February 3, 2020

Nate Kelly

When I was a journalist, media was elementary. Binary. If you didn’t have the best front page, millions of paying readers missed the scoop their money deserved. The pressure was intimidating and taught me the concept of survival of the fittest. Moaning just didn’t cut it.

Later, I was news editor with a global team and the most-read front page on the planet. I rubbed shoulders with smart, uncompromising editors, whose names and reputations were indelibly linked to their papers’ century-old brands. Together, we toiled under a shared anxiety for ever-bigger scoops. 

Over this past decade, the Fourth Estate has been battered. Relentless attacks from Google and Facebook, hiding behind Section 230, have left their mark. Fighting a one-sided battle has left the once-proud media lion resembling an injured gazelle.

We are seeing the consequences. The near-collapse of local news reporting, the ensuing crisis in public trust, the rise of fake news and political polarisation, a spike in hate speech and intolerance, clickbait and collapsing CPMs. These are symptoms of a neutered media – felt most keenly in local news – and caused by the unchecked rise of Google and Facebook.

Ricky Sutton, Oovvuu CEO

Now this is changing. Scales have been removed from our eyes and we are in the dawn of a media revival, driven by the unerring human values of trust, brand and truth. Facebook is blinded by tech and a myopic perspective that doesn’t care. History that will judge them. Google knows it though, and let me tell you why.

When I first wrote a version of this article in 2017, I proposed a plan. It was before Cambridge Analytica, before we knew the shocking extent of Facebook’s data abuses, before YouTube’s paedophilia rings, Google’s sex scandals and billion-dollar global advertiser boycotts.

We had created Oovvuu a few years earlier to help journalism by partnering broadcasters and publishers to put a relevant video in every article in the world. Every broadcaster was handpicked as a trusted source. Every publisher too. Together, we would create a new, video-led way of reporting the news, and create trust on a scale that would rival the duopoly.

Once achieved, we would use it to repatriate billions from Facebook and Google back to the journalists and broadcasters reporting the world.

We went public in a keynote at The International News Media Association, announcing 100 broadcasters had joined our mission, providing feeds of breaking news video and long form programming to publishers. More than $2 billion of constantly-updating news video, available to any trusted publisher via a simple-to-use, one-touch technology.

Partners included the BBC, The Associated Press, Reuters, Agence France Presse, PBS, Deutsche Welle, ITN, Euronews, Press Association, Canadian Press, AAP, Techcrunch, The Guardian, ABC Australia, 24.com Africa, NDTV India, TRT Turkey, VPRO Holland and many more.

Publishers there to listen included Schibsted, The Guardian, News Corp, The New York Times, The Irish Times, Trinity Mirror, Sanoma, RussMedia, Mail Online, The FT, Axel Springer, The UK Telegraph, Archant, Newsquest, Newsweek.

At the time, the media industry resembled two elephants in a sea of ants. The New York Times and Guardian were vanishingly small in comparison to the duopoly, yet just the top 26 publishers working together had a larger audience than Facebook. It felt like there was something we could do.

Ricky Sutton, Oovvuu CEO

Oovvuu set out to mobilise the media industry to work together to create a new, bigger and better elephant, this time based on truth, brand and trust. A few years on, we are gaining traction.

Many of the world’s largest publishers have since joined, and we are in contract negotiations with more than 100 more. We have opened offices in New York and London, we have staff in San Francisco, Mumbai and Cape Town.

Our tech has also transformed. In 2015, when we launched Compass, a tool that embeds in reporters’ workflows that can read articles, watch videos and match them together in less than a second, it so impressed IBM Watson and Amazon, they both funded us. Soon after Intel joined.

Now, tens of millions of people in 143 countries benefit from breaking news video they could not previously access. News articles are being enhanced, publishers have access to the video they need and broadcasters are distributing to new markets in an instant.

More videos are going in more articles more quickly, with more than 250 journalists using Compass daily to make better recommendations. We didn’t set out to be a poster child for machine learning, and be invited to speak at the largest conferences in the world, but it happened.

You see, we are journalists, and it is in our DNA to learn. When we keynoted at IBM Think in Las Vegas (above) to 35,000 engineers I opened by saying: “Technology can be learned, but trust must be earned. I know that because I am speaking at the world’s largest AI conference, and I can’t write a single line of code.”

We are not alone in learning. The world has also learned what Facebook is all about.

The truth was revealed by six devastating exposes in The Guardian, Washington Post, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Wired and Der Spiegel, and more are emerging every day. Billions have been wiped off the company’s value, Zuckerberg has terrified the world with robotic apologies to the US Congress, and across the world, demands for anti-trust action to break them up are gaining momentum.

The likelihood of which, Dina Srinivasan, entrepreneur turned anti-trust specialist told the Digiday podcast, is “imminent and very high. The market is spewing out warped outcomes and tweaks at 10,000ft need to be made”.

Facebook will continue to make money, like bad companies before it, but it has been exposed. The halo has tilted and now, well, it’s just another greedy company hiding behind a friendly logo.

Facebook’s woes have been a heat shield for Google, which does all the same things on a far bigger scale. YouTube has taken some hits, and responded with the usual empty apologies and promises, but Google as a whole is just six headlines from the same fate. Mountain View is worried, as it should be.

I know this personally because they reached out to me, and media leaders I work with, asking what they should do.

This creates a point in time opportunity for the media, Google and the world, and it starts with maths. Google is meant to be good at maths, so there’s hope.

A billion people watch news video daily. Typically, they watch two videos each a day. Non-Oovvuu publishers only have video in seven per cent of their articles. Oovvuu increases it to 40 per cent.

The Oovvuu solution means more people, watching more video. With US publishers boasting enormous numbers of page views, and years of trust, this is a perfect marriage to create brand safety, with engaged audiences at the duopoly’s scale.

Google had 172 billion page views in November 2019. Facebook had 42 billion. The top 50 publishers in America combined had 98 billion.

Trusted videos, in trusted environments at these scales, with the premium CPMs of video, represents a business-changing revenue of $100 million a year in new revenue for the larger publishers. That’s be the difference between more closures and mergers, and a sustainable future reporting the news.

Google wrote $42 billion in ad revenue in 2018. Facebook a further US$34 billion. One in every four dollars came from video, and eMarketer says it be one in three soon, so, shifting billions to publishers and broadcasters for reporting the news in video can be done.

That sum is sufficient to end the scourge of fake news, reboot the media earnings, make truth and information free and distributed, and it is in the best interests of Google to help as the anti-trust clouds gather.

There is nothing safer than a Reuters video in a New York Daily News article, or the latest on a virus pandemic from AFP in The Chicago Tribune. The world needs trust for our society to maintain stability.

Media is our mission, technology is just our tool. Brands and agencies hurt by the scandals of the past two years also know they need brand safe content and engaged audiences at scale. We know this because the three largest in the world, Group M, IPG and Dentsu Aegis all have trading deals with us.

All that is needed now is for publishers to step up…

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