Australians suffering through anxiety caused by the looming threat of having to switch to Bing for their search results received a bit of welcome news on Friday. As the country’s lawmakers move forward on plans to force Google to pay news providers, the tech giant has launched a small paid news platform in Australia.
For months, authorities in the land down under have pushed for Facebook and Google to cooperate in the drafting of legislation that would charge those mega-platforms a fee for news that appears in social feeds or search results. And the companies have done everything they can to explain why they don’t like that plan. (TLDR: It’s hard and expensive.) Facebook threatened to pull news from its network in Australia, and Google threatened to block searches in the country altogether. But on Thursday, Google showed signs of concession as it announced the launch of News Showcase for Australian users.
According to the company’s statement, seven domestic publications have reached a deal with Google to provide news content for an undisclosed fee to be included in the news program. The outlets include The Canberra Times, The Illawarra Mercury, The Saturday Paper, Crikey, The New Daily, InDaily, and The Conversation. The News Showcase is part of a $1 billion program Google launched in 2020 that’s designed to support news publishers. In October, Google said it was pausing a planned Australian launch while it engaged in negotiations with lawmakers, but the company has apparently changed its mind.
In a blog post, Google said that its partners’ content will appear inside panels in various locations within its products. Here’s how it works:
The panels will appear across Google News on Android, iOS and the mobile web, and in Discover on iOS, bringing high-value traffic to a publisher’s site. We also plan to bring News Showcase to Search as well as the other surfaces of Google News and Discover in the future. Each article linked in a News Showcase panel takes the reader directly to the corresponding page on a publisher’s site, allowing publishers to further grow their business by showing users ads and subscription opportunities.
The launch of the news product coincides with the beginning of a parliamentary inquiry to review the draft legislation, according to Reuters. In its current state, the law aims to create bargaining terms between media outlets and tech platforms to negotiate reasonable fees. In the event that mutually agreeable terms can’t be settled on, a government panel would set the price of fees.
On Thursday, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters that he had a “constructive meeting” with Sundar Pichai, CEO of Alphabet and Google, but Morrison didn’t seem to be backing down. “At the end of the day, they understand that Australia sets the rules for how these things operate,” the prime minister said. “And I was very clear about how I saw this playing out.”
It’s unclear how the News Showcase is being received by media companies in Australia, but a spokesperson for one of the country’s biggest news organizations, Nine, told the Guardian that the program is just another example of monopolistic practices. “It has to be all on their terms and that is not an approach we will participate in, we support the legislation the government is proposing as the best way to secure a fair payment for our content,” the spokesperson said.