What UK publishers can learn from Portugal in the fight against Google and Facebook

Portugal's top six media owners are putting their differences aside to take on the dominance of Google and Facebook.

Imagine a world where egos have been replaced by economic pragmatism, where media owners properly collaborated to provide a real viable alternative to a suffocating duopoly.

Well, this world does exist. It’s in Portugal.

Not many people will have heard of Project Nonio, the name for Portugal’s fightback against the Google and Facebook duopoly and their near 70% market share. 

The country’s six biggest media owners (with 85% market reach) have put their considerable differences aside and agreed to pool online user data.

This summer, the companies plan to start asking users to log in to one of their multiple websites who’ll then be recognised across the hundreds of sites owned by the media companies, including magazine and news brands, as well as TV and radio on-demand services. Once signed up, the publishers can collect device, behavioural and purchasing data, and semantic and contextual website data in a separate DMP. 

The country’s six biggest media owners (with 85% market reach) have put their considerable differences aside and agreed to pool online user data.

The project will then involve media agencies and advertisers guiding how it segments audiences. The benefit for publishers is they get access to a much larger pool of anonymous, aggregated data segments to inform ad campaigns, eventually boosting ad rates.

What lessons can the UK take?

1. Drastic times require drastic measures. If 70%-80% of all new digital ad revenue is going to just two players then something drastic is clearly needed. The old adage of your enemy’s enemy is your friend springs to mind.

2. Drop the commercial short-termism. To build any credible alternative for advertisers (and, ultimately consumers) the big boys need to think outside their own box to properly compete – arguably they can be braver by adopting a powerful long-term vision rather than just focussing on the short-term commercials.  Easier said than done but why not dream big? Refer to point one.

3. Collaboration across media. Vanilla Ice hasn’t offered much to the UK media industry but when he told us to "stop, collaborate and listen" it was worthy advice.

But could it happen here?

The UK is a bigger and more complicated market but the very fact this is happening at all offers an intriguing look at the alternative business models being tested. Pooling such resources and data is dependent on unique collaboration which this market has solid form on.

In the UK, it is already very much a reality albeit it at a smaller scale of ambition to Portugal. There’s Sky’s AdSmart product involving Sky, C5 and Viacom. We have DAX, Europe’s largest programmatic audio network, including 180 digital audio platforms including Soundcloud, audioBoom, Global’s Capital, Radio X and Bauer Media’s Kiss.

Spearheaded by the Guardian, there’s also the Pangea Alliance across premium news publishers including CNN, Financial Times and Reuters. Only last week, Trinity Mirror revealed it had shared its first party data for use across rival publishers, such as The Telegraph and YouTube, to the benefit of its own client Nestlé. Progress is also being made across the inherently tribal out-of-home industry.

These are all great examples of smaller, siloed collaborations but the real seismic shift would be if UK media came together as one to offer a premium, data mega-exchange to take on the duopoly.

The optimist in me says yes it could work here but the realist says it’s unlikely for a long time. The struggles around a joint press pool to offer advertisers is the latest example of a lack of desire to put aside commercial differences for a bigger gain.

Should it happen here?

It’s often the case that smaller, less sophisticated countries can be more creative in their market solutions but why shouldn’t it be considered? The Germans can do it with their publishers. The Swedes can do it with ad blocking.

It does open up an intriguing alternative and a bigger consideration play to those media owners struggling and/or wanting to retain their own data rather than giving it away for free like so many do today.

Imagine a credible alternative that championed premium, quality content and retained the data and commercial interests of leading UK media owners who support a valuable, creative ecosystem currently under threat.

It would be a brave, bold play – not without risk but it may just offer a glimpse of what many in the industry need to survive.

Craig Tuck is the managing director at RadiumOne UK.

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