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Splice News media trends: Instant Articles, SPH takes over Business Insider and China bans Winnie the Pooh

As a leading light of the commentariat in Asia, newsroom consultant and former alumnus of Yahoo, CNBC and Bloomberg, Alan Soon knows a thing or two about the media. Here is his roundup of developments inside the bubble this week

THE TROUBLE WITH MEDIA

This is so good. Ben Thompson at Stratechery ripped apart the News Media Alliance’s proposal that the news industry be allowed to bargain collectively against Google and Facebook. We should all print this and pin it to the wall:

“The fundamental issue is this: there is a business model that works for publishers, but it requires a dramatic shift in mindset and the long hard slog of building a business. That means understanding what customers want, building a product that appeals to them, reaching them, moving them down a sales funnel, and retaining them. What it does not mean is the suffocating sense of entitlement and delusion that underlies not just this proposal but the majority of commentary from newspapers themselves that expects someone — anyone! — to give journalists money simply because they are important.”

GOVERNMENTS & MEDIA

China has been disrupting WhatsApp services, making it impossible for users to send videos and photos. It’s a bit of a surprise given WeChat’s near domination of chat services in the country. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Google and Gmail are all blocked in China.

…Authorities also scrubbed mentions of Liu Xiaobo’s death from the Chinese internet. Yet people found creative ways to honor the country’s most prominent political prisoner.

…And China purged references of Winnie the Pooh – simply because it looks a little too similar to Xi Jinping.

Notice any similarities? Credit: AFP/Weibo

The EU’s top court will decide whether the region’s “right to be forgotten” policy applies to countries outside its borders. This will be a major test of just how far national laws can go in regulating internet companies. Google is worried that this could make it possible for autocrats to censor search results globally.

Telegram is putting together a team of moderators who are familiar with Indonesian culture and language so it can remove terrorist-related content on the chat app faster. Indonesia has threatened to block Telegram if it doesn’t do anything to curb unlawful content. It says Telegram is being used to recruit militants.

DANCING WITH THE GIANTS

Google launched a friend-less news feed. And it’s awesome. Instead of showing you what your friends are doing, it’ll keep you up-to-date on the things you’re interested in. It’s a smart evolution of Google Now and you’ll find it in the Google app for iOS and Android.

Facebook has a new analytics tool that shows publishers how well their stories are doing on Instant Articles compared to their own mobile pages. The company wants to win back publishers who say Instant Articles aren’t providing the monetisation capabilities they were promised.

…So to appease publishers further, Facebook says it will launch a subscription product. It will be built into Instant Articles.

This interview with Rappler’s Maria Ressa shows the difficult dance between news publishers and Facebook. It’s the kind that makes you wonder: Does Facebook need publishers?

…If anything, it’s clear that publishers need Facebook. Data shows that publishers are spending more money to promote their content on the platform.

Amazon Video Direct launched last year. It lets video publishers distribute individual shows or even entire seasons to Prime users. Here’s the interesting part: One publisher says it’s made 4x the revenue it got from YouTube ad sales. Another example of how Amazon is finding its own way to work with publishers.

As publishers shift increasingly into platforms, they’re starting to lose brand recognition. A survey found that people who get their news from social or search can’t seem to remember the outlet that published it. (Also helps explain how “fake” news spreads as quickly as it does.)

TRANSFORMATIONS

Some publishers are trying a new way to boost revenue: Run fewer ads. They say users are more engaged when you strip out irritating ads. “We are leaving money on the table on an individual visit basis but, overall, being thoughtful about things like this we think is a material driver of the growth of our brands.”

Reuters redesigned its website as part of a major overhaul. It’s starting with the article pages which now load in under a second.

…Bloomberg sped up its pages by shifting to the HTTP/2 protocol. This is how they did it.

Singapore Press Holdings will take over the operation of Business Insider’s Singapore and Malaysia editions. This is a good opportunity for SPH to grow its reach across a new segment. These sites were previously run by Rev Asia, which did a terrible job with layouts and the underlying tech. Well played, SPH.

…Btw, Business Insider CEO Henry Blodget talked a little about international licensing deals in this interview.

TOOLS

We all know how messy it can be to get everyone to collaborate on Trello, Slack and calendars — especially if you’re trying to get newsrooms to partner with each other. Someone’s trying to fix that with a dashboard for collaborators called Project Facet.

TRENDS

A website in Russia has started using a controversial facial recognition service to name and shame protesters. “Give up hope — we’ll find you, too!” We’re only just starting to scratch the surface of this stuff.

NOTABLES

The South China Morning Post retracted an investigative piece alleging links between a Singaporean investor and the Chinese president. It says the commentary headlined “How’s the Singaporean investor in the Peninsula’s holding company linked to Xi Jinping’s right-hand man?” includes multiple “unverifiable insinuations.”

San Miguel Corp’s billionaire president Ramon Ang will buy a majority stake in the parent company that publishes the Philippine Daily Inquirer. The paper has been heavily criticised by President Duterte for its coverage of his administration.

Here’s a twist: A journalist in Zimbabwe is creating fake news… to pay for “real” news. “There aren’t that many people interested in politics. I can earn a few hundred dollars a month from my news site, it performs so badly. But stuff about gay baboons, stuff about pastors saying they went to heaven, that goes viral.”

Russia is investigating fidget spinners. News reports say these are “zombifying.”

QUOTE OF THE WEEK

“No amount of security is worth the suffering of a mediocre life chained to a routine that has killed your dreams.”
— Maya Mendoza (via @janieoctia)

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