Where do global negotiations between media and Big Tech stand right now?

By Jessica Spiegel


Portland, Oregon, United States


The whole story of news media vs. Big Tech is a lot to digest. It is is constant motion throughout the world.

INMA’s Digital Platform Initiative Lead Robert Whitehead did his best to catch INMA members up on Thursday.

Opening the final day of INMA World Congress, sponsored by Ring Publishing, Whitehead offered attendees a snapshot of what is happening right now, starting with  the 10,000-metre view of the changes taking place in Big Tech regulation and how media is reaping the rewards from those changes.

He began with details of several major platforms — Apple, Amazon, Meta, Google, and Twitter — and what regulations mean for news media companies. He emphasised that while many of these companies have set the precedent that they’re willing to pay for some content, they are still driving hard bargains: “They don’t want to pay any more for content than they have to.”

Robert Whitehead, lead of the INMA Digital Platform Initiative, gave both a big picture and detailed view of where the media-Big Tech relationship is right now.
Robert Whitehead, lead of the INMA Digital Platform Initiative, gave both a big picture and detailed view of where the media-Big Tech relationship is right now.


“If you participate in Apple News,” Whitehead said, “you automatically halve the commission you pay to Apple, from 30% to 15%.” The trouble with this is that it’s only really available in four markets, and it’s only in English. Some publishers may need to follow Le Monde’s lead and open an English portal on Apple News+, which also halves the Apple tax.

Several elements of the Apple ecosystem have a huge impact on media publishers, Whitehead said:

  • “Do not track” affects digital advertising revenue.
  • “Hide my e-mail” prevents you from matching e-mail addresses to your first-party data.
  • “Focus” means you can’t call someone if you’re not already in their phone’s contacts, which is a major impact on telemarketing efforts.

If you’re already in the Apple ecosystem, Whitehead said, you’re familiar with these — but he said you’ll probably start seeing this in other operating systems, too.


Amazon is a big media company, Whitehead said, not because Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post, but because “as a retailer, they sell advertising on their platform — and many INMA members resell Amazon inventory.”

Amazon is expected to become the biggest retailer in the United States this year, and is one of the world’s fastest-growing advertising platforms. “They dominate in the U.S.,” he said, “and this is increasingly a phenomenon across the world.”

In addition, Amazon is a huge first-party data harvester, “second only to Google in being able to commercialise their data.”


Meta has set the precedent that it is willing to pay for content, both through its Facebook News tab and also through a growing number of direct author deals. The challenge, Whitehead said, is that “as they pivot to the metaverse and increasingly want exclusivity in the content they’re commissioning from professionals, they may leave journalism on the sidelines.”

The opportunity for news publishers here, as Whitehead sees it, is that “professional journalism is the perfect antidote to fake news — it’s how you keep news credible and ensure that community-generated discussion is founded in facts and verified sources.” Meta is doing a huge amount of work with journalism initiative projects around the world in an effort to redress misinformation and build brand trust.


Google is the biggest target of regulatory inquiries, with 25 major inquiries at the moment. One of the focuses of these inquiries is the upcoming changes in privacy. Whitehead said these changes have been delayed, which may give media companies a chance to have more of a say in how some of these changes to the use of data points are going to be set.

Another area of opportunities for media companies are things like premium audio and video, as well as digital capability up-skilling. The latter is something Google brings to all media companies that participate in their programmes.

Google is “probably unmatched in the world” in its deep support to transform the business model and build better media, Whitehead said.


“We don’t know where this little birdie is going to be in six months,” Whitehead quipped. “There’s a good chance she’ll be driving around in a Tesla Model Three.”

All the recent changes at Twitter aside, he said that everything points to the company making big changes to its business model: “Whereas other platforms are paying for content, there are strong signals that professional users of the Twitter platform are going to be charged in order to put their messages out there.”

Planning framework

After conversations with media publishers in more than 10 countries, a planning framework pattern emerged, Whitehead said. He laid it out as 10 steps, from the “moment of realisation that the digital boom is passing us by,” through research and mobilisation to negotiation and PR battles and compromises that lead to stability.

The research step is made much easier since companies like Google, Meta, and Apple News are “using the same communication playbook in every single market they go through,” he said, “so it’s not a surprise to any of the publishers.”

He added that the more successful operations are the ones that form very tight alliances (which is step four), though he also said it’s inevitable that some of the alliance will quit (at step six), and that what comes out after going through all 10 stages is full of hope — a revenue boost, acceleration of transformation, deep collaboration, and internal reform.

Global case studies

There is a growing number of countries pursuing legal action against Big Tech. Whitehead detailed where 11 countries (of more than 28) are in their negotiations and split them into two legal camps — copyright/intellectual property law and competition/antitrust law.

“The big takeaway for me,” he said, “is that it’s a movement.”

These two pieces of legislation are important to the future Big Tech-media relationship.
These two pieces of legislation are important to the future Big Tech-media relationship.

There are also “two giant pieces of legislation [coming out of the EU] that will set the tone globally,” he said:

  1. EU Digital Services Act: This is looking at “all sorts of Internet hygiene issues but with very tough enforcement.”

  2. EU Digital Market Act: This “looks at a whole bunch of things around advertising rules, share of advertising dollars, and app store policies, among others.”

Additionally, ad tech legal cases are coming to a head, he said: “The UK and EU announced jointly that they’re stepping up their inquiry into adtech, and there are court cases underway in the U.S.” as well.

Whitehead highlighted the INMA report Understanding Ad Tech and its Challenges for News Publishers as a fantastic place to get more information on this.

This 2021 INMA strategic report is a good resource for those wanting to learn more.
This 2021 INMA strategic report is a good resource for those wanting to learn more.

When considering the biggest threats to media companies, Whitehead reframed the idea. “I don’t see it as a threat,” he said. “I think there are many opportunities coming from getting into closer cooperation with tech platforms, and I think you can see the end of the warring disputes.

“While it’s clear that regulators need to be involved, there is a lot of opportunity when you get to the other side of it.” 

About Jessica Spiegel

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