Google, Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter and now… Apple.
After years of declarations that newspapers are dead, it’s clear that the news itself is…not. Every Silicon Valley technology giant wants in on hot headlines these days to look current. Not just that, but they want to host the stories, pictures and videos on their own platforms, along with the lucrative advertisements that usually accompany the news.
What do the actual newspapers do? Send the tech giants their news stories and hope for some trickle-down love.
That’s the game. It’s the evolution of news into a digital form, says Jonathan Hunt, vice president of marketing for Vox Media.
“This is really no different than the procession of user shifts from radio to broadcast and broadcast to digital,” he said. “This as just an evolutionary phase in viewing habits, in how viewers are discovering and consuming new content.”
Not everyone is so sanguine about this new codependency. The idea that media companies could eventually come to rely on these partnerships has led to paranoia about just what will happen when tech giants with their own business agendas and goals become a big part of the news equation, which has always prided itself on at least the illusion of independence.
To Hunt, it’s just a numbers game. The audiences on Apple and its media platform competitors is simply too large to ignore. News publishers have to play ball, or die.
“There’s no media company out there that can claim they reach more people globally than all these companies combined, ” he said. “So I think it’s a little naive to think that’s not how things are going to pan out over time.”
Andy Wiedlin, an executive-in-residence and venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz and the former chief revenue officer of BuzzFeed, said there’s a simple answer. Media companies have to be on these platforms or they’ll be left in the dust.
“Consumers are completely and totally in charge,” Wiedlin said. “Now, consumers will go wherever the hell consumers want to go on their time to get their stories.”
Bob Sauerberg, president of Condé Nast, said that the company has been eager to explore what is becoming a more favorable environment for media companies. His company, which publishes a number of titles including Vogue and GQ, has not been shy in exploring partnerships, having struck deals with Snapchat and Roku as well as Apple News.
“At the moment, the platform guys and the content makers are more aligned than they’ve been in the past,” Sauerberg said.
On Wednesday, Apple joined this newest phase with the launch of Apple News, a new app that will feature a wide variety of articles and media from more than 50 different publishers including the New York Times, Reuters, Bloomberg, and CNN along with titles from companies like Conde Nast and Hearst.
Apple News was aimed squarely at playing catch up with companies like Facebook and Twitter, which had become important news hubs, especially on mobile phones.
The articles will all be free to read if you have an Apple device. The app will be automatically put on the phones of all iPhone users in the upcoming iOS update, meaning that millions of people will suddenly have a deep and slick mobile news reader in their pocket.
And each article will mostly likely accompanied by advertising, the profits of which will be shared between Apple and the news publishers. That’s still better than many news companies would do on their own.
Tom Edwards, chief digital officer of agency at marketing firm Epsilon, said that there is some advertising appeal to Apple News, including the flexibility of the company’s advertising program, iAds, and improvements in the company’s audience targeting.
“Either media companies align with this new behavior or they get shut out,” says Weidlin, the investor.
The value for media companies partnering with Apple or Facebook are relatively clear — the opportunity to reach big, new audiences, who use the news more often as a reason to talk to friends, family or colleagues.
The business risks, however, are significant.
Media companies aren’t the only companies having to figure their way in this new market.
Apple now finds itself in new territory and with some formidable competition. Facebook, Twitter, Google and Snapchat all have a definite audience that have been shown to respond well to news.
Nowhere has this been as evident as with Facebook, which arguably controls the reins of media unlike any other single company. Facebook now sends more people to media websites than any other source, even Google. Meanwhile, it derives almost all of its revenue from the same place as publishers — advertising.
Facebook is well aware of its role and will soon begin capitalizing. Its Instant Article program — similar to Apple News in that it will host entire articles — is reportedly approaching a widespread launch after releasing just a few articles as a test program.
Meanwhile, Snapchat has its own huge, youthful, captive audience that is being shown media through Discover. Snapchat’s program is slightly different in that it is extremely selective — there are only 14 media companies on it right now (one of them is Mashable).
Twitter, which has arguably been the most natural fit for digital media, is readying its own bear hug of media, including a live event hub called “Project Lightning.”
“One of the key adoption challenges for Apple News is that it is a standalone application versus integrated into the existing platforms such as Facebook’s Instant Articles and Snapchat’s Discover,” said Epsilon’s Edwards.
In other words, Apple will need to fight for those eyeballs. It’s a fitting welcome to the news business.