The media industry is getting too comfortable with losing the battle of developing new digital tools and platforms. Companies that used to be driving forces in internet publishing are now quietly accepting that new tech infrastructure has to come from Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon.
This is not good. Journalists and media companies should be actively engaged in the development of the technical platforms that we rely on for distribution since these have very concrete consequences for how the public takes part in and understands journalism.
Many of the issues media companies now have are more related to platform and distribution than the content itself. For example, media company digital services do not possess the ability to give our content a universal verification and so they are unable to deal with the trust problems the industry faces.
Journalistic web services also have problems in updating and storing user states and thus have difficulties with personalisation and interaction. This has to do with another problem, user identity. Some media companies have created their own login systems, but these usually have very low penetration levels while others are using third party logins, mainly Facebook and Google, and thus actually bolstering the competition.
This leads to the most acute problem media companies face: destination site or platform-distributed strategy? The former choice is not good for generating growth, while the latter involves giving up control of distribution and user data.
Finally, the news media industry is also having trouble getting enough revenue from our digital services. This problem is partly caused by the strong position intermediaries occupy in present online payment systems.
The best alternative would be a genuinely decentralized distribution system, where the platform ownership and control would not be in the hands of one or a few dominant companies. It would also allow the users to own and control their own data that would then open many possibilities for meaningful interactivity, trusted transactions and viable micropayments.
Therefore, what the media industry really needs is an ecosystem to create the decentralized service environment. Such an ecosystem – called Web 3.0 by some – might be currently evolving around the distributed ledger technologies like blockchain. Considering how deeply entrenched media companies are in digital technology it is surprising to notice that – apart from a few startups such as Civil and Poet – our industry is heavily underrepresented in the blockchain ecosystem.
This should be changed fast since blockchain might be able to solve many of the problems listed earlier and development and standardization tend to produce solutions for those engaged in the process. To be able to do that, the media industry should become much more aware about what is happening in the blockchain and Web 3.0 space.
Increased awareness about blockchain and the possibilities that for example smart contracts offer is the main goal for my project at LSE Polis. As a managing editor at Finland’s public service media company Yle my perspective will be slightly different from say a startup’s: I want to understand how traditional media companies, public and commercial, could benefit from blockchain and communicate this insight to media professionals not familiar with blockchain.
I will be at the LSE for four weeks in October gathering information and meeting people in the blockchain ecosystem. Should I talk to you? Or someone you know? You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article is by Mattias Erkkilä, a managing editor at Svenska Yle, part of Finland’s public service broadcaster Yle, who will be a visiting research fellow at Polis, LSE this October.