News Media Bargaining Code Beyond Google Search
News media from large corporations such as Newscorp, Warner Media and Walt Disney television are imperative to society. These organisations have the resources to investigate stories across the globe and report on news events we would otherwise be unaware of.
These large companies also have substantial overheads and cost a lot to run. However, because of the competition for freesynta content driven by new mediums such as YouTube and Facebook, consumers are increasingly migrating away from traditional media, meaning these traditional media companies can no longer make as much revenue as they used to. On Australian television there are only five primary news channels, but on YouTube there are thousands of news channels that are all accessible 24/7 and are equally free to view. As a result, advertising revenue is spread far thinner, and in a future where more people are watching YouTube than traditional television, this type of business model will no longer be fiscally viable. So what is the logical solution for these traditional media companies in Australia?
Do they choose to cut overheads?
Do they move to a more decentralised business model?
Do they make more broadly appealing content?
No, instead of exploring any of these options, the solution for traditional media has been to lobby the government into passing laws which would give them back the oligopoly they once enjoyed.
These laws would mandate that registered media organisations would have key insights into how Google’s backend systems work, i.e. ranking algorithms and accessing data about viewers’ use of YouTube. It would be naïve to think that if these companies had access to this kind of data, that they would not use it to leverage every little bit of content they produce – journalistic or otherwise.
The proposed legislation would give these organisations exclusive access to specific user data which they could utilise to determine trends, discern insights and target specific viewers (to an even higher level than present). Privacy concerns aside, this would mean that viewers would be targeted with articles which are agreeable to them, missing the opportunity that might provide a more well-informed opinion. Indeed, Australian media outlets are not discreet regarding their social and political leanings, with conservative media mogul Rupert Murdoch, who is blatant in his support of right-wing political and social agendas.
As it stands, the current media scape is ok - these media owners are private companies and they’re within their rights to publish whatever content they see fit, as long as it’s not intentionally misleading or false. On the other hand, What’s not ok is if there’s no platform for alternative views to be heard. These organisations know that YouTube is not is not within their realm of comfort - just look at any of their channels on the platform - all comments are disabled and ratings hidden.
Finally, it would be remiss if we did not mention the financial aspect. Currently, news organisations operating in Australia make approximately 10 million US dollars in revenue on YouTube. This in itself is not an insubstantial amount, given that none of these channels necessarily have a large subscription base. Regardless of this, these organisations want to mandate that Google and its platforms pay at least 600 million dollars per year towards them, or put another way, they would have to pay 60X what their current business relationship is worth.
It goes without saying that this is a dangerous precedent, not only for fair media coverage and media diversity, but also for how we conduct business. It is unfathomable that an organisation can be mandated into handing over money simply because the recipient is masquerading as a public service.
Most of the media organisations in Australia are owned by international companies, and if the proposed law changes are implemented in Australia, then what’s to stop them rolling this out in other countries. Unfortunately, and probably deliberately, these laws have been proposed in the midst of one of the most difficult periods in recent history, and as a result the issue has flown under the radar.
Tracey Curry is the head of paid social media at Media Precinct