Facebook to pay UK news publishers for content on a dedicated news tab

A number of mainstream British newspaper groups have already joined the feature, under which their articles will appear in a dedicated news section on the site. PHOTO: REUTERS

Tech giant Facebook will pay British news outlets millions of pounds a year for content as it readies to launch a dedicated news tab on its UK platform in January.

The announcement by Facebook on Monday (Nov 30) comes as the social network company faces the threat of a government crackdown over its dominance in online advertising, reported The Guardian.

The Facebook News feature, which was launched in the United States last year, will "pay publishers for content that is not already on the platform and help publishers reach new audiences and bring more advertising and subscription opportunities", said Facebook's director of News Partnerships, Mr Jesper Doub.

A number of mainstream British newspaper groups have already joined the feature, under which their articles will appear in a dedicated news section on the site.

The publishers include those that produce The Economist, The Guardian, The Independent and The London Evening Standard, among others.

"We expect many more partners to join prior to launch," said Mr Doub.

News is typically consumed on Facebook through links shared on one's newsfeed, but the new dedicated news tab will involve employees of the social network selecting what they consider to be the main stories of the day from mainstream outlets, said The Guardian.

In return, publishers are being promised substantial cash sums and the promise of new readers.

The new feature comes after years of tension between tech giants like Facebook and Google over calls by news publishers in various countries for payment of content used on the online platforms.

The move by Facebook follows a pledge by Google in October to spend US$1 billion (S$1.3 billion) paying publishers for content over the next three years via a new platform called Google News Showcase.

The Guardian reported that Facebook declined to comment on the amount of money it is putting into the new scheme, but some publishers are privately expecting to make millions of pounds a year from the multi-year deals they have signed with the social network.

As a result, news industry sources estimated that the total annual bill for Facebook is likely to run into the tens of millions in the UK alone, making a difference to the finances of struggling news outlets.

"It's an extremely large investment and it's something we've done over multiple years," said Ms Sarah Brown, Facebook's head of news partnerships in northern Europe.

She said the curators would prioritise checks and balances associated with original reporting when choosing which stories to highlight: "Is it deeply sourced reporting, is it timely, is it offering an interesting angle, is it well sourced?"

Following the launch of Facebook News in the US, figures have shown that 95 per cent of the traffic to the news publishers through the tab are new readers who "have not interacted with those news outlets in the past", said the company.

Mr Doub said Facebook is in "active negotiations" to bring the news feature to France and Germany and will "continue to work with publishers in countries where market conditions and regulatory environments invite this kind of investment and innovation".

Earlier this week, British authorities announced a new tech regulator called the Digital Markets Unit, which will govern the commercial relationships between news publishers and tech giants to ensure fair terms especially in the area of online advertising.

In June, Facebook rejected a proposal by Australian authorities to share advertising revenue with news publishers, adding that it could cut out news completely without any significant impact on its business.

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