Our research project final report Road to freedom: News media breaking free from Silicon Valley’s grip is now published!
The aim of the Road to freedom research project was to find out how the Finnish news media are dependent on the technology giants of Silicon Valley, mainly Meta (Facebook, Messenger, Instagram, Whatsapp), Alphabet (Google, Youtube, Android), Apple and Amazon. In this report we present an examination of whether the nature of dependence is disproportionate in terms of power, and if so, how the news media could break free from the excessive influence of the technology giants. The report approaches the dependency relationships between global tech giants and news media corporations through four frameworks: a technological framework, a business framework, an operational framework, and a narrative framework.
The impact of Silicon Valley’s global actors on the news media has generally been studied in a negative context, from the perspective of how media have lost its relationship to audiences and advertisers. However, we think the issue is more complex than that and contains positive features too, such as learning a new type of operational logic, which particularly affects product development methods. In addition to that, Google and Facebook have financially supported the innovation process within media to a significant extent. However, compared to their own revenues, this support has been minimal. We believe that the metaphorical road to freedom requires new ways of strategic thinking from the news media corporations, support from advertisers, as well as national and supranational (mainly EU) legislative solutions. The aim is to predict what this development could mean for the Finnish news media.
The goal of this project was to produce information and knowledge that will help practitioners, industry experts and policy makers understand the scope of the power of Silicon Valley’s technology corporations. In our view, these corporations offer such platforms and solutions for the core activities of media and its infrastructure that are hard to get away from. Importantly, the issue does not only revolve around the media but also around society at a broader level, where such corporations as Alphabet, Meta, Apple, Microsoft and Amazon strive to build infrastructure for the whole of society, of which the media are only a small part of.
The project is divided into four work packages, the results of which form the core of this final report. In the report, we define three scenarios for the year 2030. The scenarios describe the different ways in which the news media’s dependence on technology companies of Silicon Valley can change and the consequences this may have. The Road to Freedom project builds on qualitative and quantitative research. The data have been derived from mapping out the research field, interviews with industry experts, statistical analysis, canvassing and workshops. The research project is a collaboration between four Finnish universities (Helsinki, Jyväskylä, Tampere and Turku) funded by the Media Industry Research Foundation of Finland.
The final product of the project is an overview and three scenarios for the future, “A road to freedom”, in which the word freedom is used in a metaphorical fashion. Our view is that the media companies’ road to freedom is dependent on several components, some within their own reach and others beyond attempts to impact the development. The most important components are developments on a global scale, at the EU level, at a national level and at a regional level. How policy makers may act is also an important component. There is also cause for concern that in any scenario, small and mid-sized media companies will not survive. While the biggest players can develop long-term strategies, smaller media companies have a harder time fighting for mere survival. Thus, public service media will continue to play an important role and in addition there is a risk that diversity in the media ecosystem could become a thing of the past.
Our three scenarios for 2030 include scenario -1 where things have become worse and legacy media are more dependent on the Silicon Valley technology companies, and scenario +1 where things have improved, and the media are less dependent on the Silicon Valley technology companies. There are five factors that affect both these scenarios: the (in)ability to renew business models, losing or winning the competition for audiences, failure or success in regulation, changes in the power balance between platforms and media companies, and media companies’ passivity or proactivity in solving the issue of dependence. In addition, in scenario 0 we see a situation in which by 2030, things have not changed much since the early 2020s, and problems of dependency are not recognised or dealt with. Yet because it is difficult to see how no change would take place for the better or worse, we do not discuss this scenario further in this report.
Our recommendations include active policy initiatives that may change the context. For example, the European Media Data Space would allow publishers to share user data in ethical ways compatible with GDPR and other regulations such as the upcoming Data Governance Act (DGA). The Media Data Space is an interesting initiative and according to law scholars (Dutkiewicz, 2021), the EU envisages the following benefits of sharing media data. First, access to audience data, content metadata and other types of users’ behaviour data would allow European media companies to create personalised content and promotion. Second, it would help European news publishers to pool together their content and customer data to produce news targeting their own national audiences. Third, it would provide insight to services aiming at increasing the findability of media content across borders.