Big Tech and You: FIPP launches new report into the relationship between media and tech

FIPP has today launched a new report, exclusive to members, analysing the partnership – and partisanship – that has grown up between Big Tech players and media outlets in recent years. As the new Axel Springer-Facebook News partnership announced earlier this week highlights, it’s a relationship that is still developing, and continues to present opportunities as well as challenges.

Drawing upon the accounts of dozens of industry leaders from around the world, the study looks at the impact that players like Facebook and Google have had on the traditional media landscape, examining benefits, issues, and potential solutions.

“In our regular presentations on media trends, we describe the business of content distribution and monetisation as a maze where every exit is blocked by just two companies,” says FIPP CEO, James Hewes, in introducing the report. “The truth is that, for most publishers, Google and Facebook are probably the two businesses that can have the largest impact on their revenue, controlling the largest number of both eyeballs and ad dollars.”

“Their control of search, sharing and digital advertising is unparalleled, and our industry has adopted a wide range of strategies in facing up to the challenge of dealing with technology companies that are as big as any that has ever existed. This paper is our comprehensive survey of these strategies, drawn on interviews with a wide range of industry players on all sides of the debate, including the platforms themselves.”

Four schools of thought

From interviews conducted with publishers across the industry, all respondents seem to hold at least one of these four views on Big Tech:

  • Big Tech are abusive anti-trust monopolies
  • Big Tech are brazen copyright violators
  • Big Tech are distribution systems that we can still work with and exploit
  • Big Tech isn’t the primary problem; it’s us. Stop whining and innovate your way to the future like they did

These attitudes reflect a complex symbiotic relationship, put succinctly by Zachary Block, Condé Nast SVP for Global Business Development and Partnerships, in a statement that really embodies the report’s central theme:

“These [Big Tech] companies are the most important gatekeepers for the vast majority of audiences. But it is content that drives the demand for the service. To have a business at all, Big Tech needs good content. So it’s important for us to have good relationships with them … but we must be compensated fairly for it.”

Negative vs… positive?

In a candid set of accounts, media owners and associations from around the world talk openly about some of the negative business practices that Big Tech players appear to have engaged in in recent years, in order to establish their presence in the industry. But there is also a consideration of some of the more positive initiatives that companies like Facebook and Google appear to be engaged in, such as:

  • Facebook Accelerator Program
  • Facebook Community Network Programme
  • Network Grant Program
  • Facebook Grants
  • Instagram Local News Fellowship
  • Google News Showcase

Regulation, regulation, regulation

Whether or not the above practices represent genuine attempts to forward the media side of the industry, or simply public relations exercises in ingratiation, is also up for debate. But one thing we definitely do know is that tech side regulation is coming, and getting behind this is one way in which traditional players can ensure that the industry’s new giants are playing by the rules:

“We are competitors in the way we make people happy,” says COO of Burda International, Alfred Heintze. “But beyond that there are areas of shared industry and global interests where we are not competitors. Here we must stand together. We have learned how hard it will be to overcome this, so we need to get close.”

You can access the report in full here.

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