It’s a trend that is highly unlikely to happen in the US due to its ubiquitous privatization of, well, everything. However in good old Europe, where control of the media is often under the hood of governmental institutions such as the BBC in the UK, or ARD in Germany, on the one hand, and in the hands of private media companies on the other, problems can arise.
More recently this has happened to a highly respected and, in German speaking countries, well known property called “Futurezone“, which is operated by the Austrian Broadcasting cooperation (ORF) – an institution comparable to the BBC. A few months ago the Austrian parliament passed a law that limits revenue generation from online properties that derive from ORFs online activities. Futurezone has not only been a cash cow, but is also a highly respected media outlet covering a wide range of tech topics from Startup stories to privacy and overall web trends.
The law that was eventually passed made the ORF sell off the assets of Futurezone. A step that has generated quite a buzz in GSA’s online media scene, since there is a long list of established media companies that are interested in purchasing the property. We have no confirmation on the valuation of that specific property, but it’s likely to be somewhere in the 6-digit area. So why did this actually happen?
It’s the money of course.
Parliament-friendly publishers pushed hard to have the rights of public outlets, such as Futurezone, limited. Since they are, at least to a certain extent, being financed by tax money, publishers (understandably) saw their position as opinion leaders in danger. Especially when it comes to a tech outlet. The ORF is operating a plethora of online branches ranging from weather to localized news, yet Futurezone is the only one that’s going to be killed. Mostly due to the nature of higher CPMs and better monetization ways in tech-oriented properties, in comparison to other channels like the ones mentioned above.
A similar case occurred months ago in Germany, where a new law had been passed that interdicts Germany’s public broadcasting stations ZDF and ARD to generate revenue from any sort of online games or the likes. In contrast to Germany’s ZDF/ARD consortium, the ORF has to at least make up 50% of its operational costs from revenue – thus a countrywide online behemoth such as Futurezone is vital. Absurdly the new law also bans the ORF from linking to external social networks such as Facebook and Twitter, which nicely depicts how incoherent and inconsiderate the newly added paragraphs are.
Public online outlets are a valuable, relevant and, most-importantly, a non-biased source of qualitative content. Having tax payers money in the bank allows journalists to act more freely and, arguably, stay away from shady press releases. A circumstance on which certain private media companies often rely on, in contrast.
These are just two examples of the way large private media companies are trying to kill public online services in favor of a more monopolized situation and greater revenues. A development that is surely happening in other countries in Europe as well.