The Guardian has revealed its wariness at having to work so closely with the likes of Facebook and Google to extend its global reach due to concerns over how much traffic and data it has to relinquish in these partnerships.
Speaking at the IAB’s Mobile Engage event yesterday evening (14 May), Lee Fell, head of mobile and video at the newspaper said it “treads a very fine line” when working with its partners, particularly when it came to online companies.
“We need to work with partners,” said Fell. “We’ve talked about [our work] with Samsung, Google and Twitter [but] obviously partners extend beyond the operating system. There are social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. We’ve got ongoing conversations with any number of companies.
“Obviously, we tread a very fine line when working with these guys,” he continued. "They help us to achieve our global aims but equally they are competitors. They’re after our eyeballs, they’re after our data and so we have to be very careful when we manage that.”
It is the core challenge of the newspaper’s collaborative and testable approach to technology that has made partnerships key to everything it does. At a time when publishers are trying to become technology companies and technology companies want to become publishers, the Guardian’s concerns reflect the uneasy alliances creaking as both sectors jockey for dominance of the ever-widening pool of online content.
Fell’s comments couldn’t be more pertinent, coming just a day after the publisher announced it would publish content that can be read directly on Facebook using its Instant Articles service. At the time of the launch, the Guardian talked up the potential of the “test” to spread its content further on mobile and added that it would need to prove long-term benefits to justify ongoing investment.
It reflects the lukewarm response Facebook’s content management system (CMS) garnered from the publishing industry. Senior executives from News UK, Dennis Publishing and Carat took issue with the lack of clarity on the depth data that would be exchanged between Facebook and publishers as well as the unclear prospect for content that wasn’t published through the CMS.
Though the News Feed’s algorithm will not favour Instant Articles content over publishers, the more eye-catching, native format of the former may mean readers do. Along with faster loading times, Instant Articles lets publishers use a flurry of interactive features to bring their stories to life in peoples’ streams including animated covers and audio captions.
The gap between visits from mobile and desktop is widening and continues to grows" said Fell. "If you take away one thing from us about this change then it’s that it's not reversible and it’s ging to be exscertabted and we need to gear up for it.
"We need to think smart and we need to put things in place in our business that allow us to catch up because we don't know what’sgoing to happen in 2021."
The Guardian sees social media as a core weapon in its bid to drive digital visits beyond regular readers. The company’s efforts to date show signs of paying off with 90 per cent of 500 billion visits to its digital content in 2014 coming from smarthphones.
Speaking on the same panel, the Guardian’s head of commercial Nick Hewat, summed up the importance of the ever splintering channel with the apt expression: “If mobile isn’t in our pot of power, then we haven’t got a pot to piss in.”