As it continues to negotiate with Australian authorities over the proposed implementation of new regulations, which would force it to share revenue with local news publishers in that nation, Google has today announced a new deal that will see it pay French publishers for news content, as part of its Google News Showcase program.
As explained by Google:
"Our investment of $1 billion over the next three years towards news partnerships and for Google News Showcase helps support publications to produce, distribute and explain essential information to users in new ways. News Showcase panels give publishers the ability to tell important news stories together with context and links to additional stories. Panels also feature recognizable branding so users can easily find and identify trusted news organizations."
Google has long resisted calls to pay news publishers for the use of their content, arguing that, if anything, it's helping to drive traffic to their sites. But last year, Google announced its billion-dollar News Showcase program, which "will pay publishers to create and curate high-quality content for a different kind of online news experience".
The program is not exactly what publishers had been seeking from the search giant, but it seems like a form of compromise, providing a means for publishers to generate direct revenue from Google, while also working with the search giant to maximize exposure and subscriptions.
Google News Showcase first started with publishers in Brazil and Germany, with selected French publications now set to sign on, along with various others. Google says that it's signed agreements with "nearly 450 publications across a dozen countries" for the program.
Which is a key element. Just this week, Facebook has called on the Australian Government to give it and Google a six-month grace period to arrange deals with news outlets, independently, in order to facilitate content agreements before the implementation of its news media bargaining code.
Australia's proposed code will essentially force Google and Facebook to share revenue with Australian news publishers, along with inside knowledge on algorithmic changes. Both companies have opposed the code, and have threatened to block links to Australian news publishers sites if it's implemented.
Google faced similar challenges around the implementation of France's 'neighboring rights' copyright laws in 2019, which stipulated that media firms be "adequately compensated" when their content is used on websites, "including in search engine results and on social media platforms". In that instance, Google avoided paying for links by establishing an alternate process, which meant that it would only display articles, images and videos in search results from media companies that had explicitly allowed it to use such for free.
That seems to be the likely outcome in Australia also - if the Australian Government does indeed push ahead with its new code, Google and Facebook will seek to negotiate independent deals with selected publishers in order to circumvent the regulations. Which would likely end up being a worse outcome for local providers - but then again, the whole Australian code proposal doesn't seem to be well thought through.
This, at least in part, is where Google's News Showcase appears to fit, providing a means to facilitate more direct connection between Google and publishers in order to avoid more complex Government regulation. At the same time, the program also provides a way for publishers to gain more from Google search, so they aren't entirely losing out to the digital giants, who now take up the lion's share of ad revenue.
And while it won't help these outlets recover all the ad dollars they've lost to the major digital platforms over time, it's likely the best deal they'll get. As noted, the alternative is that Google and Facebook simply block their links entirely.
Some have suggested that the platforms need local news in order to survive, which they'll end up finding is not correct. Both would do fine without that content. Unfortunately, for the publishers, Google and Facebook hold all the cards in this situation.
Google is essentially looking to avoid protracted political disputes and challenges, which is the key motivation behind the News Showcase project - which, in addition to French publications, has also a new global deal with Reuters and its 2,500 journalists around the world.
"These new partners are in addition to the existing News Showcase publications that are live in Brazil and Germany, and have already created tens of thousands of panels which have been seen by millions of users across Google News and Discover on Android and iOS."
The partnership between the digital platforms and traditional news providers will remain tenuous, but the News Showcase program may provide the best potential for a revenue-sharing agreement between the two sides.