I saw this today on an MP’s Facebook page (irony noted):
As someone who spent several years buying and selling digital media, I can honestly tell you that most of the above is only partly true. Well, not really true at all, to be honest. Unfortunately, this is the kind of mess that will sink the current government.
Now, I can confidently call myself experienced, but that still doesn’t make me an expert. Things have certainly changed with the digital media world since I started with it back in 1999 BUT a LOT of things remain the same and it’s clear that some new politicians don’t have a full grasp of how the internet works.
In brief, the internet works to the great benefit of all Canadian content creators, be they bloggers, news sites or even legacy media. Unfortunately, the enablers of the internet are being treated like criminals and this approach has to change.
Before I jump into this, I’m not here to make apologies for Meta/Facebook or Google. They’re big monster companies that wield a lot of power and influence, but so do many Canadian media companies.
Let’s proceed …
The Current Canadian Context
The Canadian media landscape is actually pretty healthy mainly because it’s been well protected by the CRTC and various governments over the last 100 years or so.
Examples of the main legacy companies:
- PostMedia, owned by US venture company Chatham Asset Management, an American venture group
- The Toronto Star, once thought to be ‘left of center’ now has owners and donors that have shifted that focus more to the right.
- The Globe and Mail, owned by the Thomson family
- Rogers, with the top 2 companies owning it being the American venture companies Blackrock and Vanguard
- Bell, or BCE Inc, with Canada’s banks being the biggest holders
- Telus (same ownership pattern as Bell)
- Quebecor, owned by Pierre Peladeau
- Corus Entertainment, owned by the Shaw family
- Thomson Reuters, owned by the Thomson family (Woodbridge)
- Canadian Press, from which the CBC gets a LOT of its news, owned by TorStar, Power Corp and the Globe
All of them defy the ‘left-wing media’ moniker. Their primary MO is to control the market or obtain subsidies.
Most importantly, the lion’s share of endorsements over the last few decades have been for Conservatives – at all levels of government.
You may not think of Bell and Rogers as media companies or publishers but they are the backbone behind organisations like CTV, an array of sports networks, pretty much every AM/FM radio station that’s out there, Crave and more.
Global Ad Revenue, Legacy vs Tech
Legacy media companies AROUND THE WORLD have experienced the same loss in revenue over the last 30 years because of changes in the marketplace. THAT’S HOW THE MARKET WORKS.
This is not a ‘made in Canada’ issue, but the current government and the media companies would like us to believe that it is.
Industry failures are replaced by industry leaders.
Monologue vs Dialogue
We’ve seen a shift on a global scale from traditional media sources like radio, TV and print to digital services like search, social and other digital formats.
This chart isn’t from Canada. It’s from Mary Meeker, an analyst with the US investment bank Morgan Stanley. She is reporting on GLOBAL trends in media spending.
In other words, what’s happening in Canada isn’t unique to Canada.
Critical to the shift is the notion that we’re enjoying no longer being told how to eat our pudding or when to tune in to get the news.
We have options.
We’re using them.
Over the last 20 years, media has shifted conceptually from being a monologue, where we lots of mansplaining and very little content to a dialogue, where all of us can discuss what certain events mean to us.
I admit we’re still in the raw stages where many people are willingly putting themselves into silos or allowing echo chambers to guide their thoughts, but these already existed in different forms before Google and Facebook came along.
When I walked into media shops 20+ years ago, the first thing that was obvious when comparing digital media buying to legacy media was results.
Accountability was the key selling point for digital ads and despite having evidence of successful ads (or bad ones), major media buying shops continued to blow billions of dollars a year in Canada on TV, print, radio and other ad formats that could never authenticate any quantifiable metrics.
It took a while or senior executives to become converts to the new digital reality and once they did, they poured massive piles of money into online advertising, particularly Google and Facebook (now Meta).
Money was diverted (not stolen) from legacy media because legacy media couldn’t vouch for the value of ad spending when compared to digital.
What would you do for clients that were demanding results?
How the Internet Works
Before jumping into some suggestions about how to navigate this situation, let’s do a very brief refresh on how the internet works.
Sources of Traffic
As the internet became commonplace and people around the world got most of their news and information, streaming, porn, sports scores, classifieds and much more online, a range of tools emerged that consistently delivered traffic to web sites:
As you can see from this simple graphic, a solid Google and Facebook presence is critical to building a healthy flow of traffic to any site with anything worth saying.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) alone can account for anywhere between 10 and 100% of your internet. All you have to is use a few clever keywords that are connected with popular products or services that you provide, get a decent reputation and you’re off to the races.
Click-baiters (eg. shitty, spammy opinion articles) are not typically elevated in search results because the quality of these ‘stories’ aren’t generally of interest to those engaged in search.
Paywalls – used by most legacy media companies in Canada in an effort to recoup revenues from classified ads and obituaries – don’t really make it to the top page of searches because they’re blocked. Once you account for paywalls, it would be pretty hard to argue that companies like Google and Meta are ‘stealing’ traffic from legacy sites.
Also, note that there are THOUSANDS of different digital media companies performing services like social media links, search results, basic research (eg. Wikipedia), third-party newsletters and much, much more. For some reason, critics of ‘big tech’ have chosen to be exceedingly lazy and label just Google and Facebook with disparaging labels.
Adding, Not Stealing Traffic
The net (pun intended) result is that any company or organization that offers legitimate and valuable information will be found by the tools described above and generate traffic, not lose traffic.
There are MILLIONS of sites, businesses and other people that have benefited from this model while chipping away at the small handful of people that used to hold the reins to goods and services around the globe.
Putting aside the discussion about mass consumerism and its impact on the globe, the value to every citizen on the planet has been generally improved upon by the development of the internet and subsequent services that emerged from this massive change in technology.
This includes legacy media companies.
Legacy media companies have failed to harness this “new” source of traffic – that kicked into gear more than two decades ago.
Twenty years is a long time to entice people with great offers, subscribe to newsletters, become loyal customers and get them to share stories and promote your site for you.
Again, this is how the internet works.
Unfortunately, legacy media companies in Canada have run to the government, complaining about unfair competition and taking their advertising dollars.
The Greater Value of Digital Media
The Value to You
Let’s think about what we GET from digital media:
- A lot of free services (eg. Gmail, GDrive, social chatting, photo backups)
- Shopping selection and timely deliveries
- Sharing of ideas (I know … that always gets out of control)
- Immediate communications
- Endless entertainment, especially during a pandemic
- Sports scores
- Videos of cute puppies
- Online encyclopedias
Of course, with digital media, YOU are the product. Your data is sold to everyone that wants to buy it for targeting ads and selling more stuff.
This is how the market works.
It’s the high cost of free that you should all be aware of.
The Value to ALL of Us
It’s hard to estimate the economic value of companies like: Google, Facebook, Apple, Netflix, Spotify, Shopify, Microsoft, Amazon and hundreds of other massive tech companies with large footprints in Canada.
I’m happy to guess that hundreds of thousands of Canadians enjoy working for these companies or at least get a paycheque from them, generating billions of dollars in tax value, employment income and residual spending across other sectors.
Why do legacy media companies insist on messing with this?
Do we really want to shut down everything that we’ve gained in order to protect the dividend payout for legacy media companies?
More so, Canadian journalists have bravely stepped up to fill the gap left by legacy media. Organizations like The National Observer, Canadaland, The Breach and many others create hard-hitting investigative journalism that is uniquely Canadian. These new sites will face the toughest climb if Google and Meta start blocking them as well as legacy media companies.
The Australian ‘Solution’
Australia was the first country to be bullied by legacy media into similar legislation that would counter the competitive aspects of technology.
Legacy media companies in Canada were drooling at the prospect of extracting the same tax on ‘big tech’.
They failed when the tech companies told them to go fuck themselves.
Who Wins With Bill C-18?
Bill C-18 represents a great Gordian knot of issues that will only ensnare the current government.
- If they didn’t proceed, legacy companies would have slashed local resources and/or pumped out endless anti-government opinion pieces, blaming the current government and accusing them that they don’t care about local media
- They would have done this anyways, under the pretence of cost-reduction
- Proceeding with Bill C-18 and getting tech to pay legacy: win for legacy
- Proceeding with Bill C-18 and large tech companies bail: win for legacy (less competition and visibility from new entrants)
So … don’t you see?
Regardless of the situation, legacy media wins now that Bill C-18 is law.
What Can The Current Government Do?
With Bill C-18 passed and now law, the government has effectively turned every media voice in Canada – sympathetic or otherwise – against them.
I’m worried that they won’t be able to do anything and will likely hand over government to another political party.
Honestly, I don’t have a lot of suggestions other than to tell folks with the current government to stop pretending this is a good law. They need to explain the situation they’ve created and back out of Bill C-18 as quickly as possible.
And stop worrying about legacy media. They need us more than we need them.
What Can Canadians Do?
We need to stop believing the lies that originate with legacy media companies that fear the future and competition.
The future was here 20 years ago and they’ve failed to adapt.
Canadians can start by better understanding the media landscape in Canada, but by also understanding how media in general works to manipulate you into thinking you’re being entertained while the world burns around us.
Read about Bill C-18 from a legal expert that has shown a high level of integrity with all of the discussions related to this contentious bill. Michael Geist (Ottawa University law professor) has been blogging about this issue for a LONG time and it’s a fantastic starting point that helps cut through the lies.
Sign up for Noam Chomsky’s Master Class on Independent Thinking and the Media’s Invisible Powers. If that doesn’t turn you on, don’t take my word for how the internet works: register for a Google Certificate in Digital Marketing and e-commerce. Discover how they’re actually not the bad guys in this whole conversation and how companies like Google are actually trying to find ways to make our lives better.
Next, bookmark CBC.ca/news, sign up for their newsletters and download the ‘Listen’ app.
If you’re looking to expand your array of news sources, sign up for newsletters and help fund some of the following sites and non-legacy media companies:
Bill C-18 has created a mess for media in Canada for all the wrong reasons.
It’s that simple.