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Microsoft introduced another way for publishers to monetize artificial intelligence this week. And, despite being early days on the buzzy new tech, it’s had a lukewarm response from publishers.
With the ads for chat API for publishers, apps and online services, a publisher can add chatbot technology to their website—either from Microsoft or another company—and Microsoft will power ad monetization within the chat, the company announced.
Relationships between tech firms and publishers, already tense, have become even more fraught with the rise of generative AI. Increasingly, tech powers Microsoft and Google are integrating the tech into their search engines and other products.
Publishers fear that AI will scrape their content without compensation, and that chatbots will limit traffic to their websites if the search experience of a list of links becomes obsolete.
Against this contentious backdrop, Microsoft’s new publisher-oriented tool is a bit of an olive branch.
“Given the time to market that we’ve had over the last three months, the scale that we’ve already had, we are learning a lot about how to effectively integrate ads into a helpful organic flow,” said Kya Sainsbury-Carter, corporate vice president of Microsoft Advertising, told a room of reporters last week. “Bringing that to our publishers is something we feel good about.”
Microsoft, which also recently clarified how advertising works in its new AI-powered Bing and released new product updates, is working with a few partners to test the tool, which it wouldn’t name. The economic model will likely be some form of revenue sharing, Sainsbury-Carter said.
Publishing sources who spoke to Adweek were not particularly enthusiastic about the tool, given that generative AI still has copyright and accuracy risks that publishers are wary to take on. Moreover, if AI does remake the internet in its image, the utility of website-based widgets may be limited.
“Assuming this becomes a dominant paradigm as to how people experience digital media … people aren’t going to be on your webpage to see the [chatbot],” said Brian Morrissey, author of newsletter The Rebooting. “The whole point is to get around going to various webpages.”
Copyright risks without rewards
Publishers have spent years building trust with their audiences by delivering reliable information. If AI-generated content appears on chatbots on publishers’ websites, and that content is either not useful or full of misinformation, that could damage a publisher’s brand, said Don Marti, vp of ecosystem innovation at publisher network Raptive.
Moreover, publishers risk infringing on the copyright of other creators as the content licensing model of generative AI still gets ironed out.
“Getting the copyright issue resolved before relying on it too heavily seems like a good path,” Marti said.
Even without the risks chatbots bring to publishers, the benefits of the technology are not yet clear.
Google and Facebook introduced widgets years ago where publishers could populate their websites with interfaces from the companies and earn revenue on ads that occurred on these interfaces, said Jason Kint, CEO of publisher trade body Digital Content Next. These products never really took off.
“The general goal [of those features] is the same as Microsoft’s: to bring a new feature to users on the web,” Kint said. “They’re trying to get adoption of a product. Is the real estate on the page worth the money we get?”
Reimagining the user interface
As much as the progression of AI can be seen as a threat to publishers’ existing models, it’s also a new reality of media they must adapt to.
Raptive has developed AI tools to help publishers create content, from helping generate story ideas to assisting with search engine optimization, Marti said.
Whether publishers should adopt AI tools that are visible on the front end, such as Microsoft’s chatbot, depends on the publisher’s audience, Marti said.
For example, a publication whose readers were already chatbot users and tended to be early adopters of new technologies would benefit more from adopting front-facing AI than those known for extremely high-fidelity, trustworthy content, he added.
But the lab for such experimentation is not necessarily the website or app. Microsoft did not specify in its release the exact medium it plans to focus on, though the API nature of the product means the focus is likely on publishers’ existing interfaces.
If the dominant experience for finding information online becomes asking a chatbot a question instead of searching Google and reading a website, publishers will have to reimagine how they deliver their content, potentially developing custom experiences for readers based on a corpus of proprietary data and reporting, Morrissey said.
“It’s more than just a widget. [Publishers are] going to need to rearchitect their entire site,” Morrissey said. “Consumer expectations are probably going to be more towards having things given to them exactly how they want it.”