Leaked Deck Reveals How OpenAI Is Pitching Publisher Partnerships

OpenAI's Preferred Publisher Program offers media companies licensing deals

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The generative artificial intelligence firm OpenAI has been pitching partnership opportunities to news publishers through an initiative called the Preferred Publishers Program, according to a deck obtained by ADWEEK and interviews with four industry executives.

OpenAI has been courting premium publishers dating back to July 2023, when it struck a licensing agreement with the Associated Press. It has since inked public partnerships with Axel Springer, The Financial Times, Le Monde, Prisa and Dotdash Meredith, although it has declined to share the specifics of any of its deals.

A representative for OpenAI disputed the accuracy of the information in the deck, which is more than three months old. The gen AI firm also negotiates deals on a per-publisher basis, rather than structuring all of its deals uniformly, the representative said.

“We are engaging in productive conversations and partnerships with many news publishers around the world,” said a representative for OpenAI. “Our confidential documents are for discussion purposes only and ADWEEK’s reporting contains a number of mischaracterizations and outdated information.”

Nonetheless, the leaked deck reveals the basic structure of the partnerships OpenAI is proposing to media companies, as well as the incentives it is offering for their collaboration.

Details from the pitch deck

The Preferred Publisher Program has five primary components, according to the deck.

First, it is available only to “select, high-quality editorial partners,” and its purpose is to help ChatGPT users more easily discover and engage with publishers’ brands and content.

Additionally, members of the program receive priority placement and “richer brand expression” in chat conversations, and their content benefits from more prominent link treatments. Finally, through PPP, OpenAI also offers licensed financial terms to publishers.

The financial incentives participating publishers can expect to receive are grouped into two buckets: guaranteed value and variable value.

Guaranteed value is a licensing payment that compensates the publisher for allowing OpenAI to access its backlog of data, while variable value is contingent on display success, a metric based on the number of users engaging with linked or displayed content.

The resulting financial offer would combine the guaranteed and variable values into one payment, which would be structured on an annual basis. 

“The PPP program is more about scraping than training,” said one executive. “OpenAI has presumably already ingested and trained on these publishers’ archival data, but it needs access to contemporary content to answer contemporary queries.”

In return for these payments, OpenAI would gain two benefits.

It would have the ability to train on a publisher’s content and the license to display that information in ChatGPT products, complete with attribution and links. It would also get to announce the publisher as a preferred partner and work with them to build out these experiences.

Participation boosts publisher payouts

According to the deck, publisher participation in PPP creates a better experience for OpenAI users, which will help shift engagement toward browsing, i.e. queries that result in responses with links.

Roughly 25% of ChatGPT users already use the browse function, but the company expects that a majority of users will do so once the feature is broadly rolled out. If more users engage with publishers’ links, the media companies could earn larger payments for their variable value. 

PPP members will see their content receive its “richer brand expression” through a series of content display products: the branded hover link, the anchored link and the in-line treatment.

In the hover treatment, which is available today, OpenAI will hyperlink keywords in its responses to search queries. The links appear as blue text and reveal a clickable tab when moused over.

In the anchor treatment, branded, clickable buttons appear below ChatGPT’s response to a user query. And the in-line product inserts a pullquote into the text of ChatGPT’s response, whose font is larger and includes a clickable, branded link. 

All three content display products seek to cite the publishers whose writing is being used to answer the search query, although the setup will likely lead fewer users to visit publishers’ websites. 

A recent model from The Atlantic found that if a search engine like Google were to integrate AI into search, it would answer a user’s query 75% of the time without requiring a clickthrough to its website.

Where publishers go from here

The details of the program add further color to the complicated relationship between digital publishers and OpenAI. The uncertain legal standing of the data-scraping methodology that OpenAI uses to power its large-language models has made licensing negotiations between the two parties complex.

While some publishers have opted to partner with OpenAI, others, including recent NewFronts participant The New York Times and eight Alden Global Capital titles, have sued the tech firm on the grounds that it has used copyrighted articles without permission.

The vast majority of news publishers, as well as independent websites, have neither partnered with OpenAI nor taken legal action. According to one media executive, through programs such as Preferred Publisher, OpenAI is looking to change that.

“At the recent Aspen Conference in New York on AI and the news,” the person said, “OpenAI was very open about their need to attract publishers into their partnership program.” 

This story has updated to include a response from OpenAI.

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