The absence of news on Google and Meta platforms has cast a spotlight on the consequences of Bill C-18, Canada’s Online News Act. In this article, we explore the impact of the controversial new law, the clash between tech giants and news publishers and what it means for digital marketing.
The Digital News Revolution: From Print to Pixels
From the 15th century printing press to the first radio and television broadcasts, innovations throughout history have shaped how we consume the news – yet none have had a bigger impact than the Internet. In less than half a century, online platforms, websites, and social media have transformed how we consume the news, enabling a 24-hour news cycle with instant access to information from a variety of sources. Tech giants have reached new heights of influence, with billions of dollars in annual profits as companies who produce the news struggle to remain afloat. In Canada, the perception that tech giants are reaping the rewards unfairly has stirred a call for reform.
What is Bill C-18?
Passed into Canadian law in June 2023, Bill C-18 (also known as the Online News Act) introduces a bargaining framework to secure “fair compensation” for news businesses when their content is made available by online communication platforms and generates economic gain. In short, it creates a duty for search engines and social media platforms share a portion of their revenues with Canadian news outlets.
The Act seeks to promote fairness in Canada’s digital news market and ensure the continued production and availability of news by fostering a mutually beneficial relationship between the technology and news sectors. But what does this mean in practice, and how has the tech industry reacted?
Big Tech’s Response: Blocking News Content in Canada
Tech giants like Google and Meta have not reacted kindly to the regulations imposed by Bill C-18. Kent Walker, President of Global Affairs at Google & Alphabet, has called Bill C-18 “unworkable” and equates it to a “link tax” that creates uncapped financial liability simply for allowing news links to be shared on their platforms. At a Canadian heritage committee hearing, Jason Kee, Public Policy & Government Relations Counsel at Google said the bill would incentivize “clickbait” journalism and favour larger news companies over local and independent outlets.
Meta’s position is that the company doesn’t benefit unfairly from people sharing links to news content on Facebook, and that the opposite is true. According to Nick Clegg, Meta’s President of Global Affairs, the Facebook Feed sent Canadian news publishers more than 1.9 billion clicks in a 12-month period, amounting to “free marketing” estimated to be worth more than $230 million. Publishers freely choose to share their news on Meta platforms, with more than 90% of organic views on article links having been posted by the news publishers themselves.
To comply with the legislation without opting into the new regime, Meta began the process of ending news availability on Meta platforms for users in Canada in August 2023. Similarly, Google announced a plan to remove links to Canadian news from Google’s Search, News, and Discover products. Canada’s newly appointed Minister of Heritage, Pascale St-Onge, calls the move to block news “irresponsible” and said the Canadian government will continue to stand its ground.
Unravelling Bill C-18: How are Canadians Affected?
As the ink dries on the new legislation and the long-term impacts are yet to be seen, we can only speculate as to how the corporate and political drama will play out, and what impact it will have on Canadians and around the world.
At least in the short-term, Canadians can expect limited access to traditional news through social media and search engines. Recent research from the Angus Reid Institute found that 63% of Canadians are concerned about losing access to news on social media. It’s a bigger concern for younger users, who are most likely to rely on platforms like Facebook and Google News.
For some Canadians, this could trigger a welcome shift to consuming news directly from publishers’ websites and apps. Unfortunately, others will either see less news altogether or get more of their news from less credible sources, like entertainment and opinion channels that are unaffected by the news ban.
As for news businesses, the backlash from this legislation could create more negatives than positives for the industry. As Canadian news publishers stop receiving traffic from Google search results and other Google products like News and Discover, they’ll reach fewer people with their own native advertising and possibly generate fewer subscriptions, causing revenues to plummet even further. Publicly traded organizations could also face reduced shareholder confidence and investment.
Bill C-18’s Impact on Digital Marketing
The passage of Bill C-18 has not only stirred significant controversy within the tech and news sectors but has also raised important questions about its potential impact on digital marketing for media organizations. To remain in business, news outlets will need to experiment with different marketing tactics to make up for lost traffic and keep their audiences engaged. Some of the potential impacts include:
One of the immediate consequences of Bill C-18 is the potential disruption it may cause to established digital marketing strategies. With major tech platforms blocking news content in Canada, businesses that relied on these platforms for organic traffic and visibility could experience a significant reduction in reach. This could lead to a need for companies to rethink and adapt their digital marketing approaches.
As news links become less accessible on search engines and social media platforms, businesses might find themselves needing to invest more heavily in paid advertising to maintain their online visibility. This could lead to a surge in competition for ad space and potentially drive up advertising costs. Smaller businesses with limited advertising budgets may face challenges in staying competitive within this new landscape.
The absence of news content on major platforms could prompt businesses to explore alternative avenues for promoting their products and services. Only companies with a “significant bargaining power imbalance” are subject to Bill C-18’s requirements, so niche social media platforms, content-sharing websites, and other online communities may see increased activity as businesses seek new ways to engage with their target audiences.
With news organizations potentially receiving fewer clicks and less engagement, journalists might need to place a stronger emphasis on content marketing and brand-building efforts. Companies that focus on building long-term relationships with their audiences through engaging, informative, and relevant news content may see increased brand loyalty and customer retention.
Bill C-18’s impact on how news is shared and consumed could indirectly influence data privacy. As businesses adapt their digital marketing strategies to align with the evolving news landscape, they may also need to reevaluate their data collection and usage policies to ensure compliance with changing regulations and maintain user trust.
Beyond Borders: The Impact on Global News Legislation
Bill C-18 is a transformative piece of legislation that signals a turning point in the ever-evolving relationship between journalism and digital platforms.
While Bill C-18 is specific to Canada, its repercussions could resonate beyond its borders. Similar to the Australian News Media Bargaining Code, which inspired discussions in other countries, this Canadian legislation might prompt governments around the world to draft similar laws that could have an even bigger impact on the global news industry. Digital marketers operating in multiple jurisdictions will need to stay informed about evolving news regulations and adapt their strategies accordingly.
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