Google Wants an ‘Open Dialogue’ Between Platforms and Publishers When It Comes to Monetization

NY Times, AOL and more discuss the issue at Mobile World Congress

Publishers and tech companies discussed the future of news and monetization.
Photo: Marty Swant

BARCELONA, SPAIN—The head of Google’s news and publishing partnerships unit says there should be more open dialogue between platforms and publishers in determining access to data and monetization of content.

Speaking today at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, Madhav Chinnappa, the director of strategic relations of Google’s news and publisher division, said the roles of the largest tech companies are under scrutiny lately, adding that he thinks it’s “quite right.” The comments came during a discussion between tech companies and publishers on how the industries are navigating the ever-evolving landscape of a mobile-first world.

“This ecosystem is still developing, and we don’t know how all of this is going to work out,” he said.

"Three things matter to advertisers: reach, audience and frequency. Guess what? You can get a ton of that on Facebook and Google."
- Henk Van Niekerk of AOL

Chinnappa acknowledged that the company could stand to take a more open approach when working with partners. Google, along with other tech companies like Facebook, have long been criticized for their closed platform (or “walled garden”) approach.

However, not everybody agreed that Google was all that open. Also on the panel was Henk Van Niekerk, AOL’s head of international publisher services, who gently pushed back on Chinnappa’s claim that Google was all that open.

“Three things matter to advertisers: reach, audience and frequency,” he said. “Guess what? You can get a ton of that on Facebook and Google. And a 23-year-old media buyer is going to go there. And that’s the reality—it’s easy to buy.”

The comments come just weeks after Proctor & Gamble chief brand officer Marc Pritchard criticized the likes of Google and Facebook for defending self-reporting their advertising performance, which he compared to letting “the fox guard the henhouse.” The same day, P&G, one of the biggest spenders, announced a full review of all digital agencies.

Noemi Ramirez, chief digital officer of El País, said platforms distributing publisher content could also do a better job of splitting revenue made from news content. She said that publishers should at a minimum receive equal revenue for whatever third party distributors make. Ramirez is not the first publishing exec to express that wish. Last month, Troy Young, digital media president for Heart Magazines, also said he’d like to receive half.

“We need to have a really good user experience so that people don’t think about putting ad blockers in."
-Madhav Chinnappa of Google

Traditional print publishing won’t be the only industry facing major disruption. Jeff McElfresh, president of AT&T’s DirectTV Latin America, said paid TV will soon face similar problems. He said around 60 percent of data consumed by AT&T customers isn’t email or reading thew news; it’s video.

“It’s going to shift in directions that are hard for you to predict with 100 percent certainty,” McElfresh said. “I think that is certain.”

Chinnappa, who previously worked on the business side of news organizations including the BBC and the Associated Press, said news organizations should learn from the tech industry on how to experiment and fail, which could lead to better outcomes for content and revenue in the future.

He mentioned that people were at first skeptical of skippable video ads on YouTube, which he said have been more successful than many expected. In fact, earlier this month, Google announced plans to phase out unskippable mobile video ads.

“We need to have a really good user experience so that people don’t think about putting ad blockers in,” he said.