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Expand chart
Illustration: Caresse Haaser, Rebecca Zisser / Axios

Tech platforms have littered the media universe with crap — stolen ideas, pirated video, plagiarized text, manipulated content, and fake news. And efforts to protect and elevate quality original content have faltered in the digital era. 

Why it matters: While technology has made it easier for creators to find an audience and upend media hierarchies, it's also made it harder for owners of original content to get paid for their work. Just ask the news industry.

What's happening: A slew of new laws and market conditions are beginning to swing the pendulum the other way — albeit slightly — and return at least some power back to original content owners. 

  • In news, Google executives have warned that they will shut down Google News in Europe if policymakers there move forward with implementing a "link tax," a provision that would give publishers copyright over content that is shared online via platforms like YouTube or Facebook, per The Guardian.
  • In music, Taylor Swift announced last month that as a part of her new contract with Universal Music Group, she negotiated a provision that would help fellow artists get a cut of Spotify shares owned by UMG, if they were to ever sell them. The move comes just months after Congress passed a hallmark law that will also help music creators and record owners get paid.
  • In video, AT&T discontinued internet service to customers who have repeatedly violated the company's piracy policies, signaling that telecom companies are taking video piracy more seriously as they get into the original content business themselves.
  • In streaming, many new subscription video players are in a bitter fight over who can afford to create the most original content and buy up the most popular franchises. This is considered great for production studios, but terrible for TV networks who can't afford to pay up.

Yes, but: These efforts are minuscule when you consider the importance of scale to dominant digital distributors. 

  • Digital media businesses that are struggling to meet revenue goals are waving white flags at TV companies. Meanwhile, TV companies are lining up to get bought by telecom business.
  • Facebook and Google are expected to take roughly 75 cents of every dollar spent in digital advertising this year, despite months of scandals, congressional hearings and employee revolts.
  • Most major distributors still feel the need to fight for scale, which means that for every good piece of content they produce, many more pieces of less quality content (especially for TV) is also produced, as The Economist explains. The amount of new programming can be overwhelming for consumers.
Expand chart
Reproduced from an FX Networks Research report; Chart: Axios Visuals

The bigger picture: Disputes over the value of good content — and the definition of good content — are becoming more prevalent and complicated in the digital era. 

  • In the case of TV, market value has played a key role in negotiations over what prices telecom giants should pay TV networks for their content.
  • But years-long agreements around those rates have been tested as traditional TV declines, and a record number of carriage disagreements is leading to more TV blackouts than ever before. 

The bottom line: Despite some shifting forces, market dynamics still make it difficult for good content to consistently thrive online.

Go deeper

Trump can't quit mainstream media

Bob Woodward and Robert Costa are interviewed by Chuck Todd on "Meet the Press" in September. Photo: William B. Plowman/NBC via Getty Images

Bob Woodward and Robert Costa issued a rebuttal on Friday to a statement by former President Donald Trump that misrepresented their reporting — and once again showed the 45th president's thin skin about mainstream media.

Driving the news: "Former President Trump said ... our book, 'Peril,' implied that he was planning to go to war with China," the statement begins. "[W]e report that Chairman of Joint Chiefs Mark Milley 'believed that Trump did not want a war' before or after the 2020 election."

NY declares state of emergency amid concerns over Omicron COVID variant

Governor Kathy Hochul makes an announcement about a new plan transforming Penn Station on Nov. 3, 2021. Photo: Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul on Friday declared a state of emergency amid rising COVID-19 cases and the newly-identified Omicron variant of the virus.

Driving the news: The declaration enables the state to acquire supplies to fight a potential surge in cases, increase hospital capacity and combat potential staff shortages, NBC's local affiliate reports.

4 hours ago - Health

First cases of COVID-19 Omicron variant discovered in U.K.

People wearing masks walk in London on Nov. 25. Photo: Li Ying/Xinhua via Getty Images

Two cases of the new COVID-19 Omicron variant were detected in the United Kingdom overnight, the U.K. Health Security Agency announced Saturday.

Why it matters: The discovery comes as the world scrambles to respond to concerns over the new variant, discovered in South Africa earlier this week.