News Corp sales exec on the duopoly: ‘That threat is not going away’

News Corp execs from around the world gathered two weeks ago to discuss the status of the duopoly in North America. Their verdict: Facebook and Google had 99 percent share of the market by the end of 2016, leaving 1 percent of the market for publishers to fight over.

“That threat is not going away,” said Dominic Carter chief commercial officer at News UK, owner of The Times and The Sun newspapers.

Carter used the anecdote while speaking at Digiday’s Publishing Summit Europe just outside Lisbon last week. He warned against publishers feeling any sense of false security that Facebook’s and Google’s power in digital advertising would likely diminish anytime soon.

“They are incredibly powerful organizations, their cash flow continues to be strong, and their strength will continue,” said Carter.  “Added to that, you have the rise of Snap and the rise of AOL. These threats aren’t going away any time soon for publishers.”

Publishers should be ready to seize on the opportunity and hold themselves to higher standards, maximizing the relationships they have with readers, which the platforms don’t; work on better standards for viewability; and ensure ads aren’t interruptive. This is a big opportunity on the heels of P&G’s marketing chief declaring unhappiness with the ills of digital media.

“The comments that came from P&G can be an opportunity for us, and for advertisers, to understand more about the problems and failings of some of the ad tech businesses,” said Carter. “The ad tech businesses are basically saying, it’s OK to just target audiences, it’s irrelevant about context and content, it’s irrelevant for aggregators and distributors to turn around and say it doesn’t matter about the accuracy of the story — it does. And that’s where the unique opportunity is for publishers.”

Ad misplacement has been a problem for years, but earlier this month, an exposé in The Times shined a bright light on the issue of brands possibly funding terrorism in a roundabout way. News UK’s social agency Storyful is housing all terrorist websites, as part of a project to help advertisers ensure they aren’t ever caught out by appearing in the wrong environments, in the spirit of total transparency, according to Carter.

Carter believes if these kinds of extreme issues continue unchecked, there is risk of the government stepping in. “Then we will end up with government legislations, and that’s totally the wrong place to be in. We have a responsibility as publishers to make sure we are executing the right standards for advertisers.”

Publishers should also recognize their collective power when it comes to rivaling the duopoly, according to Carter. Often, when features like Google AMP or Facebook’s Instant Articles are rolled out, publishers jump on board without consulting each other.

“We could have all got together as publishers when AMP and Instant Articles launched and said no, we aren’t doing it. But as soon as one is in, everyone is in — you have to compete,” he said. But instead, publishers should explore ways to become more of a collective voice.

He referenced Germany, where publishers have worked together to pool data, with the view to providing a scaled alternative to Google and Facebook. There have also been discussions in the U.K. among the major newspaper groups over the potential to establish a single, unified sales unit for digital and print — to make it easier for agencies to spend money with them, over the platforms.

“We have talked about it in the U.K., though it hasn’t come to fruition yet, but it is important we understand our collective power,” he said. “They [the platforms] do need our content.” He added that it is likely that the platforms like Snap and Facebook could well continue paying publishers to use their new features, to ensure they can have their content on their platforms.

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