Reuter's Institute annual survey: Media leaders are anxious about referral traffic and AI, leaning into reader revenue

AI Round-up: Fox develops blockchain content tracking tool, OpenAI responds to the NYTimes' lawsuit

Nic Newman at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism has released his annual trends and predictions report based on interviews with 300 media leaders from more than 50 countries and territories around the world.

  • Less than half of the leaders - editors, CEOs and digital executives - (47%) say they are confident about journalism’s prospects this year, and 12% say that they have low confidence.

  • Chartbeat shows that traffic is down from Facebook by 48% to news sites, and two-thirds of the leaders said that they are concerned about this sharp decline.

  • More than that, there are concerns that search-generative experiences and AI chatbots pose additional threats to traffic to news sites.

  • While 2023 ended with Axel Springer striking a big deal with OpenAI, half of those surveyed thought that little money would come from AI companies for licencing. And almost a third thought the major cash would go to big players (like Springer).

  • A majority (56%) of publishers were looking to leverage AI for back-end news automation. The other applications for AI include better recommendations (37%) and commercial uses (28%).

  • More publishers will stop the presses this year.

Some leaders believe that they can or must build direct relationships with their audiences to break their dependency on the platforms. Much of this isn’t new, but Nic has quantified the level of anxiety amongst media leaders. And while some publishers feel so stung by the loss of referrals that they are questioning their past reliance on platforms, other publishers are looking for new platforms including TikTok and WhatsApp to reach audiences. I think that there is a middle ground in which platforms are understood as ways to raise awareness of your brand but that they are understood as a part of a larger conversion process to a range of conversion goals including newsletter signups, registration and subscription.

Reading this, I have concerns. Publishers are looking to create more video, more newsletters and more podcasts. Much of this feels like publishers are going back to the well, turning to traffic-driving formats as the traffic from search and social dries up.

Advertising was soft in 2023, and 80% of those surveyed will continue to invest in subscriptions and membership, more than either traditional display or native advertising. The survey also hinted that subscription growth is slowing.

It sounds like another year of upheaval in journalism. A year full of elections will drive traffic, but it’s unclear if that traffic will translate into more revenue or more trust.

The first story below is Nic’s write-up about the report, and the following are two summaries.

Building on the responses from the survey, big publishers and broadcasters will seek leverage to strike deals with AI firms. Exhibit A is Fox trying to use blockchain to help media companies keep track of how their content is being used. The system is designed to empower media companies to manage how LLMs use their content.

Here is OpenAI’s response to the New York Times’ lawsuit. It sounds conciliatory, and the company says that it wants to strike a deal with the Times and other media companies. However, they also accuse the Times of manipulating its system to create the ‘regurgitation’ that the newspaper cited in its suit, and they say that they are working to eliminate the LLM regurgitating aka copying/plagiarising content.

OpenAI launches a store to make it easier to create custom AI chatbots.