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.

COVID-19 has sent online news surging, with publishers experiencing massive traffic uplift, as trusted news sources become increasingly important.

But the industry is still heavily reliant on print revenues, and we are seeing supply chains come under extreme pressure as core readers self-isolate and retail giants close or de-prioritise news media. Advertising—including categories like retail and travel—has collapsed.

In face of existential threats to the sector, we have written to DCMS to mobilise Government funding to sustain news provision and journalism.

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

The average cover price of national newspapers has risen by 58% since 2010, more than twice the CPI increase of 22%. Are publishers “shooting themselves in the foot” at a time when buyers and advertisers are defecting to online?

To settle this, we analysed all the cover price events by national titles between 2010 and 2018, which reveals the relative success of The Times when it has raised its price.

For mid-market and popular titles, cover price hikes have on balance reduced circulation revenues and, by lowering reach, drained advertising revenue: a lose-lose scenario.

Bleak prospects for digital advertising leave no choice to news publishers but to generate revenue from readers, and the lack of widespread frictionless micropayment options means there is no alternative to subscription — the vast majority of western ‘quality’ newspapers have rolled out paywalls; meters and registrations are the most promising approaches

Recent politics have increased demand for quality journalism and readiness to pay. Despite clumsy commercial models the rise in subscriber numbers is encouraging, but current price points may be too low for a sustainable digital transition. Churn is high, publishers have yet to fully develop and optimise ecommerce

The transition to an audience-centric model is a shift away from click bait, with distinctiveness, curation and news agenda hierarchy among the most important factors. Leveraging data to optimise audience engagement remains challenging

Even though Facebook is not a producer of news, 6.5 million UK internet users claim to mainly source their news from the platform. Posts and shares by friends in the user's network, in the context of Facebook's algorithm, determine the order of stories in the personalised News Feed, removing the control of the news agenda that publishers have for their websites

Premium publishers operating a paywall (The Times, The Financial Times) have a lower key approach to Facebook than publishers generating advertising revenue from referral traffic to their websites or from on-platform consumption of Instant Articles. The latter will seek to stimulate social media engagement, optimising stories through attention-grabbing headlines, and installing Facebook’s share and like buttons on their websites

Case studies of the news stories that were prominent on Facebook (measured by likes, comments and shares) in the periods leading up to the Brexit Referendum and General Election 2017 votes respectively demonstrate that newspaper brands (the Express for Brexit, and The Guardian for the General Election) achieved the highest reach on Facebook during these periods, despite being ranked below other news brands (BBC in particular) in terms of traffic to their websites

With smartphones in the pockets of 3/4 of the UK population, and accounting for over half of all online minutes, the mobile revolution is in its final stages, allowing us to survey its impact

As the number of social media users continues growing, untapped older demographics and Instagram help the Facebook suite of apps grow in the UK, but Snapchat is the social media app of choice for UK teens

News publishers face issues with brand attribution as social media platforms overtake search as the main news aggregators online, while small UK video publishers have become unlikely winners in a global market for soft news, infotainment and gags that dominate social video

 

Facebook content shares suggest that misinformation had broad reach during both US and UK political campaigns, but outright fake news was rare, particularly in the UK 

Mis- and disinformation by both established and new publishers was distributed on Facebook, but monetisation took place predominantly off-site, and content was distributed by a wide range of search and social platforms 

Facebook has acted to limit the reach of disinformation, but can’t and shouldn’t be expected to do so alone as digital news distribution touches on complex questions including information and democracy, media literacy and heterogeneous cultural and social norms

In an immersive industry workshop in Turin celebrating La Stampa’s 150th anniversary, quality news publishers from around the world expressed a strong collective belief in membership, an editorial strategy supported by an emerging advertising opportunity

Editorial and service relevance was defined by widely varying publisher missions, categorised by a range of local and specialist use-cases, creating highly differentiated services for print, mobile and other delivery

A low-level hum in the discussions was a recognition that fundamental change in company culture – editorial and commercial as well as business operations – is a complex but urgent requirement for achieving a long-term sustainable news service