The Week Kickoff: Google, Facebook, and Twitter walk into The Bar…

It’s hard to believe that we’re already a quarter of the way into 2021, and yet here we are! This week we’ve got books on the up, computer chips on the down, and National Geographic on the power of podcasts. Meanwhile on Friday, it was three must-tech tears time as Google, Facebook, and Twitter all faced questions on Capitol Hill. It’s all here, and it’s all been sliced and diced into bitesize pieces, so grab your coffee and join us as we kick off another week in media…

Harry Potter publisher upgrades profit forecast for second time this year

Bloomsbury Publishing said last week that revenue is expected to be ahead – and profit significantly ahead – of upgraded market expectations for the year ending 28 February 2021. The statement says that the publisher is on course to surpass even the guidance provided in its January statement, in which things were already looking rosy.

“The popularity of reading during lockdown is a ray of sunshine in an otherwise very dark last year,” said Nigel Newton, the Company’s Chief Executive. “February, the final month of our financial year, saw an exceptional sales performance for Bloomsbury as the surge in reading continued. We do not yet know how consumer behaviour will change as academic institutions, shops and leisure activities re-open and whether this popularity will continue as restrictions are lifted. We are confident though, in the underlying strength of our business, the quality of our titles and content and our long-term strategy.”

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But the chips are down for digital

While print media is on the up, digital is looking over its shoulder, as the UK’s Guardian newspaper reports that the global shortage in semiconductors is reaching crisis point. We looked at this issue at the beginning of the month, when even by that point President Joe Biden had stepped in to sign an executive order aimed at strengthening semiconductor supply chains. It seems that demand is fuelling the shortage, but production levels are once again returning to normal as the world begins to recover from Covid-19, so fingers crossed for a swift return for supply chains 🤞

And speaking of Joe Biden, the President gave his first press conference on Thursday since taking up the role two months ago, having been focussed on fighting the coronavirus pandemic during that time. Entering with a binder full of talking points and leaving with mixed reviews, the President of course answered questions on a range of topics, and where better to get your summary of the event than here on CNN.   

Nat Geo on the power of podcasts

The second session of the FIPP and VDZ Digital Innovators Summit (DIS) took place last week, and comprised of a masterclass in creating compelling audio content from the National Geographic’s Amy Briggs, Executive Editor of National Geographic History magazine and Co-Host of the company’s Overheard podcast:

“Covid-19 is a huge part of the why podcasts have done well because people were isolated and when you listen to hosts interacting with each other, it feels less lonely,” said Briggs. “You feel that you are with friends and listening to them. You feel that there are people out there you are connecting with even though you don’t speak directly to them. Listeners also find connections with other people who like whatever the subject of the podcast is. They form all these independent Facebook groups and meet-ups so it spawns a community.”

You can read the article in full here.

The Three Must-Tech Tears on Capitol Hill

For those who like long sagas, the regulation adventure continued on Friday as Google, Facebook and Twitter all faced questions from Congress on their management of misinformation. The politicians pulled no punches in the snappily titled ‘Disinformation Nation: Social Media’s Role in Promoting Extremism and Misinformation’ session, grilling the tech leaders on issues surrounding politics, anti-vax content, and mental health.

At the heart of the media tech regulation issue lies Section 230, a piece of US internet legislation that provides immunity for website platforms from third-party content. We’ve written many times recently about the growing cries for social media sites to be regulated in the same way that traditional publishers are, in taking ownership of the content that appears on their pages. Whether or not this happens remains to be seen, but the wider debate around media tech regulation finally appears to be crystalising around more tangible matters. In his preprepared statement, Mark Zuckerberg at least appeared to show some appetite for change:

“One area that I hope Congress will take on is thoughtful reform of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. Over the past quarter-century, Section 230 has created the conditions for the Internet to thrive, for platforms to empower billions of people to express themselves online, and for the United States to become a global leader in innovation. The principles of Section 230 are as relevant today as they were in 1996, but the Internet has changed dramatically. I believe that Section 230 would benefit from thoughtful changes to make it work better for people, but identifying a way forward is challenging given the chorus of people arguing – sometimes for contradictory reasons – that the law is doing more harm than good.”

And interestingly also…

Across the pond last week, 56 year old UK publication Press Gazette published a statement on its own pages drawing attention to its changing strapline. Shifting from ‘Fighting for Journalism’ to ‘The Future of Media’, Editor-in-Chief Dominic Ponsford wrote:

“Whereas in years past Press Gazette covered every cough and spit of the day-to-day goings-on in British journalism, today we are more selective about on-the-day news focusing more on the big themes which are shaping the future of media not just in the UK but around the world. A big part of that is analysing and understanding the relationship between platforms and publishers.”

“Today Samsung is a bigger distributor of news than WH Smith and the two biggest news companies in the UK (and around the world), Google and Facebook, don’t employ a single reporter. We think investigating and holding global tech companies to account, and explaining how content creators can make the best use of them, is an important part of our mission.”

Clearly the US Capitol is not alone in recognising the increasingly disintegrating line between media and tech!

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