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Tuesday, 17 October 2023 15:15

Competition Commission launches inquiry into media content on digital platforms.

By Lehlohonolo Lehana.

The Competition Commission on Tuesday officially launched its Media and Digital Platforms Market Inquiry (MDPMI) after publishing the final terms of reference (ToRs) a month ago.

The MDPMI will investigate the distribution of media content on South Africa's digital platforms, including search, social media and news aggregation platforms, and the advertising technology (Adtech) markets that connect buyers and sellers of digital advertising inventory.

The main digital platforms that the inquiry will focus on include search engines, such as Google Search and Microsoft Bing; social media sites, such as Meta; news aggregator sites and applications, such as Google News and Apple News; and video sharing platforms, such as YouTube and TikTok.

The inquiry will also examine Adtech market participants on the supply-side, demand-side, and Ad exchanges, as well as new technologies integrated into digital platforms, including generative artificial intelligence (AI) search support such as ChatGPT, and the impact these may have on the operations of businesses in the South African news media sector.

The inquiry comes at a critical moment for the media industry as news consumption rapidly shifts online and traditional sources of funding through print and broadcasting advertising decline," said Competition Commission commissioner Doris Tshepe.

"While digital offers the potential for new services or funding, the media must compete with the search and social media platforms used by consumers to discover media stories for such funding," she explained during a virtual launch of the inquiry, where the panel responsible for the inquiry was introduced.

The panel will be chaired by Competition Commission acting deputy commissioner and chief economist James Hodge and includes veteran South African media practitioner Paula Frey, with support from a technical team.

Hodge said one of the key elements of the inquiry will be advertising technology and the integration of artificial intelligence tools into digital platforms.

"We have seen a massive transition in how news consumption has evolved in the digital era from what it was traditionally. AI may present that next moment and time where news consumption moves to chat box and other forces," he said.

The commission will also look into the potential distortion of competition between digital platforms and traditional news media.

"Both digital platforms and news media use an advertising-funded model predominantly, and that puts them potentially in competition, not just for the advertising revenue but also the consumer data that is required to support that advertising process.

"This part of the inquiry will examine the extent to which those digital platforms as the first gateway for consumers are starting to control the traffic to the news media sites and how they seek to retain the attention engagement of consumers on their own sites," said Hodge.

The inquiry will also seek to understand how users currently consume online news and how this will evolve over time, including mainstream and fringe publications such as community news and vernacular publications.