Changes in Big Tech affect the news media industry in a variety of ways.
During the two-day INMA Africa News Summit, Robert Whitehead led a discussion about how media companies are being affected by tech changes and how publishers are responding worldwide and, more specifically, in South Africa.
Whitehead, the lead for INMA’s Digital Platform Initiative, was joined by South Africa’s Daryl Dingley, a pecialist in competition and media law and partner at Webber Wentzel, and Hoosain Karjieker, CEO of South Africa’s Mail & Guardian and chairman of Publishers Support Services.
Whitehead started with an overview of tech decisions from platforms affecting media companies:
- Apple: “Their ‘do not track’ feature has had a huge impact on advertising revenues across all the other digital platforms and other advertising outlets.”
- Amazon: The world’s fastest-growing ad platform is now bigger than YouTube but is facing legal challenges that will prevent it from prioritising its brand in its marketplaces.
- Meta: The company formerly known as Facebook is pivoting away from the news industry and instead is making deals directly with bloggers, writers, and creators in the audio space.
- Netflix: Although the company has had a much-publicised drop in subscribers, Whitehead emphasised that “it is not the end of the subscription promise for media companies. It's not a bad sign for what media is doing in the subscription space.”
- Google: “Google … is the last huge supporter of news media,” Whitehead said. “They are facing very big regulatory issues on a number of continents to do with their dominance in the digital and tech, and that will have far-reaching consequences and potentially open some new opportunities for media companies.” He added Google just announced the changes in its third-party cookie policies have been pushed back to 2024, which he said gives media companies more time to prepare.
With that as a backdrop, the panel began looking at what’s happening in South African news media in the changing environment created by Big Tech. Different countries have adopted different models for managing Big Tech’s disruption of the news media industry, particularly as it pertains to advertising, but Whitehead said the model in South Africa is one that many people around the world are watching.
“It’s a competition model in South Africa,” he said. “There’s collective bargaining involved. There’s forced arbitration if Big Tech and media don’t come to the party and don’t come to an agreement.”
Bringing rivals together
While South African media is not known for cooperation with one another, “bitter rivals have put aside the differences and they’re working in a dedicated consortium, the Publisher Support Services consortium,” Whitehead said. The PSS includes all sizes and types of media houses that are working in lockstep. Dingley and Karjieker are two of the architects of this new approach.
“South Africa has a pretty fierce media landscape,” Whitehead said, in which owners and senior executives are not amenable to collaboration. So the idea of creating a consortium was surprising to him. What brought them together was the massive declines in advertising revenue and print circulation across the board, Karjieker said
“We sort of saw our industry just being obliterated,” he said. “And there’s nothing better that brings a group of rivals together.”
Dingley was instrumental in convincing some colleagues that they needed to work together to do something about it, Karjieker said. By working together to improve advertising revenues for all, the industry as a whole could benefit.
The PSS already existed, he said, and they “… used that opportunity of the [existing] tribunal to come together as publishers and to go make a case in front of the commission. So yeah, we are rivals, but in a market that we’re experiencing right now, we are looking for ways to be able to find a way of re-establishing ourselves and our cause and advancing the cause of public interest journalism — which is what we do and what we focus on.”
Many companies, one negotiation
A key aspect of the consortium is that all the publishers agreed to one point of representation, which meant no member would seek individual negotiations. Structure was carefully thought out to protect commercially and competitively sensitive information.
“We are very careful about the topics that are discussed in our meetings,” Dingley said. “So we have quite formal processes in terms of agendas and speaking points.”
Currently the PSS, as a group, is working on negotiations with Google for the members.
“It's really important for this process that [publishers] stand together as a collective,” Dingley said. “And in fact, we are also acting for other bodies representing smaller publishers, too. I think to get the larger platforms to engage with us, it’s really important that there’s a single point of contact.”
To get publishers on board, Karjieker said they emphasised the dominance of tech platforms like Google and Facebook/Meta, pointing out that this dominance has created a significant imbalance. Then, it emphasises to publishers how difficult it is able to bargain and secure advertising when such an imbalance exists.
“So, we believe, and we’ve looked at some of the numbers and, you know, whilst we’ve seen huge clients from a revenue perspective, the share that then is attributable to the publishers themselves is minuscule,” he said. “I think that by using that sort of data to be able to demonstrate the prejudice that we feel, we’ll be able to convince more and more publishers to come and rally behind us as a collective.
“The more we speak about it, the more publishers we’ll be able to pull on board.”
Complete coverage of the two-day summit can be found here.