Did The UK Just Give Up Fighting The Facebook And Google Duopoly?

There is rarely a conversation in media circles that doesn't lament the ever increasing power of the Google and Facebook duopoly. So for the major UK newspaper groups to band together seemed like a really good idea. As of today, however, just two are left fighting the good fight.

Yes, Telegraph Media Group is the latest to drop out of what is now called Project Arena -- previously referred to as Project Juno. This comes after the Daily Mail Group Trust and Trinity Mirror pulled out at the beginning of the year. That means that The Telegraph and Sunday Telegraph have gone, as have the sites for Mail Online, Daily Mail, Mail On Sunday,, The Mirror, Sunday Mirror and The People, among other titles.

The original idea was that the duopoly of Facebook and Google could cause the UK papers to lose out on GBP500m worth of revenue over the next decade, which they would stand a better chance of winning back by banding together. Today, however, just News UK -- publisher of The Times, The Sunday Times and The Sun -- is left teamed up with the publisher of The Guardian and The Observer.

The departing publishers have, of course, publicly wished those they leave behind the very best for the future, but there is no real reason provided for why something that appeared to be such a good idea a year ago is now being ditched.

I'd like to hazard a guess that there were a couple of reasons. There's the very obvious battle over who would control and run any joint enterprise. The aforementioned papers are each in fierce competition with one another, and so to put aside those differences is one thing, to agree someone else's guys can run it and decide how the proceeds are shared is quite another.

That's the most obvious battle -- a turf war that the big titles just couldn't get past. I'd venture that publishers pulling out obviously felt they had more to gain by going their own way and not sharing the spoils of a greatly increased, pooled advertising reach. 

Clearly, data would be at the top of the pile here. Publishers were always very wary of passing on valuable data to advertising networks and the work put into supply-side platforms has had the goal of utilising a publisher's own data to get the best price for its inventory. Presumably, header bidding has also helped when utilised, allowing publishers a wider reach of potential buyers before they cascade down to the lowest bidder. 

You may want to speculate that in an era of fake news and brand safety issues, quality newspaper publishers feel that more ad dollars will flow their way as advertisers look for reputable organisations to post their branding messages.

If I were a betting man, I'd probably side with the potential argument that these longtime adversaries could do much together but sharing data and finding a way of remunerating the assorted players fairly was probably a step too far.

It's hard to fight the feeling that this is probably the beginning of the end for Project Arena. News Corp is making a lot of noise about its in-house programmatic platform, which would be a reason for News UK to at least temporarily decide to remain doing its own thing, once it is launched later this year.

It seemed like a good idea, but it looks like a partnership of foes that was reliant on sharing data was a step too far the UK press to take in the fight to ward off the Facebook and Google duopoly.  

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