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December 21, 2023updated 02 Jan 2024 9:51am

Seven charts that explain the news industry in 2023: From declining ad spend to growth of AI

Press Gazette's pick of the charts that sum up 2023 for the news business.

By Aisha Majid

It’s been another tumutuous year for the news industry as generative AI burst onto the scene, Facebook continued its retreat from news, thousands of staff were laid off and press freedom suffered another blow with the continued killing of journalists and media workers.

Here are seven charts which tell the story of 2023 for news media.

1 .Chat GPT threatened to upend the news industry – and the internet

The explosion of generative AI tools, particularly Chat GPT, was possibly the biggest story for the industry in 2023, although how it will impact news publishers is still unknown.

Publishers so far are divided in how they are approaching the technology. Some like Gizmodo and Schibsted are incorporating it into editorial workflows, while Shutterstock and The Associated Press opted to sign deals with ChatGPT maker OpenAI for use of their content.

The Guardian in September however, became one of the first major publishers to publicly announce that it had blocked ChatGPT from trawling its content while The New York Times meanwhile is looking at legal action against OpenAI over what it says is the illegal use of its content to train generative AI models.

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2. Facebook continued to disengage from news

Facebook referral traffic continued to plummet in 2023 for news publishers amid Meta’s ongoing turn away from the news industry. Data from Chartbeat shows that for 1,315 publishers across the world included in the publishing analytics company's data, the share of external page views coming from Facebook fell from 18% in April 2018 to to 8% in November 2023.

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The impact has been sharply felt by the digital native publishers who built their businesses on the back of Facebook traffic. In April Buzzfeed News shuttered its doors and in May Vice Media declared bankruptcy.

Legacy publishers however, not been spared. In April Reach blamed a page-view slowdown on "recent changes to the way Facebook presents news content".

3. Growth of newsbrands on Tiktok

While Facebook retreats from news, publishers are increasingly turning their attention to Tiktok. Last year the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism (RISJ) found that around half of the leading news publishers in over 40 countries regularly published content to the Chinese-owned video platform.

As of 17 December, youth-focused Ladbible was the largest publisher on Tiktok with 13.1 million followers. It was followed by Daily Mail, which rapidly increased its following from 4.5 million last December to 7.5 million this year.

Phil Harvey, Mail Online’s head of social video told Press Gazette’s Future of Media Explained podcast: "We’ve really invested in Tiktok as a platform and that comes right from the top of the business. For us investing and diversifying the way that we reach audiences is part of future-proofing the business."

4. Ad spend down

Although ad spending on news held up in 2022, the Advertising Association and WARC which publishes regular adspend forecasts correctly predicted a worse 2023 for the industry. Adspend was down for news and magazines in the first half of the year, and AA/WARC predicts that spending across news, magazines and radio will underperform relative to online advertising as whole in 2023. Regional newsbrands are expected to be hardest hit with spending predicted to be down 10% year-on-year.

5. Subscriptions growth for some publishers

With reliance on the advertising model looking increasingly precarious for news publishers, it is little surprise that many are turning to readers to secure their futures. Four in five publishers told RISJ that subscriptions would be their most important revenue stream in 2023 - compared to 75% who reported it would be display advertising. More significant perhaps is the direction of travel with the number of publishers favouring subscriptions having increased since 2020, while those saying they would rely most on advertising decreased.

The latest edition of Press Gazette’s 100k Club which ranks English-language publishers with at least 100,000 digital subscribers revealed that this group of publishers, while still an elite continues to grow. The almost 40 members of the100k Club counted over 39 million digital subscriptions between them in December 2023, compared to 35 million in March.

6. Revenue down at Reach

2023 was a difficult year for the UK’s largest commercial news publisher. In its half-year results published in July, Reach reported an operating profit of £36.1m - down 24% on the first half of 2022, while revenue was down 6% at £279m.

Over-reliance on advertising, deprioritsation of news by Facebook and other platforms and a difficult economic environment have all been cited as factors in the company’s waning fortunes.

Not surprisingly, Reach is one of many publishers that laid off staff this year, cutting almost 800 roles in 2023. Some 450 jobs were axed in its latest and most sweeping round of cuts in October. The company said that the restructure would see it merge the print and digital teams on its national and regional titles and close 13 of its regional "Live" websites.

7. Dozens of journalists killed

As of 1 December, 81 journalists and media workers around the world lost their lives in 2023 - up from 68 last year, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). Many of the deaths came in the context of the war in Gaza with CPJ research finding that at least 68 journalists and media workers have been killed as a result of the fighting, although not all of them were killed in the line of work.

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Select and enter your email address Weekly insight into the big strategic issues affecting the future of the news industry. Essential reading for media leaders every Thursday. Your morning brew of news about the world of news from Press Gazette and elsewhere in the media. Sent at around 10am UK time. Our weekly does of strategic insight about the future of news media aimed at US readers. A fortnightly update from the front-line of news and advertising. Aimed at marketers and those involved in the advertising industry.
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