Aug 23, 2019

News aggregation apps take on Big Tech

Illustration: Aida Amer/Axios

Several companies and investors around the globe are pouring billions of dollars into a new wave of news aggregation apps that they hope will steer news traffic away from tech giants like Google and Facebook.

Why it matters: The dominance of a handful of tech companies over the entire news and information landscape is worrying policymakers around the world.

Yes, but: Policymakers all have different reasons to be concerned. Some U.S. leaders, like President Trump and Congressional Republicans, claim that tech giants are biased against conservatives. Others, like competition regulators in Europe, worry that their dominance undermines credible news outlets.

Driving the news: News Corp, the news holding company founded by conservative news business mogul Rupert Murdoch, is developing a news aggregation service called Knewz.

  • The website and a mobile app is meant to address concerns that "Google News and other digital platforms don’t reward publishers’ work adequately and play down articles from certain types of sites," sources tell The Wall Street Journal, which is owned by News Corp.
  • "Knewz" will aggregate news from hundreds of news sources, including big national outlets as well as small digital operations and outlets across the political spectrum.
  • Unlike some of the bigger tech companies that refer lots of news traffic, the service will aim to share data with publishers and let them keep all of the ad revenue, while also promoting articles with original reporting, the Journal reports.

By the numbers: In the United States, Google Search and Facebook still collectively drive over 70% of referral traffic, according to traffic analytics company Parse.ly.

  • Facebook's percentage of referral traffic dramatically decreased beginning in late 2017, shortly before the company announced that it would be changing its algorithms to deprioritize posts from news outlets.
  • Since then, other U.S. news aggregator businesses, like Apple News and Flipboard, have seen traffic referral increases. Some heavily-trafficked websites also continue to refer significant volumes of traffic, like Drudge Report and Reddit.

Be smart: Big tech companies are increasingly under pressure to work more collaboratively with news publishers and journalists to ensure that their algorithms and products promote more trustworthy and fact-based reporting.

  • Facebook told Axios' Mike Allen on Tuesday that it's hiring seasoned journalists to help curate a forthcoming News Tab that they hope will change how millions get news.

The big picture: Around the world, news aggregation as a business is exploding. As Axios has previously reported:

  • China: Toutiao, which is owned by TikTok's parent company ByteDance, raised $2 billion in funds at an over $20 billion valuation in 2017. Qutoutiao, the 3-year-old news and video aggregation startup backed by Tencent, received a $171 million convertible loan from Chinese tech behemoth Alibaba.
  • Japan: SmartNews, the Japanese news discovery app that has amassed 20 million global monthly active users, raised $28 million in its latest funding round, bringing the company's valuation to $1.1 billion last month.
  • India: DailyHunt, NewsPoint and others have also gained traction in recent years in India. DailyHunt has raised $98 million to date. InShorts, a news app that provides 60-word summaries of top stories, has raised $29 million to date.
  • Europe: Axel Springer's news aggregation app Upday is now profitable and gearing up to scale further and drive more revenue, Digiday reports. The app has 25 million users, in part due to its pre-install partnership with Samsung.

What to watch: Some global aggregators, like Toutiao and SmartNews, are beginning to dramatically increase their traffic referral footprints in the U.S., according to Parse.ly.

Our thought bubble: There will always be room for plenty of players in the aggregation game, but so far there's little reason to think that anyone can seriously challenge the tech platforms' dominance. Aggregation is what made them big in the first place.

Go deeper

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 3 a.m. ET: 5,410,228 — Total deaths: 345,105 — Total recoveries — 2,169,005Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 3 a.m. ET: 1,643,499 — Total deaths: 97,722 — Total recoveries: 366,736 — Total tested: 14,163,915Map.
  3. World: White House announces travel restrictions on Brazil, coronavirus hotspot in Southern Hemisphere Over 100 coronavirus cases in Germany tied to single day of church services — Boris Johnson backs top aide amid reports that he broke U.K. lockdown while exhibiting symptoms.
  4. Public health: Officials are urging Americans to wear masks headed into Memorial Day weekend Report finds "little evidence" coronavirus under control in most statesHurricanes, wildfires, the flu could strain COVID-19 response
  5. Economy: White House economic adviser Kevin Hassett says it's possible the unemployment rate could still be in double digits by November's election — Public employees brace for layoffs.
  6. Federal government: Trump attacks a Columbia University study that suggests earlier lockdown could have saved 36,000 American lives.
  7. What should I do? Hydroxychloroquine questions answeredTraveling, asthma, dishes, disinfectants and being contagiousMasks, lending books and self-isolatingExercise, laundry, what counts as soap — Pets, moving and personal healthAnswers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingHow to minimize your risk.
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Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

U.S. coronavirus updates

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios. This graphic includes "probable deaths" that New York City began reporting on April 14.

The CDC is warning of potentially "aggressive rodent behavior" amid a rise in reports of rat activity in several areas, as the animals search further for food while Americans stay home more during the coronavirus pandemic.

By the numbers: More than 97,700 people have died from COVID-19 and over 1.6 million have tested positive in the U.S. Over 366,700 Americans have recovered and more than 14.1 million tests have been conducted.

World coronavirus updates

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Axios Visuals

Japan's economy minister outlined plans on Monday to end the nationwide state of emergency as the number of new novel coronavirus cases continues to decline to fewer than 50 a day, per Bloomberg. Japan has reported 16,550 cases and 820 deaths.

By the numbers: Over 5.4 million people have tested positive for the virus as of Monday, and more than 2.1 million have recovered. The U.S. has reported the most cases in the world (over 1.6 million from 13.7 million tests). The U.K. is reporting over 36,800 deaths from the coronavirus — the most fatalities outside the U.S.