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UAE’s ad and media firms locked in an unequal war

Digital giants such as Facebook and Google have built up an impregnable business model on the idea of sharing, attracting millions of users every day who flock to the social media site to reveal a glimpse of their life, voice an opinion around the buzzing news of the day or simply share a cat video.
The detailed activity of each individual user gets shared for a fee – with anyone out there who wants to know more about such preferences.

Digital platform companies such as Google and Facebook are increasingly asserting their role as ‘frenemies’ of media, unduly profiting from the remarkable content generation abilities of media companies, and serving as content aggregators. The impact this has on content generation is the biggest challenge – and that is seldom addressed.”

– Sunil John, founder of ASDA’A Burson Marsteller and president – Middle East of Burson Cohn & Wolfe

But when it comes to generating ad dollars for its business model that is strongly reliant on content from local media, Facebook has conveniently managed to bypass local advertising agencies and media buying houses in the UAE, endangering the revenue streams and even the existence of the robust and independent media publishing ecosystem in the country.
Accountability as tech or media firms?

There is a full-blown crisis in the UAE and the Gulf’s media industries that is threatening legitimate traditional and digital businesses — and it is due to Facebook and Google’s surreptitious business model where they masquerade as tech companies while operating and earning revenues as media behemoths.
And this they manage to do without either being registered and recognised as media businesses in the UAE — or paying any of the licence and registration fees concerned that typical media companies in the country are obliged to pay to the regulators.
Since there is no question of registering as news companies, there is also no question of accountability over the news and content distributed by these digital giants.
“Digital platform companies such as Google and Facebook are increasingly asserting their role as ‘frenemies’ of media, unduly profiting from the remarkable content generation abilities of media companies, and serving as content aggregators,” says Sunil John, founder of ASDA’A Burson Marsteller and president – Middle East of Burson Cohn & Wolfe. “The impact this has on content generation is the biggest challenge – and that is seldom addressed.”
“Indeed,” John added, “Google and Facebook continue to gobble up the digital advertising market around the world, siphoning away revenue that once paid for the quality journalism. Thanks to their dominance over digital distribution, publishers can chafe at the paltry returns they receive from Google and Facebook, but are hardly in a position to do anything more.”
In this war of the future, Facebook and Google do have all the advantages —  even on the costs.
Cost effectiveness

“It is no secret that online advertising is less expensive than traditional print or TV,” said Reda Raad, CEO of TBWA\Raad Group.
“Whether it is effective or not is a different matter altogether and depends on a multitude of factors, not least the quality of creative execution.60% of the global online advertising market has been captured by Facebook and Google, according to Marketer
While you may have the ability to reach a mass audience at low cost, the ability to do untold damage is also greatly increased.
Google has had its own creative team in the region for a number of years, as has Facebook.
For clients to work with them directly — and effectively — requires the use of the tech giants’ own creative teams or their own in-house units.
“Is this the best way to approach communications? I’d argue no. [Ad] agencies provide competitive edge through work that is both disruptive and innovative. This requires bravery, the taking of risks, and a creative culture capable of consistently producing exceptional work.”
Publishers at their mercy

But not just the agencies, the UAE’s media houses and publishers are also at the mercy of Facebook and Google if they want to reach their audiences and be effective in the digital domain.
“As our annual ASDA’A Burson-Marsteller Arab Youth Survey has pointed out, social networks and online media sources are increasing being the first – and for many, probably the only – source of news, which, on the first hand, is generated by media companies that are being deprived of their share of recognition – in revenue,” says John.
“The rise of these platform companies and their increasing influence on media has led to large scale closures of media houses and resultant job losses. The impact this has on media companies must get the attention it deserves.
“A brief tweet or a snackable video might suit an increasingly attention-deficit, information over-loaded world but the value of an expert analyses, prepared by seasoned journalists, is irreplaceable,” John added.
Apart from the obvious financial damage inflicted, the other result is that genuine content starts losing out to “click-bait” headlines or risks going unseen in Google searches. It will only get worse as audience attention spans get ever shorter.
So are the bells ringing for any news or ad medium that cannot be fitted onto Facebook or a Google?
“We are living in the age of ‘first ofs’ and ‘last ofs’,” said Scott Goodson, Chairman of the branding consultancy StrawberryFrog, based in New York.
“The generation that was the first to experience a smartphone 1,000 times smarter than the 1990s personal computer, the first to have Facebook and so on.
Cheapest audience

“But we are also the last generation to read newspapers printed on paper. The last of the humans to experience news as the check and balance to the powers of government.
“As news becomes entertainment, it becomes a promotional vehicle — a talking advertisement benefiting someone. We will be fooled into believing that the person speaking like a newsperson is a newsperson. But the truth comes out eventually,” he said.
But for most advertisers, reaching target audiences at the least cost seems to be the sole consideration for now.
For instance, an advertisement campaign with a budget of Dh300,000 can last only a week or two if used in print or radio spots.
But the same budget can be stretched to two months on Facebook.
For small businesses in particular, these are all compelling reasons to move to digital.
Always-on presence

But even bigger advertisers are seeking that always-on digital presence and taking their ad spends away from traditional media choices.
While print revenues continue to have a horrific run, TV commercials have endured a difficult two years but managed to record some gains so far this year.
Because of their sheer numbers, radio stations in the UAE with advertisers continue to have a hit-and-miss affair with advertisers. The outdoor advertising industry seems to be the only one putting up a decent fight against the digital onslaught.
The print media — the one that has been putting out news and informed comment over more than two centuries — is getting totally sidelined by a digital led onslaught unleashed in the last 10 years.
Even the digital spin-offs of newspapers are finding it difficult to cope with the pressures, as more content seekers prefer doing so on what Facebook collates from multiple news sources.
In a cost- and click-obsessed world, should clients and media companies even have other considerations beyond digital?
Should they bother about factors such as creativity or brand image as long as they can push out another tactical campaign for the cheapest dollar?
Print is most trustworthy

Satish Mayya, CEO of the media buying house BPG Maxus, wants to differ.
“Cost should be weighed against the effectiveness of that medium. In isolation it doesn’t mean anything. The fact that Facebook had to use a print medium to apologise on the Cambridge Analytica privacy breach — when they have a wider reach than most US and UK newspapers put together — says a lot.
“It possibly means print is still perceived as being more regulated and trusted by its readers.
“It is critical for an advertiser that his message is seen as credible for the message to gain acceptance. The value of what an advertiser gets is of priority – the cost or volume of it is a reflection of scale.”
The emergence of Facebook, Google and other similar aggregators as news distributors has also raised critical questions about truth and media.
According to the Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2017, only about 24 per cent of people thought social media was doing a good job in separating fact from fiction, compared to 40 per cent for the news media.
Users felt the combination of a lack of rules and viral algorithms are encouraging low quality and ‘fake news’ to spread quickly.
Experiment

In an experiment tracking more than 2,000 respondents in the UK, the survey found that while most could remember the path through which they found a news story (Facebook, Google, etc.), less than half could recall the name of the news brand itself.
However, while many successful publishers around the world have been left ruing the rising cost of producing quality journalism and then losing the bulk of revenues to social media aggregators, Facebook itself has hardly anything to worry about from a revenue perspective.
Maya said that as with all other businesses, even in the media and ad industries there are those who will get into short-sighted approaches and temporarily damage all the good aspects of a product.
“The positive aspect of these occurrences — selling private data and manipulating online users — is that it helps in setting measures to ensure we plug the gaps,” he said.
Riding on content for free

According to John, that is what the UAE media and ad industries are losing out on, “with these tech giants snatching away advertising share even as they ride on content developed by media companies for free.”
“Platform companies, through their shrewd algorithms, own and mine data – and profit enormously in the attention economy that we live in,” said John.
“So, what we need is a firm policy that forces platform companies to be accountable for the enormous profits they make by benefiting from the hard work of media companies.
“This could take the form of their contribution to a national media development fund, which will focus on supporting content creation and in nurturing new media talents both in the public and private sectors.
“Our national media are the true windows to our region; they understand best the aspirations and hopes of the community,” John said.

Media titans speak out against tech giants     Back to top

Facebook and Google have popularised scurrilous news sources through algorithms that are profitable for these platforms but inherently unreliable…
The remedial measures that both companies have so far proposed are inadequate, commercially, socially and journalistically.
There has been much discussion about subscription models but I have yet to see a proposal that truly recognises the investment in and the social value of professional journalism…
If Facebook wants to recognize ‘trusted’ publishers then it should pay those publishers a carriage fee similar to the model adopted by cable companies. The publishers are obviously enhancing the value and integrity of Facebook through their news and content but are not being adequately rewarded for those services.”
Rupert Murdoch, Executive chairman, News Corporation

The temperature is rising in terms of concern, and in some cases anger, about what seems like a very asymmetric, disadvantageous relationship between the publishers and the very big digital platforms… The thinking is that publishers need the option of operating as a group — and the leverage that would come from any collective action — should they determine that it’s the only way to win meaningful accommodations [with companies like Facebook and Google].”
Mark Thompson, Chief executive, New York Times Company

The media is in crisis… Google and Facebook are taking the vast majority of ad revenue, and paying content creators far too little for the value they deliver to users. This puts high-quality creators at a financial disadvantage, and favours publishers of cheap media: fake news, propaganda and conspiracy theories, quickly re-written stories with sensationalistic spin, shady off-shore content farms, algorithmically generated content, and pirated videos. We will have to continue to fight hard to get paid our fair share.”
Jonah Peretti, Buzzfeed founder and CEO

Content in the Facebook newsfeed is generally consumed through serendipity, not intent, making it less natural to grow loyal audiences to any given media brand. A programming platform also enables rich and predictable ways to make money to support quality journalism and storytelling. As of now, Facebook does not offer a viable path to monetize our in-depth work.”
Jim Bankoff, Vox Media CEO
Google has had its own creative team in the region for a number of years, as has Facebook. For clients to work with them directly requires the use of the tech giants’ own creative teams or their own in-house units. Is this the best way to approach communications? I would argue no. [Ad] agencies provide competitive edge through work that is both disruptive and innovative. This requires bravery and taking risks.”
Reda Raad, CEO, TBWA\Raad Group

The fact that Facebook had to use a print medium to apologise on the Cambridge Analytica privacy breach – when they have a wider reach than most US and UK
newspapers put together – says a lot. It possibly means print is still perceived as being more regulated and trusted by its readers. It is critical for an advertiser that his message is seen as credible for the message to gain acceptance.”
Satish Mayya, CEO, BPG Maxus

“The generation that was the first to experience a smartphone 1,000 times smarter than the 1990s personal computer, the first to have Facebook and so on. But we are also the last generation to read newspapers printed on paper. The last of the humans to experience news as the check and balance to the powers of government. As news becomes entertainment, it becomes a promotional vehicle.”
Scott Goodson, Chairman, StrawberryFrog
5 ways digital giants use your data for profit     Back to top

Repurposing your content: What was done to US voters to swing an election in favour of a candidate is what is being done by digital platforms and their advertisers at every opportunity – to influence an online user to choose a particular outcome. When your treasure trove of online data gets repurposed to target a large base of users to act in a certain way, it marks a massive breach of trust.
“Social media is essentially a virtual representation of people getting together to network in a physical world,” says Satish Mayya, CEO of BPG Maxus. “We are well aware that anything said or done in such a gathering is unlikely to stay private. Why is it that we expect anything different in social media space? We should be wary of the information being put out there and the possibility of misuse.”
Flying the flag for fake news: What is galling is that the very same platforms that spawned data misuse and fake news are now flying the banner of responsibility, and telling users what they ought to be doing on social media, ignoring the fact that the platforms themselves helped put out the vitriol into public realm.
These digital platforms want to police which media can be trusted and which cannot be. While companies like Google and Facebook have repeatedly claimed they don’t want to undermine real journalism and would rather support media companies, top media executives say there has been hardly any tangible action on that front.
Playing on audience apathy: Have audiences stopped caring? Who decides what you think – you or your favourite social medium? “I don’t necessarily see a correlation between not trusting something and it’s consumption,” says Reda Raad, CEO of TBWA\Raad Group.
“People still consume things they know to be nonsense. You can’t just blindly assume that consumers’ primary contact with content is via social media. It may be the case for news, but what about all other forms of content? It is when you come to the very serious issue of news, the virulent spread of misinformation, privacy, and the rampant abuse of power that trust truly matters. As Facebook is currently finding out to its cost.”
Using TMI in public space: Public memories are notoriously short, especially on digital space. There’s always another click-bait headline enticing you to move in. Or users will again ignore data privacy warnings and flood social media with too much information (TMI) – handing advertisers and marketers a golden opportunity to dangle their next bespoke offers.
Satish Dave, senior director, consumer experience and digital at the research firm Kantar TNS, says some lessons have been learnt from the Cambridge Analytica fiasco. “I think the entire ecosystem – brands, advertisers, media agencies and publishers – will need to become more careful about targeting customers using social media. As per our global study on digital audiences, 40 per cent of people are concerned about the amount of information that companies have about them.”
Exploiting lack of legislation: According to Dave, legislation is bound to increase and everyone will need to make sure that data privacy is managed well. But right now that’s a loophole most social media companies are exploiting. “Consumers may have to trade-off between the so called ‘free’ service and paid content. And in some instances consumers will realize that they really cannot control all data privacy issues and will want to work with companies they can trust,” he says.
At the end, it all boils down to trust. Will the new privacy policies put out by Facebook or Google convince users and advertisers that the tech-media giants have things back in control? There are no easy answers, and one can only keep an eye on the ad dollar revenues both report each quarter.
How do tech giants make money?     Back to top

■  To ordinary users, Facebook or Twitter or Instagram look like free-to-use social networks. But their fundamental business model is the same as any media company: build a huge inventory of audiences and sell it to advertisers.
■  When businesses buy advertising space on Facebook, they are actually buying access to your attention.
■  But thanks to the massive data these tech giants have on you – the audience – they can sell tailored and targeted ads for a specific audience.
■  It’s the user data that makes a social account profitable: Facebook, for instance, calculates its profits based on average revenue per user (ARPU).
■  A typical Facebook account contributed $5.32 to its profits last year.
■  Thanks to its scale and database, Facebook can charge companies a competitive rate for advertisements – which traditional media or ad agencies can hardly match.
■  This economic imbalance leaves the media and its supporting ad industry at the mercy of these digital platforms.
■  It also directly threatens the endurance of quality journalism, which is expensive to produce, and under economic pressure as never before.
■  Like Facebook, Google and Twitter operate on broadly the same model.
Opinion: Stop local media from bleeding     Back to top
By Abdul Hamid Ahmad, Editor-in-Chief
In these tough times and the rough waters that all media are treading through — be it the print, online, television and radio — something has to be done to save and secure the future of these media houses.
Here I mean the local media — the one that have grown with the country for the past four decades and established publication houses. They are a part of the UAE’s legacy; they are a part of the fabric of society.

I know for certain that the local media has to survive because they are the real tools for the country.

Here in the UAE, we have several titles in Arabic and English – some are owned by the government and others by the private sector.
Most of these are newspapers that have online editions – the online editions being extensions of the print publications.
But looking at them over the past three years makes me feel very sorry and sad.
I am not talking about the quality of newspapers – that is another issue. I am talking about the fact that they are being dried up financially and forced to near closure.
I have been in the business of journalism for more than 35 years now. I have grown from a reporter to copy editor to section head, managing editor to Editor-in-Chief and Publishing Director. I have never seen our media in such a miserable situation as today.
Drastic steps
All news organisations have taken drastic steps to tackle this dire situation.
They have cut costs by reducing the print run, they have cut down on pagination and they have had to take the painful decision of letting go of staff – some of whom have been with the organisation for many decades.
But all of these cost-cutting measures have not been the solution. News organisations continue to bleed heavily, especially because costs of almost everything have risen drastically – from newsprint to ink to manpower and utilities.
And to add to these woes, there is the shrinking advertising market. Companies have virtually stopped advertising in print publications.
If you ask them why, the answer is almost instant: they prefer to advertise online. We also have an online edition. In fact, all newspapers have online editions and some have very high traffic – they get millions of page views and unique visitors.
But the truth is that online does not make enough revenue to cover the costs of the entire operation – print and digital.
Now to make this deteriorating situation worse, advertisers have also turned their backs on the local media – they are running after digital giants such as Facebook and Google.
We are happy to see that some revenue comes back to us in the shape of network ads. But we are not happy that these ads are worth but a few fils, a few pennies, compared to the big money that Facebook, Google and their sister companies are making.
Protecting national interests
So what can newspapers do if these international digital big players, these giants, have taken the lion’s share — 90 per cent of estimated revenue from the national digital media if not more?
I know governments of other countries have stood by their national media and have tried to protect their interests.
These governments have taxed the magnates.
The giants have to pay taxes for the business they do in these countries and the revenue they make.
I just dreamt of this happening here through government legislation. In my dream, the lead was taken by the National Media Council to make this come true.
The dream was these big houses were made to pay taxes for the business they conduct here.
I also dreamt that the taxes that were taken from these giants was spent on national media houses to help them survive.
Solutions?
What are then the solutions? I do not know.
We live in uncertain times. But I know for certain that the local media has to survive because they are the real tools for the country.
They inform and educate with real news. The local media is credible; it knows the land; it knows the society.
Hence the news is reliable and the views accurate.
The substitute is that the foreign media will take over and that will never be in favour of our national interest.

EU asks Facebook, Google to pay ‘fair’ tax     Back to top

Brussels: Google, Facebook and Amazon could be made to pay a “fair” share of tax under new European Union proposals on digital companies.
The European Commission has called for large technology companies to pay a three per cent tax if they make money from user data or digital advertising in a country, regardless of their bricks-and-mortar presence — primarily targeting social media companies that are making money through user data and content. European leaders have begun discussing the plans, opening a fractious debate about how to capture revenue from tech giants and digital firms.
France has led the charge for a digital tax, sometimes nicknamed the Gafa tax, after Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon. The digital tax plans have been in the works for months, before regulators asked Facebook to explain a data breach affecting 50 million profiles.
The commission has rejected claims that the plan was targeting US companies.
“This is not an anti-American tax, this is not an anti-Gafa tax, this is a digital tax,” said Pierre Moscovici, the European commissioner for tax, who said 150 firms would be affected, including European, American and Asian ones. The commission believes the tax will generate €5 billion for European treasuries annually.
The growing dominance of digital companies is seen as a long-term threat to Europe’s tax base. The commission estimates that digital businesses pay an effective average tax rate of only 9.5 per cent, compared with 23.2 per cent for bricks-and-mortar firms.

Source: Gulf News

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