Platformization: the Challenges and Opportunities for Traditional European Media

Gabriel Rosa, Valerio Spinosi, Vesë Latifi, Yangyang Yang, Abdirahman Mohamed Issa, Ali Nishikawa, Ágnes Modrovich, Xiaochen Zhang, & Xuwen Zheng

An Epochal Change: Can Traditional Media Survive in the Era of Platforms?

Platforms are doing to traditional European media what the press did to the spiritual influence of the Catholic Church, which had the complete power on communication and information in the 15th century. It happened once in a blue moon in history that such strong organizations lost their communication and political supremacies towards something totally new without having the possibility to win their authority back and without having to change their traditional structures and mode of action.1

With the arrival of the printing press, the information started to circulate quicker and more abundantly. Several texts were printed, translated, and readers reach increased. The information was more accurate than ever mostly because it was no longer subject to variations of typical oral transmission. These factors were decisive for the formation of two main movements which weakened the power of the Catholic Church: the protestant reformation and the scientific revolution.

Six centuries later we are facing another paradigm shift in the world of information and communication. The traditional media is being challenged by the new kids on the block such as YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter where the information abundance is at its maximum and can be accessed by virtually anyone.

The news is generated in the speed of light now that the role of reporters is being taken over by platforms’ users. The incredible velocity and quantity of news strike people’s horizon, and in that event, the ‘old media’ is losing the monopoly of the news industry since anyone can create content. The loyal consumers of the traditional media seem to turn to new media in one night. And as a result, new media is growing on a much faster scale than the traditional media.

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Many media companies had to adopt the platformization as the core strategy to increase user stickiness. BBC, for example, is working to offer more personalized news to its website and app, based on what topics people indicate to be interested in or auto-generate recommendations based on their browsing history.

The new audience emerged in the 21st century has not developed the habit of reading newspapers nor of viewing linear broadcasting. Therefore, more and more traditional corporations are dangling, and in order not to experience this downfall, many other media companies are integrating and optimizing e-newspapers and digital TV within and across different brands. Since 2014 and 2015, BBC and Axel Springer, respectively, have adopted practices to implement these changes.

Stumbling Blocks

Platformization did not only lead to possibilities for the media landscape but also brought about problems such as information cocoons and lack of professional journalists. Research conducted by the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) revealed that citizens’ trust on the Internet and social media is decreasing. While 61% of European countries distrust the web, 97% have no faith in social networks. Accordingly, the trust in traditional media, namely radio, TV, and press, is rising.

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However, traditional media need to understand the critics that are being made against their current business model and try to adapt to the new market demand. Such an attitude might be compared to the Counter-Reformation of the Catholic Church, where after losing power, the Church established disciplinary reforms to attack the corruption of the clergy, one of the main criticisms of the Protestantism.

In addition to filter bubbles and low-quality journalism, social platforms also bloomed as a perfect environment for the dissemination of fake news and hatred speech. Usually, social media companies respond very poorly to these situations. Facebook, for instance, failed to delete posts on Sri Lanka with aggressive messages towards Muslims last year. As a consequence, tensions between Sinhalese Buddhists and Tamil Muslims escalated in the region. Two people died, the government had to intervene and shut down Facebook in the country for three days. Only after that, Zuckerberg’s enterprise acted more firmly.

This chaotic scenario can be seen as a blessing in disguise for traditional media, for the fact that Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter do not provide professional fact-checked journalism. “We need to worry about what kind of news ecosystem we would like and whether or not we cherish our diverse, independent press” stated the CEO of De Persgroep, Christian Van Thillo, during a Brussels Talking Lecture Series (BTLS) event.

Creating Strategies for Survival

Since traditional media is inclined to strict ethics rules, they cannot easily align to this new paradigm which is created by social media companies. Instead, they need to stigmatize the platforms’ weak points and build their comeback on those weaknesses.

To such a degree, different groups are adopting distinct strategies. De Persgroep, for instance, is scaling up (in Belgium, the Netherlands, and Denmark), and this might be a way out. “If there are companies for sale and they do the same thing as we do, we will buy them. Business size matters more than ever with international tech players” further stated Van Thillo during the BTLS event. The group also started to provide a freemium news service in the Netherlands, similar to what Spotify, Deezer, and other music streaming companies do. Customers can choose to read the news without being annoyed by advertisements, as long as they pay a fee for that.

Another possible approach would be to increase the collaboration among former rivals to battle these new kids on the block. One single group cannot challenge these global platforms alone. For instance, French broadcasters such as France Télévisions, M6 and TF1 announced the creation of Salto, a local video streaming service. Their idea is to challenge the growing power of Netflix and other US-based companies. To this extent, they are pulling out their content from the global platforms and making deals with French producers to develop a platform focused only on national content.

As it was the case with the Catholic Church after the invention of the printing press, traditional European media companies’ power is also shaken with the introduction of new technologies. The “move fast and break things” model of the Silicon Valley tech corporations has caused significant problems, such as losses in revenues and increasing piracy. The world of media is in a rapidly changing process, which raises the question: Can traditional European media companies reinvent their business and survive this battle against platforms?

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