The Competition Commission yesterday began a 15-month probe into how Google, TikTok, YouTube, X and other video-sharing sites and social media platforms are affecting the health of SA's news media.

The commission will consider whether digital platforms distort or restrict competition in a media landscape that is already struggling from falling advertising and the lingering impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Fin24 reports that the inquiry will investigate whether there is an ‘imbalance in bargaining power’ between digital platforms and the news groups that rely on them for referral traffic.

It will look at how advertising revenue is shared, how search algorithms and rankings impact news stories, and whether digital platforms are helping or hindering a diversity of voices. 

The panel is also set to investigate how the new field of generative artificial intelligence could impact the newsroom.

BusinessTech reports that the inquiry stems from concerns that there may exist market features in digital platforms that distribute news media content, and associated markets, that might restrict, distort, or impede competition, with potential adverse effects on the media sector.

It intends to address imbalances between digital platforms like Google, Facebook, TikTok, YouTube and others and news media.

It is also roping in newer technologies like ChatGPT and other language models that draw from this content.

Inter alia, the terms of reference address:

* Digital platforms have grown significantly over the years, and the transition to digital news has seen advertising revenues in the media space decline significantly.

* Media organisations face prohibitively high costs to compete in the digital space and now compete with digital platforms while also being heavily dependent on them to drive traffic.

‘The inquiry comes at a critical moment for the media industry as news consumption rapidly shifts online and traditional sources of funding to print and broadcasting advertising decline,’ the commission said.

BusinessTech reports that the inquiry will primarily concentrate on key digital platforms, including search engines, social media sites, video-sharing platforms, and news aggregation platforms, as well as Adtech market participants on the supply and demand sides, and Ad exchanges.

The inquiry will be led by James Hodge, acting deputy commissioner of the commission, with veteran media practitioner Paula Fray serving as a panel member.

The commission's investigation will start with a call for written submissions from digital platforms, media outlets, and advertisers. Public hearings will take place in March next year.

By the end of June, the inquiry hopes to release its preliminary findings.

Its final report is expected to be completed by January 2025.

Full BusinessTech report