News publishers ‘blame themselves’ for commercial difficulties

More subscriptions, sign-ins and audio for voice-activated speakers expected in 2018

Resistance to change and an inability to innovate were cited by 36 per cent of respondents in an industry survey by the Reuters Institute. Photograph: iStock

Resistance to change and an inability to innovate were cited by 36 per cent of respondents in an industry survey by the Reuters Institute. Photograph: iStock

 

News publishers “blame themselves” rather than technology platforms for their commercial difficulties, but have become increasingly worried about the power of the latter, according to a study by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism and the University of Oxford.

Almost half – 44 per cent – of publishers say they are more concerned about the power and influence of tech platforms than they were this time last year, according to a survey of 194 editors, chief executives and digital media executives.

Only 7 per cent were less worried than before. Publishers feel more negatively towards Facebook and Snapchat than they do about Twitter and Google, the survey found.

New York Times Company chief executive Mark Thompson says in the report that it will be “another gigantic news year” and that platforms will “somewhat retreat from news” having been “burned”.

Are voice-activated speakers the next opportunity for media companies? The Apple HomePod speaker, which will arrive on the market this year to compete with Amazon’s Alexa and Google Home. Photograph: Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP
Are voice-activated speakers the next opportunity for media companies? The Apple HomePod speaker, which will arrive on the market this year to compete with Amazon’s Alexa and Google Home. Photograph: Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP

Rumours that Facebook, which spent 2017 beset by accusations that it had worsened the problem of “fake news”, will downgrade publishers’ content in its news feed algorithm have now been confirmed by chief executive Mark Zuckerberg.

However, publishers are more likely to look to their own failings as the explanation for their ongoing difficulties, the report by Reuters Institute research associate Nic Newman said.

Internal factors, such as resistance to change and an inability to innovate, were cited by 36 per cent of respondents as the biggest barrier to success.

More publishers are expected to introduce subscription payments this year as it becomes harder for anyone other than the major tech platforms to make money from digital display advertising.

Some 44 per cent said they saw subscriptions as a very important source of digital revenue in 2018, more than digital display advertising, which was cited by 38 per cent, and branded or sponsored content, which was cited by 39 per cent.

Audio explosion

The Reuters Institute report, which highlights journalism, media and technology trends and predictions for 2018, said it expected more audio output from media groups this year.

Some 58 per cent of publishers said they would be focusing on podcasts and a similar proportion said they were exploring content for voice-activated speakers such as the Amazon Echo, Google Home and forthcoming Apple HomePod devices.

More media groups are also expected to oblige users to sign in and register for websites and apps in a bid to provide more personalised content and charge advertisers higher rates for more targeted messages.