the dash for cash, accelerated by the fear AI will take all our thoughts and make them their own.
Read more

Cookiewall vs paywall part II
Publishers in the UK are eyeing a Spanish-style cookie consent model which could place the act of paying for content more squarely into the cookie consent process. The country's data body has reached out for views from the industry as it seeks to clarify how best to handle the "your data or your money" question.
Read more

Act, or transact
Meanwhile in Spain, which has seen publishers already embrace a consent-or-data payment model, the second-placed title El Mundo is rolling out a per-article payment model that will see readers able to pay 5c a read in alternative to signing up for full subscriptions.
Read more

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