Scott Gill: managing director of 1XL, a premium local news publisher co-operative
Scott Gill: managing director of 1XL, a premium local news publisher co-operative
A view from Scott Gill

Publishers must band together to give Google incentive to change

If the industry leaves it up to the agencies, Google will never have a reason to change.

The fake news scandal, which has seen Facebook lend credence to news sources of dubious provenance, and the withdrawal of advertising following the ongoing "brands funding terror" headlines, which recently resulted in a tense Commons Home Affairs Committee meeting accusing the internet giants of monetising hate speech, are both part of what is arguably the same phenomenon. 

Specifically, the intermediaries between the news content providers and the public/brands are naturally putting profit first, while they benefit from "media inventory" volume, scale and abundance in the ad ecosystem above all else, with little to no stake in traded inventory quality.

There is a stark absence of incentives for the likes of Google to treat their immense power responsibly and revert to a smaller and safer "credible" supply pool of inventory, even if doing so is prudent in the long term.

Why? Because Google gets the same percentage of price paid every single time an ad is traded, whether it is one ad transacted for a paid eCPM of £100 on FT.com or a million ads at a paid eCPM of 10p on a fake news site.

On top of this, both Google and Facebook have for years strategically embraced as eclectic a publisher supply pool as possible, partly as it helps to undermine any premium publisher opposition to their power, role or fees as ad revenue intermediaries.

Agencies have it hard on one level because there is so much low-grade inventory being pedalled at them by the SSP landscape. However, they also profit well from the current dynamic, even if the Duopoly threatens long-term profitability.

Abundant supply, even of dubious quality, creates a seemingly limitless set of opportunities to be seen by audiences, and agencies are benefitting from the seeming complexity; often seeing a percentage for every impression traded (like Google) or they are buying impressions very cheaply and selling them on with "data enhancements" for a higher price.

This latter model becomes threatened and makes lower margins for the agency if the "credible" supply pool of inventory becomes more transparent and restricted and the baseline cost of the media is inflated to a price at which premium publishers can pay the bills.

It is time for UK publishers to come together to put pressure on Google and other trading platforms/SSPs and introduce a nationally established, fully recognised and formally endorsed currency system of inventory quality.

A system whereby publishers who invest in premium content, who are subject to the laws of the land around defamation and who have a big stake in getting their facts right before pressing the publish button, have a chance to get recognised as the inventory cream that they are.

Any media environment between this "cream" and the terrorist content or fake news purveyors, who it is impossible to argue warrant any commercial rewards, should also be ascribed a score accordingly. 

Only if we do this or something equally radical is the quality journalism, that amongst other things underpins our democratic processes and accountability, assured in the long run.

Scott Gill is managing director of 1XL, a premium local news publisher co-operative which includes Newsquest, Johnston Press, Archant and DC Thomson.

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