UK Prime Minister Theresa May announced yesterday that the government will conduct a review into the sustainability of the UK’s newspaper industry, at a national, regional and local levels. The review will examine whether publishers currently get their fair share of online ad revenue, and could result in the government taking steps to protect the industry. May specifically referenced the supply and distribution chain, suggesting that the government might makes moves to ensure that companies like Facebook and Google share more ad revenue with publishers, which is something that several publishers have been calling for recently.
May delivered the news during a speech in Manchester, in which she hailed the British press as “one of the foundations on which our democracy is built”. Citing the closure of over 200 local papers since 2005, and the danger of voters turning to untrustworthy news sources in their absence, she said the government will examine what steps it or the media industry could take to ensure the sustainability of the press.
This may involve some means of forcing a more publisher-favourable distribution of online ad revenue. “Because digital advertising is now one of the essential sources of revenue for newspapers, the review will analyse how that supply chain operates,” said May. “It will consider whether the creators of content are getting their fair share of advertisement revenue. And it will recommend whether industry or government-led solutions can help improve the sustainability of the sector for the future.”
The government expects the review to be published later this year, and a government press release said it will consider the roles of Facebook and Google in particular, suggesting that they could be singled out for some sort of government action.
Such a move would likely be popular with press both big and small. Press Gazette, a trade publication dedicated to covering UK journalism and the media industry, has launched a campaign to see Google and Facebook specifically give publishers a fairer slice of online ad revenue. Recently several prominent media voices, including Rupert Murdoch, have called for Facebook to pay premium publisher for their content.
David Dinsmore, chairman of the News Media Association, welcomed the announcement. “Viable business models must be found that ensure a wide variety of media are able to have a long and healthy future. Through digital platforms, news content is more widely consumed than ever before but the revenues to sustain the investment in that quality content are challenged. This review on a sustainable future is very welcome,” he said.
Teads’ UK managing director Justin Taylor believes if the review improves conditions for publishers, it could have a knock on effect for advertisers too. “Without sufficient funding we will naturally see a decline in quality national and regional publishers, this means we would see a fall in the amount of brand-safe environments available to advertisers,” he said. “In addition to this, local news sites are highly trusted by readers and offer brands relevant, engaged and connected audiences, without sufficient revenue these sites would no longer be an option for advertisers.
“As an industry it is integral we work together to ensure the continuation of high quality national and regional journalism.”
The government’ is looking to take on social media in other ways, too. Earlier in her speech, Theresa May said that the government in cracking down on abusive and illegal content hosted on social media. The government will establish an Annual Internet Safety Transparency Report which will track how social media companies respond to complaints of abusive content, and which material they remove. The government is also mulling over whether the law needs to be updated to hold social platforms more responsible for illegal content they host. “These platforms are clearly no longer just passive hosts of the opinions of others, so we will look at the legal liability that social media companies have for the content shared on their sites,” said May.