Digital Innovation Digital Publishing
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“You can’t fight alone”: 10 top French publishers get behind a unified login system

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French media companies have formed an alliance to collaborate on a common tech platform that will allow users to access their websites through a unified login system, reports Digiday.

The yet unnamed alliance comprises 10 media companies across news publishing, radio, and broadcast. They include Le Figaro, Altice, Team, Lagardère Active, M6-RTL, Czech Media Invest France, Les Echos-Le Parisien, 20 Minutes, Le Point and Radio France. Together they reach around 80% of French internet users.

The participating companies have pooled resources and €5 million ($5.7 million) in funding to build an independent, common technology infrastructure that all the publishers in the alliance can use. By September, visitors would be able to login into the system with their email and password, and access around 100 media sites in France.

“We need a link with the reader”

The move is also intended to combat potential damages from the proposed changes in European ePrivacy law. If enacted, they would block any business from being able to use cookies without explicit consumer consent. This would severely hamper publishers’ ability to make money from advertising.

A 2018 report from VDZ, the Association of German Magazine Publishers estimated that the German media would lose over €300 million ($372 million) in annual ad sales if the proposed version of the ePrivacy law was passed. Publishers in Germany and Portugal have already teamed up for unified login systems.

As a publisher, we need a link with the reader. Today, this is a tiny link through a cookie. Cookies are very imperfect and in danger.

Bertrand Gié, Deputy Director of the Le Figaro News Division

Many publishers do not want to use the login of Google, Facebook, and Amazon as identity systems. But on their own, they would not have the scale required to compete with them. A big alliance makes it easier for users as they just have to give consent once to access multiple sites. And all user data remains within the alliance.

However, historically such alliances have run into problems due to conflicts of interest and incompatible data and systems. QuadrantOne, a joint programmatic alliance between The New York Times, Tribune Company, Hearst and Gannett formed in 2008, was shut down in 2013 after disagreements over how much the partner companies would invest in the project.

To avoid bottlenecks, the French alliance is only collecting email addresses because collecting and sharing more personal data could add complexity and prolong discussions between members. The participating publishers can, however, collect data on their own for creating personalized services like setting up alerts, and ads for their audience. The details about how they can do that have not been shared yet.

“A clearly defined, shared objective”

According to Vincent Flood, Editor/Managing Director at London-based Video Ad News (VAN), a leading publication for video, connected TV and TV advertising, “Having a clearly defined, shared objective is a good start, but things can still fall apart if there is no agreement on how to get there. The zeal with which publishers unite to overcome a problem can quickly dissipate when disagreements arise over the nature of the alliance.”

“Key to this is making sure that the cooperative will be for the benefit of all players involved, which is particularly important in an environment where there might be a lack of trust between members.”  

Ellie Edwards-Scott, a London-based digital consultant who has advised publisher alliances in the UK says, “The highly competitive nature of the UK print market has complicated moves to deepen cooperation. If you’ve got an alliance of say, ten publishers of different sizes and with different motivations, if you’ve got committee-style voting, it can be difficult to get anything passed. Some of the alliances that have worked better have had independent bodies running them.”

She recommends creating a clearly defined leadership, preferably from an independent body whose only goal is to see the success of the alliance as a whole.

“You can’t fight alone”

Publishers do not just compete with other publishers today, as Hearst Chairman David Carey said earlier, “While much is made of company A competing with company B, we all realize that our modern competitive set is far and wide, and goes beyond traditional publishers. All of us compete for digital revenue with the entire world.”

And over 80% of that revenue goes to the tech giants. Many of the publishers that VAN spoke to were optimistic that there’ll be more publisher alliances in future. “I think publishers are realizing they have to be a little bit cleverer,” said Edwards-Scott. “If 84% of ad revenue is going to a couple of businesses, you can’t fight that alone.”