What Fisticuffs?

Having gone to an all boys school this story is starting to have the ring of a playground fight. If you ever remember the inane chant ‘Fight, fight, fight!’ and rush of morbid onlookers as the contenders lined up against each other. In the Internet content wars it looks as though we’ve got to the “hold my coat” stage.

Ok, so Google hasn’t been doing a lot in the recent past to make friends. For example, the well publicised spat with the Association of American Publishers (http://bit.ly/3dQIdx). Now it appears that Microsoft and Rupert Murdoch are both entering the fray (http://bit.ly/mCPqi)

Entertaining for us bystanders, but what does it actually mean? And should we be worried?

As with everything in technology Microsoft’s involvement appears to boil down to a seemingly inconsequential acronym – ACAP…which as everyone knows means Automated Content Access Protocol (a little light reading can be found here: http://bit.ly/2NLbJm). The protocol is being backed by a powerful alliance of some “1,600 traditional publishers” and is proposing a more sophisticated approach to giving access to content. Rather than the all or nothing model of Google, ACAP would be designed to give the publisher greater control over things such as premium content. Something that Murdoch wants to do, but the Financial Times gave up on.

Why this innoxious protocol shot to fame was revealed by Techcrunch on Friday (should we read anything into it that it was Friday 13th?). It was leaked to the site that a senior figure from MSN had a closed door meeting with the heads of some of the world’s major print publishing organisations including the Financial Times, News International and Axel Springer. Apparently Microsoft’s revamped search capability, Bing, is going to put £100,000 of financial investment into the development of the protocol.

So what!? In his article Mike Butcher asks some extremely valid questions:

“…will ACAP – the development of which is so far being controlled by newspapers – be used by Microsoft Bing simply as an indicator of how to treat a publisher’s site? Or would Microsoft help the publishers engineer ACAP into a kind of a rights management engine – with Bing becoming the central clearing house for content from traditional publishers?…And who gets to decide who is a favoured traditional publisher and who isn’t? Bing, or a newspaper-heavy body like the European Publishers Council?”

And this comes as Jonathan Miller, News Corp’s chief digital officer, announced at the Monaco Media Forum (http://bit.ly/468wqg) that it would be “months and quarters – not weeks” before Murdoch’s empire took the step to block Google. Miller’s comments rightly underline the panic spreading in the traditional media about the ‘free vs. paid-for’ content argument and the mere fact that News International is considering this move underlines the depth of concern at the one of the biggest media companies in the world.

And yet is this just the death throes of a industry that has been caught completely on the hop by the Internet? Is it merely lashing out aggressively, because it has run out of ideas on how to monetise the Internet?

However it plays out it will be fascinating watching…much better than the X-Factor and Strictly Come Dancing combined!