Dealing with digital intermediaries: A case study of the relations between publishers and platforms

Rasmus Kleis Nielsen, Sarah Anne Ganter
New Media & Society

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tag-as Digital Analytics & Online Gatekeeping on 6/5/2019, 8:00:29 PM

abstract The rise of digital intermediaries such as search engines and social media is profoundly changing our media environment. Here, we analyze how news media organizations handle their relations to these increasingly important intermediaries. Based on a strategic case study, we argue that relationships between publishers and platforms are characterized by a tension between (1) short-term, operational opportunities and (2) long-term strategic worries about becoming too dependent on intermediaries. We argue that these relationships are shaped by news media’s fear of missing out, the difficulties of evaluating the risk/reward ratios, and a sense of asymmetry. The implication is that news media that developed into an increasingly independent institution in the 20th century—in part enabled by news media organizations’ control over channels of communication—are becoming dependent upon new digital intermediaries that structure the media environment in ways that not only individual citizens but also large, resource-rich, powerful organizations have to adapt to. on 6/5/2019, 8:10:41 PM

excerpt By mid-2016, Google attracted more than 2 billion monthly users and accounted for an estimated 31% of digital advertising globally across its various activities, Facebook 1.6 billion monthly users and 12% of digital advertising. 1603 on 6/5/2019, 8:13:06 PM

excerpt A growing number of scholars argue that we as a consequence are moving toward a more complex information environment where conventional forms of editorial gatekeeping are being supplemented in important ways by new forms of filtering (Nielsen, 2016; Singer, 2014; Thorson and Wells, 2015). 1603 on 6/5/2019, 8:14:30 PM

quote I think [the rise of digital intermediaries is] a massive risk for us. We have to fish where the users are [and] take full advantage of using the platforms, these platform capabilities that are being offered to us, for free, at the moment, to reach audiences that we currently under-serve. Our goal, however, should not be just reach but converting those users into having an engaged relationship with us as a publisher. 1608 on 6/5/2019, 8:17:51 PM

excerpt Interviewees in our strategically selected case organization see their collaboration with platforms such as Google and Facebook as accompanied by significant strategic risk of losing control over editorial identity (as the ways in which people come across content is increasingly shaped by search and social media algorithms and interests), access to data (as far more detailed individual-level data is available on direct traffic and on-site audiences than referrals and off-site audiences), and revenue (as digital intermediaries account for larger and larger parts of the online advertising market). Interviewees frequently mention examples of how the intermediaries are in control and can and will change their product and strategy in line with what serves their own interests—as when Google’s “Panda” updates from 2011 drastically reduced traffic to sites operated by Demand Media (while benefiting other publishers) and when changes to the algorithms behind Facebook’s NewsFeed allegedly cut Upworthy’s audience reach in half in just 2 months in 2014. 1614 on 6/5/2019, 8:23:19 PM