Saturday 21 April 2018

Will you have no homepages to go to?

‘When users view a video on Facebook, who do they ascribe that experience to — the producers of the video or Facebook?’
‘When users view a video on Facebook, who do they ascribe that experience to — the producers of the video or Facebook?’
Steve Dempsey

Steve Dempsey

WNYC is a New York public radio station that features shows from NPR, American Public Media, the BBC World Service and its own local programming amongst its output.

One of its most popular shows is Here's The Thing, hosted by Alec Baldwin. And here's the thing about the latest episode of Here's The Thing. The 48 minute interview with comedian Jimmy Kimmel was distributed as a podcast on Facebook. Facebook has no facility for audio uploads, so the show was uploaded as a native video, with audio playing over a static image. Within a few hours it had over 15,000 listens - an impressive haul, especially as the show's Facebook page has only 10,000 likers.

Relying on Facebook to help distribute content is nothing new for many publishers. WNYC is only breaking new ground in that Facebook isn't traditionally seen as a platform where users listen to audio. But it's no surprise that it's being trialled. Facebook, alongside a range of other distribution platforms, has become a crucial pillar for all online publishers to reach readers, and now listeners.

But some of those distribution channels are taking how publishers rely on them to the next level.

Facebook, Apple, Snapchat and others don't just want to function as online megaphones, they're also dangling commercial carrots. And in so doing, they're potentially denigrating the importance of news outlets' own websites.

Facebook has its Instant Articles - a fast loading, in-app way for users to read content. Publishers are being wooed with the offer that they can sell ads directly on Instant Articles and keep all the revenue. The same commercial offer applies to Apple News, an iOS app designed to give a great reading experience. Snapchat is offering bespoke channels to favoured publishers. Fusion was recently allowed join the club, while Yahoo was booted out.

The commercial model? If an advertiser wants an ad on a Discover channel, they talk to the publisher, not Snapchat. But Snapchat, obviously, gets a cut of the ad spend. There are other channels with a less clear commercial model, like Twitter's Moments and Google's Accelerated Mobile Pages, which also undermine many websites' home pages as they currently exist.

What most of these offerings have in common is that they are driven by the growth in mobile. Many publishers have been too busy figuring out how the internet has disrupted their legacy business to notice that mobile is proving even more disruptive than desktop internet ever was.

Not so the Googles and Facebooks and Apples of this world, who spotted the shift to mobile media consumption early and have been applying their design and engineering muscle to make platforms that are irresistible to a mobile audience.

So could publishers possibly exist without publishing platforms? Could we see a rise in homeless media entities?

Some commentators are pointing to NowThis and BuzzFeed as examples of how this could work. NowThis (formerly Now This News) is a video news platform that doesn't really have a website. Its homepage, which just features a series of links to its social channels, states: "Homepage. Even the word sounds old. Today the news lives where you live."

BuzzFeed, for its part, recently revealed where its audience interacts with its content. Twenty seven per cent of the audience consumed content native video on Facebook, 21pc were on Snapchat and 14pc watched video on YouTube.

In fact, only 23pc of BuzzFeed's overall audience went directly to the company's site or apps. (But it's worth remembering BuzzFeed has a commercial model that doesn't require it to drag audiences back to its own site where it can serve them ads.)

But both NowThis and BuzzFeed have brand recognition and loyalty on their side. And that's the real challenge for any brave media entity that wants to try to survive on others' platforms: how do they garner loyalty when they're not the primary entity users are interacting with? When users view a video on Facebook, who do they ascribe that experience to - the producers of the video or Facebook?

In the short-term it's probably highly unlikely that many news outlets could exist without their own sites. But publishers' relationships with social networks, Apple and Google are in flux. And while they need the reach that these technology companies can offer, it's unclear whether they could build long-term commercially viable brands on platforms they don't control.

But Facebook Instant Articles, Apple News et al are also being refined.

Apple, for instance, announced last week that its editors will curate a list of 'top stories' for the apps' users, potentially making the app more user-friendly, but further diluting the position of the brands that have signed up for the platform.

Most of the power remains in the hands of the big technology giants, therefore. It may only be a matter of time before they come up with a distribution offering with a commercial hook that publishers find irresistible.

Sunday Indo Business

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