Google sent more than 2bn visits to Australian news websites last year and is optimistic about the ability of quality journalism to survive the Digital disruption, the company has told the competition regulator.
In a submission to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission inquiry into the impact on Media from digital platforms, Google says the internet has made news more diverse, specialised and accessible, and traditional media is adapting.
Technology has changed the way we consume news but does “not mean the death of journalism” Google Australia’s managing director, Jason Pellegrino, said. “In fact, our appetite for quality journalism is on the rise.
“According to Enhanced Media Metrics Australia, 90% of Australians read Australian news media and readership has been increasing.”
Google said it did not sell users’ data to third parties and has revealed local data for the first time, saying Australians visited their Google accounts more than 22m times in 2017 to control how their data was being used.
The chairman of the ACCC, Rod Sims, has warned that criminal sanctions would apply if the tech giants, including content aggregators such as Apple News and social media platforms such as Facebook, failed to assist the inquiry. But Google has adopted a conciliatory tone, saying it “appreciates both the challenges and opportunities that the internet has created and continues to create”.
Google paints an upbeat picture of how traditional media is adapting to the decline of print advertising and sales by quoting subscription growth at major publishers.
“Digital subscribers at News Corp Australia’s mastheads were 389,600 as of December 31, 2017, compared to 309,200 the year prior – an increase of more than 25% over one year,” the submission says.
“As at December 2017, paid digital subscribers for the Sydney Morning Herald, the Age and the Australian Financial Review had reached more than 283,000, an increase of more than 50,000 in five months.”
But in a separate submission the leading Australian television network, Seven, says Google enjoys “significant market power” and is unconstrained by competitors or regulation, which negatively impacts traditional media and ultimately consumers.
Seven says the digital search engines and other platforms have had a significant impact not just on news but on local content production, and on the operating model of free-to-air television.
“Google is the main digital search engine used in Australia and globally and advertising accounted for 84.2% of its US$32.3bn total revenue in the fourth quarter of 2017,” the Seven network said in its ACCC submission. “Facebook is the leading social media platform globally and, in 2017, advertising accounted for 98% of its US$40.7bn of revenue.”
Seven West Media said the trend of falling TV advertising revenues and increasing production costs were causes for concern in terms of the future sustainability of local television shows.
“Following the Cambridge Analytica scandal, and in light of the sheer scale and nature of the data held by these two businesses, it is clear that regulators need to do more to investigate and shine a light on the behaviour of these two companies in data collection, and to consider whether the existing regulatory regime is sufficient to protect the interests of users, to maintain competition in associated markets and to constrain undue influence and power being exerted over businesses and government,” Seven said.
Seven’s submission echoed that of the free-to-air television lobby, which has called for the digital giants to be more accountable for the migration of the advertising market from newspapers and television towards the digital duopoly.
Pellegrino said Google had developed many tools to help newsrooms and to support journalists and quality journalism.
“The way that people consume news may change but the need for quality journalism does not,” Pellegrino wrote on the Google blog on Monday.
“Ultimately, consumers will be the ones who decide whether news publishers flourish but, on present form, there is every reason to believe that they will.”