Since September 19, Youtube has offered to its Premium subscribers two original French web series, « Groom » and « Les Emmerdeurs », adding to its list of more than sixty proprietary programs already available for its subscribers. Youtube is also planning to launch another 50 programs in the coming months.
Since a long time, the GAFA’s ambition goes beyond simple hosting websites for content produced by media or other traditional producers. They aggregate them. Thus, they have become main vectors of information all over the world even in France where only 38% of the population declares to obtain information from the Internet (77% among 18-24-year-olds and 49% among CSP +) * while they are 68% in the United States.
However, being hosts or aggregators, the GAFA are becoming more and more publishers, making a certain impact in particular as regards responsibilities.
From host to publisher: a deep-rooted trend
The video sharing platform YouTube rushes into the breach opened by others such as Netflix, Amazon or Facebook and even Apple …
Launched in 1998, Netflix, the online DVD rental company, has been transformed to a video streaming platform and has begun later to produce its own audio-visual content. One of its films has won the Golden Lion at the 2018 Venice Film Festival, an ultimate recognition enabling it to be part of the coterie of The Seventh Art who had rejected it several months before at Cannes Film Festival.
The ambitious Amazon, in its turn, has recently produced several series, including The Marvelous Mrs Maisel, winner of the Emmy Awards distributed on last September 17th.
To boost its Facebook Watch platform, the company founded by Marc Zuckerberg has signed partnerships with CNN and Fox News to broadcast news programs and Facebook has thus become a co-producer of news content along with major international media.
Apple has already invested more than a billion dollars to produce its own exclusive series in the hope to compete with Netflix and Amazon. In order to improve its television programming, the Californian firm does not hesitate to hire some senior executives from giants in the field like Sony.
All Big Four tech companies have decided to not only relay information or provide products, but to create their own content, while ensuring their diffusion. In a time when the market value of Amazon has reached $1 trillion at NASDAQ and profits of other giants of Silicon Valley continue to grow, we wonder why they all embark on this war of production of proprietary content.
End of all for free and the start of Premiumization
The first thing we have noticed is that the platform’s approach has evolved: they no longer want to stay simple aggregators of content but want to create a link with their users through proprietary content. It is in the production of contents that the power of Differentiation can be found. YouTube has a long-standing commitment to content co-production, providing logistical and financial support to the most successful youtubers.
Secondly, the platforms are led to review their business model. This premiumization of offer gives users access to original content and in particular to content without advertisement and personalized on demand. This movement is indeed resulted from the new consumption habits of Internet users, especially the 18-35-year-olds who use mostly ad blockers, reducing the visibility of advertisers and leading to an immediate decline in advertising revenue for the platforms. The Free model seems to find its limits. Platforms are now betting on subscription and powerful algorithms to offer more and more targeted content and thus capture the attention of their users. This is the famous Attention Economy: the “available brain time” is more than ever valued.
From hosts to publishers: the change of identity indicates new responsibilities
The transition from hosting website to content creator is not limited to a change of business model. The role of content creator means new constraints, new obligations, in the same way as any television channel. This new identity the GAFA assume sometimes despite themselves, brings about new responsibilities. Until now, they were not responsible for the content posted by their users: they had to remove illegal or offensive content once it was reported to them. They had no legal duty to supervise the information they hosted and their liability was only incurred if they had not acted promptly to remove the illegal information when they were actually aware of it.
When Mark Zuckerberg says that Facebook is a media, “in the same way as other publishers like the New York Times, CNN,” he becomes responsible for the content hosted by Facebook. Therefore, we understand better why Google has implemented and gradually strengthened its teams dedicated to the regulation of content published on Youtube.
When GAFA become media, they must reflect upon their editorial line, their values, their speech, their commitments … just like any media. Facebook has gone through it during its negotiations with the Chinese authorities and the reactions they provoked internally.
This inevitable evolution of GAFA will undoubtedly have consequences on their relations with the traditional media, resulting in either an open war or possible strategic alliance. The French press seems to have already chosen its side … On September 20, the professional organizations of the French written press have created the Alliance of the general information press (Apig) with the stated objective of better defending their interests especially against the giants of Silicon Valley.
Because beyond the corporatist interests, the challenge is clear. What is at stake is the freedom of the press, and more generally the media, their independence and their role of counter-power.