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Why has Google launched its News Showcase in India?

In what seems to be an attempt to carve out its news service from the rest of its platform, Google announced that it has partnered with 30 news publishers in India for its Google News Showcase, it said in a blogpost. Since Google News is a news aggregator service, the tech-giants’ service falls under the government’s new regulations for digital news media under the Information Technology Rules, 2021.

Google has effectively extended its Google News Showcase program to India, having first launched the initiative last year. Google plans to invest $1 billion towards supporting news publishers and journalists across the world under this initiative. So far it has partnered with over 700 publications across the United Kingdom, Germany, Brazil, Argentina, Canada and Japan.

Google News and the new IT Rules

Has Google launched the News Showcase to be in compliance with the IT Rules 2021?

In February this year, the government issued the Information Technology Rules, 2021 for online intermediaries. Under these rules, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (I&B Ministry) was granted regulatory powers to oversee online news content either published by digital news organisations or promoted by news aggregators. The new Intermediary Liability and Digital Media Ethics Code Rules, 2021, require digital news publishers and aggregators to form a three-tier regulatory structure and form self-regulatory organisations.

The rules will apply to any person or entity that is a publisher of news and current affairs content with physical presence in India, and will be administered by the I&B Ministry.

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Under the rules, a ‘publisher of news and current affairs’ includes an online paper, news portal, news aggregator, and news agency, and any other entity that is “functionally similar” to publishers of news and current affairs; it will exclude e-papers of newspapers. While a news aggregator is an entity make aggregated and curated news and current affairs content available while “performing a significant role in determining” what news and current affairs content is made available.

Since Google News curates news content, ranks articles and enables users to read complete news article on the Google News app directly rather than re-directing the user to the publishers’ website, it plays a significant role as an “intermediary” as defined under the IT Act, 2000. Therefore, Google News is liable to comply with the government’s new rules concerning news content. The rules also apply to news aggregators like Inshorts, DailyHunt and Facebooks’ news aggregation functions, although the social media giant has not carved this out as a separate entity.

It is important to note that a few news organisations have approached the courts to challenge these rules. The petitions have been filed by the Foundation for Independent Journalism which runs TheWire.in, Dhanya Rajendran who runs TheNewsMinute, TheQuint and legal news platform LiveLaw.

Pressures mounting on Google from Indian publishers

Is Google going to use the News Showcase as a platform to negotiate with news publishers on revenue share? 

Last year, Google got into a tussle with Australian regulators over a new law that sought to level the playing field between tech giants and news publishers. In July 2020, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) released a News Media Bargaining Code, aimed at creating a more equitable system for sharing ad revenue between publishers and digital platforms like Google and Facebook, both of whom have news aggregator services. The code requires an independent arbitrator to finalise a revenue-sharing deal between Google and a news organisation, if no agreement can be reached bilateraly.

In February this year, the code was approved by the Australian Senate. However, prior the law coming into effect Google News managed to launch the Showcase program in Australia and struck deals with multiple Australian news organisations including The Canberra Times, The New Daily, Guardian Australia , The Conversation and NewsCorp.

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The tussle between news publishers and the platforms they have relied on to publish, promote and distribute their articles and other media has been going on for more than a decade. It is only recently that regulators, globally, have decided to step in and fix the equation between the tech-giants and news publishers. In February this year, the Indian Newspaper Society wrote to the Google India stating that Google News should increase the publishers’ share of advertising revenue to 85%. Google should pay for the news generated by newspapers, which employ thousands of journalists to gather and verify information, the letter said.

Two highly-placed sources at the Digital News Publishers Association (DNPA) told MediaNama that the industry body will make a similar demand on Google to increase the share of ad revenue flowing to publishers. The DNPA is preparing a proposal for a new revenue-sharing model on similar lines to the Australian News Media Bargaining Code, the sources said on the condition of anonymity. Traditional news organisations like India Today Group, Dainik Bhaskar, NDTV, Hindustan Times, Indian Express, Times of India, Amar Ujala, and others, are part of the DNPA.

What is Google News Showcase?

Google News Showcase is part of Google’s larger news product and initiative in India. Since 2018, the tech giant has been investing in news and journalism programs in the country and has trained 25,000 journalists in-person or via virtual live workshops in 10 languages, touching over 1,000 news organisations and more than 700 universities through the GNI India Training Network, it said in an earlier blog post. It has also supported 228 news organisations in India through the Journalism Emergency Relief Fund in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Google users visit news website at a rate of 24 billion clicks every month either through Google Search and Google News, the tech giant said. As a result, publishers get more website visitors through Google, while the tech giant has to pay out ad revenues to all their partner publishers. According to Google’s Subscriptions Lab report, The Hindu achieved a 50% increase in sign-ups, while the Dainik Jagran witnessed a 450% increase in website traffic by using Google’s news aggregation platform.

Through Google News Showcase, Google wants to give publishers more control over which stories they wish to show to readers, and how to present them. The stories will appear initially in the form of story panels on the Google News app on Android, and later on iOS. “To support news organizations and readers, we’re introducing Google News Showcase, our new online experience and licensing program. This program incentivizes and supports news publishers to curate high quality content on Google’s News and Discover platforms, connecting readers with the news they need,” it said in the May 18 blogpost.

Google has also launched ‘Subscribe with Google’, a subscription option for news consumers to directly pay Google for the news aggregation service. A part of this revenue flows to the publisher.

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“Content from our Indian publisher partners in English and Hindi will begin to appear in dedicated News Showcase panels in Google News and on Discover. We’re committed to launching in additional Indic languages this year and we’ll continue to incorporate more languages in the future,” said Sanjay Gupta, Vice President of Google India and Brad Bender VP Product Management, News at Google, in the blog post.

“As part of our licensing agreements with publishers, we’re also paying participating news organizations to give readers access to a limited amount of paywalled content. This feature means readers will have the opportunity to read more of a publisher’s articles than they would otherwise be able to, while deepening readers’ relationships with publishers and encouraging them to subscribe”—Google 

As part of the Google News Showcase initiative, Google plans to train 50,000 journalists and journalism students over the next three years. Further, it is introducing three new programs for small and mid-sized publishers to improve their financial position as part of the GNI Digital Growth Program. This includes:

  • News Business training workshops for free, alongside other workshops that imbibe business knowledge for news organisations
  • Training sessions for 800 small news publishers to grow their digital ad revenue, through the GNI Advertising Lab
  • Comprehensive online training program for 20 local small and mid-sized news organisations, through GNI Transformation Lab

Which Indian publishers are taking part?

Google News Showcase has launched with 30 publishers, including the The Hindu Group, HT Digital Streams Ltd, Indian Express Group, ABP LIVE, India TV, NDTV, Zee News, Amar Ujala, among others. The full list of publishers include:

Google News Showcase India Partners, May 18, 2021

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