Jason Kint: Tech companies wield 'uncomfortable' amount of power over media

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All it takes is for you to update your phone to the newest operating system, or to download the latest version of any of your favorite social networking apps, to cause a chain reaction that may have disrupting effects on the world of media as you know it.

Take Apple's latest tweaks to its Safari browser, announced on September 12, which will allow users to view articles in what they call "reader mode," a lighter version of a webpage stripped of branding, graphic elements, and ads.

With Safari accounting for over 50% of the mobile browser market in the US, and with ads being a consistent chunk of the business of media companies, that new feature is particularly worrisome for publishers. About as worrisome as video auto-play control features coming to Safari's desktop version -- which already exist on mobile -- posing new challenges to revenue generation through video ads.

While many of the innovations put forward by tech companies bring about exciting new opportunities to experiment with new kinds of storytelling, Jason Kint agreed with Brian Stelter that the incredible amount power tech has over the world of media is "very uncomfortable."

"Little nuances and changes can dramatically affect an entire ecosystem," Kint told Stelter.

Kint, the CEO of Digital Content Next, a trade group representing major companies in the digital publishing world (including CNN's owner Turner), was this week's guest on the Reliable Sources podcast.

Listen to the whole podcast here:

DCN's mission is "to protect the business of high quality digital journalism news and entertainment," which these days increasingly means staying on top of each new development enacted by technology companies, and understanding their potential impact.

The "uncomfortable" power dynamic between tech and media is best illustrated with this statistic from Kint: 99% of the growth in digital advertising in 2016 went to Google and Facebook. Media companies "are fighting over that small meager growth" of 1%, as the Google-Facebook "duopoly" gobbles up the rest.

Kint thinks that's "not healthy," neither for the media companies that are often having to resort to cutbacks, nor for the tech giants themselves in the long run.

"This is the future of media, and it shouldn't work this way," Kint told Stelter.

Media companies often find themselves trying to adapt to the latest changes enacted by tech companies to seek new revenue opportunities, even though in most cases, monetization strategies are fuzzy at best.

For example, the new trend that has digital publishers "pivoting to video" can be traced back to last year, when Mark Zuckerberg announced that video would be a top priority for Facebook.

"As much as that's the case, he's going to drive an entire ecosystem chasing that," Kint told Stelter. "Whether or not that's good for media in the long term, we don't know. But Facebook has that power."

As Facebook's role within the Mueller investigation into Russian interference deepens, what stands out to Kint is "how little we know" about Russia's interference on the platform. Disclosures happening now, nine months after the election, "are really just walking up to the starting line."

Listen to the full podcast here and subscribe on iTunes here.


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