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ACCC to include focus on digital and programmatic advertising in media inquiry

The Australian Consumer and Competition Commission’s inquiry into Google and Facebook’s impact on Australian news and advertising will include a strong focus on the effects of programmatic and big data platforms, the regulator flagged in its issues paper released this morning.

Announced by the Federal government in December, the inquiry came after the Senate passed the media reforms package which were partly justified on the basis Australian media companies lacked the scale to compete with the global tech advertising platforms.

Sims: Considering the longer term impacts of digital platforms

In its announcement this morning, the ACCC opened public comments on the issues paper saying it is “looking forward to hearing the views of consumers, media organisations, digital platforms, advertising agencies and advertisers.”

“Digital platforms like Google and Facebook are part of the sweeping technological and cultural changes overhauling the media landscape in Australia and globally,” ACCC chairman Rod Sims said in the announcement.

“Considering the longer term impacts of digital platforms and the ability of traditional media to remain financially viable will also be key to understanding the media and advertising markets.”

Some of the questions Sim’s inquiry is asking of the advertising industry include the impacts of digital platforms on the sector, how the players are affecting competition and what effects technology companies’ control of user data has on marketers.

The issues paper identified how the supply of digital advertising services as online ad spend went from 15% of the local market in 2009 to 48% in 2016 according to the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA).

The Inquiry will also explore the impact of digital platforms on competition in the supply of advertising services. Compared to traditional advertising channels (e.g. newspaper, TV, radio), digital platforms provide advertisers with significant reach and greater precision in targeting consumers with particular interests or purchasing patterns. Advertising has consequently become much more efficient. However, there are currently only a few platforms with the scale and data access to offer such services. A key issue for competition in the supply of advertising services is the alternatives available to advertisers. These alternatives depend on the type of advertising (e.g. classified, display), the target audiences and the ability to target particular consumer groups.

For the news industry, some of the inquiry’s questions include, how to assess and measure the market power of digital platforms, the implications for media content creators and the longer term trends for the industries.

Concerns flagged in the issues paper include reduced funding for journalistic content, digital platforms’ use of big data technologies along with the competition, privacy and consent and the impact of algorithms on news diversity.

Notably, the ACCC flagged it was looking at the relevance of media content for Australians.

The Inquiry will examine the supply of news and journalistic content to consumers in Australia. This means that the Inquiry will focus on the news and journalistic content that is likely of most interest to Australian consumers, such as reporting and analysis of current events relating to Australia or where a particular Australian perspective is provided. While this focus does not limit the Inquiry to Australian news and journalistic content, it does mean the Inquiry will pay particular attention to Australian news content or perspectives produced by Australian and international publishers and broadcasters.

The ACCC is seeking submissions in response to its issues paper by 3 April with a preliminary report due to the Treasurer by 3 December ahead of the final report being submitted before 3 June 2019.

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