(Toronto) Meta’s and Google’s abandonment of links to Canadian news sites is a “moment of truth” for publishers and broadcasters, who have relied heavily on social media to grow their audiences, say marketing and journalism experts.

They believe that the Online News Act, which will force digital giants to pay media outlets for content they share or reuse on their platforms when it comes into force later this year, could spark new discussions of how publishers market their content and interact with audiences.

“This is the moment of truth for brands that want to support the public interest and want to be seen, but don’t want to be seen on platforms perceived negatively by the public,” observed Courtney Radsch, director of the Center for Journalism and Liberty, a Washington, DC-based think tank.

In response to legislation known as Bill C-18, Meta and Google said they would remove Canadian media news from their sites before the law takes effect.

Some users, including CBC News editor-in-chief Brodie Fenlon, said they had already seen posts from Canadian news brands disappear from Instagram and Facebook, two properties of Meta, which could reduce the company’s footprint. .

CBC News, for example, has 663,000 Instagram followers and 3.1 million Facebook followers.

In response to such measures, Bell Media brands, including CTV and BNN Bloomberg, posted statements on Instagram recommending that people seeking their news go directly to their websites or visit their apps. CBC News urged readers to make a similar gesture earlier this week.

National Post owner Postmedia joined Toronto Star owner Torstar, TVA and Videotron owner Quebecor and broadcaster Cogeco on Friday in suspending its advertising on Meta’s platforms.

“There is no greater proof of the critical need for this law at this time than the actions taken upon its passage,” Postmedia CEO Andrew MacLeod observed in a press release. .

The federal government, along with the province of Quebec and the City of Montreal, have also announced their intention to end their advertising on Meta platforms.

The succession of decisions raises several questions, noted Joanne McNeish, a professor specializing in marketing at Metropolitan University of Toronto.

“Is this an opportunity for newsrooms to reconnect with readers with a direct link? she asked.

Newspaper companies have long relied on subscribers, viewers and advertisers to generate revenue, but in recent years each of these sources has declined.

According to academic research group Canadian Media Concentration Research Project, in 2021 Google and Facebook collectively accounted for 79% of online ad revenue, then estimated at $12.3 billion, and more than half of total ad spend across all media. .

By adding Amazon to the portrait, the group indicates that the three American digital conglomerates represent nearly 90% of the online advertising market.

News Media Canada added that advertising revenue for community newspapers across the country has increased from $1.21 billion in 2011 to $411 million in 2020. During this period, nearly 300 newspapers disappeared or merged with others. publications.

Paul Deegan, president and CEO of the trade association, pointed out that “Google and Meta [were] important channels for reaching the public.”

However, he clarified, in an email, that “blocking access to factual and verified information from authoritative publishers harms user experience and devalues ​​and degrades platforms.”

He is confident that the regulatory process that will take place over the next few months, as the law approaches enforcement, will allay many of the current concerns.

“Canada is a very attractive and lucrative market for these companies. It is time to stop these shows of force, he said. It is time to solve this problem in a way that balances the needs of all stakeholders. »