Danish media continue to battle Big Tech for a fair playing field

By Bill Fryman

Copenhagen, Denmark


The lines have been drawn for an epic battle that could decide the future of the Danish media landscape and have global ramifications. Tech giants stand on one side and Danish publishers on the other. 

The battle was chronicled by Dorthe Bjerregaard-Knudsen, COO of the Danish media publisher JP/Politikens Hus A/S, before a sold-out crowd at INMA Media Innovation Week. The conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, is sponsored by ArcXPFT StrategiesGoogle News Initiative, Meta, and Piano.

Robert Whitehead, lead of the INMA Digital Platform Initiative and moderator of the conference, speaks with Dorthe Bjerregaard-Knudsen, COO of JP/Politikens Hus, after her presentation.
Robert Whitehead, lead of the INMA Digital Platform Initiative and moderator of the conference, speaks with Dorthe Bjerregaard-Knudsen, COO of JP/Politikens Hus, after her presentation.

Fittingly, Bjerregaard-Knudsen gave her presentation in a grand hall that previously housed massive the printing presses of Ekstra Bladet, one of JP/Politikens’ titles. With a backdrop of ink-stained walls, she described how Danish media publishers are responding in a battle fought on three fronts: 

  • The fight for content.

  • The fight for data.

  • The fight for online advertising.

In the fight for content and data, the scales are tipped in tech giants favour

In 2020, the European Union adopted a Copyright Directive Article 15, which provides EU publishers the right to claim revenues from online uses of their publications by information service providers. In addition, authors of press publications are to receive an appropriate share of the revenues realised through the licensing of online uses of their publications.

The EU directive was adopted to Danish law in 2021. Problem solved, right? 

Not exactly. The directive does indeed give publishers a legal right to defend their content and be remunerated for it. But in reality, the scales are tipped in the tech giants favour.

Services have been developed to mine contextual data from publishers’ sites and offer the content to third-party sites. And search engines have been optimised to showcase content that normally would be behind a paywall directly to users for free. 

Third-party data favours Big Tech companies.
Third-party data favours Big Tech companies.

Content from the Danish publisher JP/Politikens Hus were shown for free in Google searches 700 billion times in 2021. Yet only 43 billion users clicked through to the publishers’ sites.

“This is convenient for the user, but the publisher gets very little out of it,” Bjerregaard-Knudsen said.

Danish media have created a united front

To combat the tech giants, the publishers of Danish media established the Danish Publishers Collective Management Organisation, known as DPCMO. The organisation is based on the right to collective bargaining that was granted to publishers under EU Directive Article 15.  

Ninety seven percent of Danish press publishers are members of the DPCMO. And while they don’t agree on every issue, according to Bjerregaard-Knudsen, they are working together based on their shared conviction that a “free and pluralistic press is vital to Danish democracy.”

“We need to stand united,” she said. “We need to negotiate together and expect fair remuneration for the contribution that our content makes to the business models of the platforms.”

Danish media envision an advertising model akin to brick and mortar shops

The Danish Media Association estimates that nearly 50% of the total ad spend on the Danish media market goes to Google and Facebook. They foresee that trend continuing, with less and less ad revenue going to Danish content providers.

According to Bjerregaard-Knudsen, many suggested the issue should be tackled by banning targeted ads. However, the Danish Media Association agreed a total ban was not practical and instead are pushing for a ban on third-party targeting. 

Bjerregaard-Knudsen posited consumers would be more open to a first-party media outlet following their actions on its own news sites as opposed to a third-party organisation. 

“You could compare this to a physical store,” she said. “The salesperson is aware of you being there and can see what your preferences are, but you don’t expect a lot of other stores to know what you are doing in that store.”

To achieve an equitable situation based on first-party ad targeting, the DPCMO suggests a standard, scalable framework for sharing advertising data from Danish media outlets of all sizes. They believe this could staunch the flow of ad revenue leaving Danish publishers and help to balance the scales.

Fighting for a level playing field

No one is expecting a decisive victory in the battle for control of the Danish media landscape. And that is fine with Bjerregaard-Knudsen and the DPCMO. 

First-party data levels the playing field.
First-party data levels the playing field.

What they hope to achieve is a level playing field in which the publishers and tech giants both have exposure to and access to data, but where publishers benefit from the value of their own content. 

“It is our credibility that is at stake here,” she said. “Everything we are working to achieve is to be trusted media: the source you go to when you need real, correct information.” 

Media Inovation Week — also sponsored by Aptitude, Chartbeat, flowplayer, smartocto, Stibo DX, United Robots, and Zephr — continues this week. You can find coverage here.

About Bill Fryman

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