Akshit Pushkarna

Why are Indian digital news publishers wary of Google's new A.I. search?

Indian publishers ascertain the impact that Google’s ‘Search Generative Experience’ on website traffic.

During its annual conference, ‘Google I/O’, on May 10, the company’s leadership announced some AI-based changes for its search engine. The company shared that its generative AI chatbot, ‘Bard’ that saw a limited release in March, is set to make a wide-scale debut in 180 countries soon. Along with Bard, the company will also be looking to launch a host of AI based products soon.

The company said that it was reimagining its search engine with generative AI. “With this powerful new technology, we can unlock new types of questions you never thought Search could answer and transform the way information is organised,” it said.

One of the new AI-based products, ‘Search Generative Experience’ (SGE), is set to change the way you interface with the search engine. SGE is supposed to change how we interact with the search engine.

Although the AI based tech has been scheduled for a wider release, it is in the testing stage and is available for a select group of users. Hence, it’s difficult to fully gauge exactly how the interface of the search engine will differ with it.

Reports say that the new interface makes the result links that are shown now appear briefly before the user is redirected to an AI-generated window. The AI window hosts a generative AI response addressing the enquiry. The links for the sources that the AI uses for the information will be lined up with the text. This window is followed by result links.

The SGE uses a language model called ‘PaLM 2’. Google hasn’t revealed the training sources for this language model. It is trained on a wide range of openly available data on the Internet, the company said.

Even though the AI based tech is limitedly available as of now, it still has caused concern for the digital publishers. The major concern for Indian digital news publishers is the fact that SGE can act as a possible deterrent to traffic that comes on their platform from Google. Fewer people might get on their websites, as generative AI might sufficiently address their search query.

Mukesh Kumar Singh, head revenue- digital, Indian Express Group, believes that this will definitely impact traffic for publishers as a large chunk of traffic comes from Google searches.

Industry heads are of the opinion that SGE and Bard will impact their businesses down the line. Tapan Sharma, EVP and head of digital business, Republic World, opines that generative AI in google search is going to be a challenge for publishers. However, the challenge isn’t immediate and will be realised 3 to 5 years down the line.

"Generative AI is dependent on the user to give inputs. On the basis of this, it curates information from sources and creates an answer. It's a prompt base result and not all users will be able to give the right prompt to obtain the news that they seek from the platform. If the user doesn't get the right answer, they will check more credible sources that give a deeper narrative on the events narrative," he explains.

Why are Indian digital news publishers wary of Google's new A.I. search?

Digital publishers are looking at other ways to ensure traffic doesn't get affected by developments like this, according to Singh. "We are looking for ways to move our traffic to our web app. Apps are our primary bet to retain traffic. If we move our focus to apps, we won't see any interference from Google or other major tech players on our traffic," he adds.

Hemant Jain, president & business head-digital, Lokmat Media, doesn't see much of a short term impact on traffic for regional news publishers of India. He believes that the biggest barrier for the adoption of generative AI for big tech companies is its compatibility with local languages. Google has announced that it will be launching Bard in 30 more languages, without specifying any. "If you look at the overall scheme of content consumption in India, English users can be broadly estimated to be around 200 million and about 500 million internet users consume content in their local dialect. We can wait and watch how this tech is adopted in regions where content is preferably consumed in local dialects," he comments.

Content usage without source attribution to be a problem with generative AI text?

A challenge that publishers are reportedly facing is confirming their content is being used by the AI. According to a report by CNBC, international publishers have seen examples of quotes from competitors repurposed on Bard without attribution. Hence, it’s hard to tell if it is their content without directly linked sources.

No attribution to content and unfair revenue-sharing terms with Google has been an ongoing issue in India even before the introduction of new AI capabilities. In October 2022, members of the News Broadcasters & Digital Association (NBDA) filed a complaint with the Competition Commission of India. The report says that Google built services like Google News and Google Discover were taking advantage of NBDA members' dependency on the search engine for referral traffic. The complaint also claims that Google takes advantage of their content without adequately compensating them.

Why are Indian digital news publishers wary of Google's new A.I. search?

Speaking about how the addition of generative AI can affect this, Sharma says, “If they don't attribute content sourced from publishers even if the news displayed is AI generated, the Government of India will have to pitch in and provide a firewall to protect the publishers' interest. India is a volume market and they have made tremendous monetary gain from their operations in India. They will be tactful in the way they operate here.”

An opportunity for young news publishers?

Ajay Pratap Singh, CEO, Sportskeeda, is of the opinion that traditional or more established publishers (eg NYT, WSJ) generally rank up higher on Google SEO because they have domain authority. Now, the top spot will be taken by SGE result.

Publishers will have to adapt to the AI system to get noticed, he adds. People typically search for specifics about news development on the search engine, according to him. Digital media like Sportskeeda are dependent on Google searches for their traffic. With SEO more open, this might be a boon of sorts for new age publishers.

Why are Indian digital news publishers wary of Google's new A.I. search?

"Publishers do need to be watchful of AI. We will have to be a little out of box with how we cover a news development. Generic news content will not be viewed as much as it might be similar to what the generative AI provides. Users who seek more information or more interesting angles will get on platforms which provide the same. Sportskeeda is not really worried about generative AI feature because we pick different kinds of angles to a particular news development rather than just simply report it," he says.

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