Google is demonstrating support for news by stepping up its efforts to license content from publishers and provide unpaywalled access within its Google News app—an attempt to diffuse regulatory pressure.

The issue of incentives to sustain scale businesses that originate and distribute high quality news in the digital era is still left unanswered.

Facebook has taken an opposite strategy, banning the sharing of news in Australia on their platforms—a risky, yet calculated move.

The value of certain sports rights can be appraised through three major metrics: the ability to command viewing/engagement, the ability to drive subscriptions incremental to other rights, and the propensity of those subscribers to provide the rights holder with additional revenues.

In this report we examine these three metrics in order to gain an understanding of the tensions in the market, along with the reasons as to why there is competition (or not) for certain rights.

Unsurprisingly, outside of a few primary sports rights, there are an abundance of secondary rights which find it difficult to display their value over others. Their value relies just as heavily on whether rights holders are committing to, or retreating from, major rights.

On 1 October, Google CEO Sundar Pichai announced $1 billion for worldwide news publisher partnerships for a novel News Showcase product, helping them to distribute their content to a new audience.

It is an important milestone: for the first time Google will pay publishers to curate content in the Google News app (initially), and to provide unpaywalled access to articles on publishers’ websites that users can click through to.

In so doing, Google is defusing the simmering conflict with publishers in major markets, and showing policy-makers its willingness to collaborate with a news industry facing existential threats.

 

In response to COVID-19 and the associated lockdown and economic crash, advertisers have slashed budgets. Online budgets are not immune.

This has clarified features of the online ad market: it is demand-driven, relies heavily on SMEs and startups, and is built on direct response campaigns.

We expect online advertising to outperform other media, and for platforms to further gain share. But with a very few exceptions, this health and economic disaster is good for nobody.

With elections in the UK in December, and in the US in 2020, online political advertising is receiving intense scrutiny. Google has announced limits on targeting, while Twitter has banned politicians from buying ads

Facebook is the big player in online political ads, and it continues to allow targeted political ads, and to carve them out as exempt from fact-checking

Facebook wants to keep Republicans on side and surf the revenue opportunity, but pressure will increase with US elections, and we expect Facebook to bring in restrictions

In the BBC’s 2015 funding settlement commencing 2017, the Government assumed the BBC would fully fund the subsidy for over-75s to the tune of £750 million from 2020/21

Although the BBC’s settlement contained measures of “mitigation” worth c.£290 million, the BBC would still have faced a gap of c.£460 million to be funded by programme cuts and efficiencies (the BBC has pledged £250 million)

Including c.£300 million from the annual adjustment of the licence fee for inflation from 2017 would help. However, this was always required to offset normal salary and cost increases to prevent a real decline in the BBC’s resources

Ofcom’s recommendations to Government suggest updating EPG prominence legislation to cover connected TVs, and were warmly welcomed by the PSBs

Balancing various commercial, PSB and consumer interests will be key; determining what content qualifies for prominence will be a particularly thorny issue to resolve

Extending prominence to smart TVs and streaming sticks is critical, but implementation will be challenging

The UK government is now consulting on a wider TV advertising ban until 9pm for food and drink high in fat, salt and sugar (HFSS), to combat childhood obesity

TV and TV advertising are not the cause of children being overweight or obese (O+O). Policy change in this area should inform and educate parents and young children, as they have in Leeds and Amsterdam

With 64% of the UK population being O+O, obesity is a complex societal issue requiring a multifaceted approach. The evidence from existing rules, and plummeting TV viewing amongst children, says that further restrictions on TV advertising will be ineffective in curbing the rise of obesity in the UK

The BBC’s consultation on rescinding free TV licences for all those aged 75 and over, in whole or in part, has sparked a heartfelt petition from key stakeholder Age UK to restore Government funding for the elderly, which we support

The Government has put the BBC in the intolerable position of choosing between funding the remit, whose delivery is regulated by Ofcom, and free TV licences for the over-75s, a lose-lose for the BBC, its viewers and listeners

In our submission to the BBC we highlight the human impact of reduced services and/or higher monthly expenses on the 2 million single-income households, 75% headed by women, for whom the BBC is a lifeline

The Cairncross Review has now reported on the tough question of “how to sustain production and distribution of high quality journalism in a rapidly changing technology environment”. New codes of conduct for the platforms and publishers are the Review’s key policy recommendation.

In particular, the Review addresses the sustainability of public interest, including local, journalism. This news is important for democracy, but expensive to do well, not particularly popular and most sabotaged by an online ecosystem that rewards traffic over quality.

This is a landmark public intervention, but implementation will be critical, even if there is no silver bullet – platforms, publishers and citizens need to rise to the challenge.