Media Organizations Are Not Angry at Apple, Just Disappointed

Tensions between publishers and consumer-focused device maker come to the fore once again

Media organizations are being dealt another blow by Apple with the impending changes in iOS 14. Getty Images

Key Insights:

Apple’s proposed decision to require users to opt-in to share their data in iOS 14 got a gloomy reception from publishers, but it didn’t trigger a firestorm.

In other words: It’s not that media execs don’t care, it’s just nothing new.

Apple’s decisions—and those of Big Tech overall and their trickle-down effects on media organizations—have always complicated the publisher-platform relationship. But Apple, in particular, has always been the one to issue swift decisions with a presumption that it was doing so under the pretenses of protecting consumer experience, as it is primarily a device manufacturer.

“Directionally, things have not been great between news publishers and Apple. They tend to just announce changes and impose them, and there’s not much back-and-forth engagement,” said David Chavern, president and CEO of the News Media Alliance.

Notably, Apple decided days after the news was released earlier this month to delay part of the update that would require users to agree to share their data. Instead, the feature won’t launch until next year.

Multiple news organizations declined to comment on the record for this story with their reactions and how they interpreted Apple’s move, feeling as if their efforts would be better spent trying to negotiate behind closed doors with the $2 trillion tech company.

The strategy of silence

It’s not an unfamiliar stance for media organizations to keep quiet, believing their attempts to strike a deal with these tech companies are best done in one-on-one meetings rather than partnering with other publishers who may be experiencing similar anxieties, even if it means their concerns would be louder collectively.

But that’s changing. Recently, publishers including The New York Times and Washington Post came together, through trade body Digital Content Next, to raise concerns over the app terms Apple was offering developers.

And the latest Apple update was enough for at least one media operation, The Daily Mail, to take action. A source with the Mail told Adweek it was preparing to take the issue over Apple’s opt-in feature to the Department of Justice. A spokesperson for the DoJ did not return a request for comment.

“In the short term, it’s impactful, but in the long term—big and small news publishers have the advantage of professionally produced content, and people are looking for that story,” said Scott Cunningham, consultant to the Local Media Consortium and founder of the IAB Tech Lab.

Consumers, too, are recognizing the “value of journalism” more than ever, he added.

Media organizations, many of which began to adjust their business models to grow subscriptions in recent years, have benefitted from a surge of traffic and reader interest surrounding Covid-19 pandemic coverage. In turn, news operations across the board have seen an uptick in subscriptions in recent months.

Because of this shift in business strategy, Chavern pointed to Apple’s decision to redirect links from Apple News+ publishers back to its own app instead of publishers’ properties as a move that “really startled folks.”

Comparatively, “this iOS 14 change isn’t really generating a lot of angst,” Chavern added.

A device maker first and foremost

Apple, instead, has focused its efforts on device manufacturing, not necessarily supporting media businesses or reconciling with the power it has over news organizations, unlike the reckoning beginning to take place at Facebook and Google, Cunningham wagered.

@SaraJerde Sara Jerde is publishing editor at Adweek, where she covers traditional and digital publishers’ business models. She also oversees political coverage ahead of the 2020 election.
@ronan_shields Ronan Shields is a programmatic reporter at Adweek, focusing on ad-tech.