Ahead of the wave: Why pioneering AI partnerships will be key to the business success of Axel Springer

For publishers looking to negotiate the new technology-driven media landscape successfully, AI partnerships will be crucial. There are few better examples of how to make the most of these collaborations than Axel Springer.

In the wake of the German media giant’s landmark licensing deal with OpenAI, Mathias Sanchez, SVP, Global Strategic Partnerships at Axel Springer addressed delegates at the FIPP World Media Congress in Cascais, showing how its partnerships, combined with ingenuity, are playing a vital role in the company’s future success.

“We decided a couple of years ago at Axel Springer that partnering with tech platforms makes a lot of sense because it drives innovation and makes us faster and stronger,” he said, sitting down for a conversation with new FIPP CEO, Alastair Lewis.

“We acknowledge that generative AI technology is both a risk, but also a huge chance for our business. The world is changing and the technology is changing and this change is happening very rapidly. So, we want to reach a position – and I think that has been the case in the past months – where Axel Springer is basically ahead of the wave or maybe even riding the wave. But we don’t want to be present after the wave has happened.

“We think that embracing this technology in the way that we are doing gives us some strategic advantage because we’re the first ones, but at the same time we’re the first ones that will cope with the new situation. We’re the first ones that will learn from this new positioning.”

Choosing the best partner

According to Sanchez, Axel Springer found in OpenAI a partner that’s very interested in making journalism a sustainable business model, stressing that a crucial consideration when striking up the deal was setting a precedent to establish compensation for the use of its content.

“Journalism is very existential and is very important for our democracy,” he pointed out. “I would even say it’s the cornerstone for our democracy and for societal health.

“So, we found in OpenAI the perfect match. It’s a company that is very engaged in finding ways to make journalism accessible. We found each other because we are both interested in this impact that journalism has for democracy.”

The shape of the agreement sees Axel Springer license its content, giving OpenAI rights to train its models. Axel Springer gave OpenAI access to its archive and agreed on a content output view, which allows the tech company to access content and make summaries out of its stories.

“Attribution is important for us because we see this as an opportunity to generate traffic,” added Sanchez. “I would say it is much more than a LLM training and output deal. It’s a formalisation of a very nice relationship and the deal has enabled us to engage in a more strategic way where we can cooperate in developing new technologies together.

“Early examples of this adoption can be seen in German publications Bild and Die Welt which have its own chatbots that are partly built using GPT technology. We’re working very closely together and aligning ourselves in ways to make journalism engaging and interesting and to see how our users are reacting to this technology.”

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Keeping up with change

Asked whether there are any concerns at Axel Springer – who has also struck up a partnership with Microsoft – that by moving fast and moving first in striking up deals with tech companies, they may have set a precedent that potentially could reduce longer term opportunities, Sanchez pointed out that the company’s main goal of ensuring compensation for publishers for the usage of content has been a success.

He did add, however, that the process needed some regulation which would make “everything permanent and therefore more sustainable”.

“But since these companies are developing so fast and the technology is just changing so rapidly, it is smart to partner and to learn because then you will automatically be on the forefront of innovation,” he said.

“And I think Axel Springer has been very successful in establishing itself as a company that is really leading in the forefront of innovation and that’s important to us. We are interested partnering with everyone that is willing to partner with us.”

Giving advice to smaller media owners that might not know where to start or how to strike up an agreement like the one Axel Springer has struck up with OpenAI, Sanchez said:

“In short, I would say use your strength and network and try to get the most out of it. I think it’s important to be open to these kind of technologies, because these technologies are redefining the world.

“Companies like OpenAI and Microsoft are literally developing the future, so I don’t think it’s very smart just to lay down and wait and see what happens. I think it’s a smarter position to embrace the technology and to start experimenting with it.”


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