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Information Overload: The Small Role (8-9 percent) for News

Since one of the major media industry stories of the year has been the extended verbal assault initiated by Rupert Murdoch against Google News and other content aggregators for their "wholesale misappropriation" and "theft" of news stories from his newspaper sites, perhaps it's time to evaluate how much leverage Murdoch and other media execs have in their battle against the search giant.

After all, Murdoch is hardly the only person in this industry who feels he is getting a raw deal from web sites and search engines that publish headlines and abstracts from professionally produced news sites like his Wall Street Journal.

Accordingly, as the year closes, with traditional news organizations scheming over how to wrest back some control over who can access their content and how much consumers must pay for that privilege, I'd like to take a shot at outlining just how important a role news stories actually play in the overall content universe, circa 2009, in terms of pure data volume.

According to an authoritative study released earlier this month, U.S. households consumed 3.6 zettabytes of information and 10,845 trillion words in 2008.

That amounts to 33.8 gigabytes of information and 100,564 words per person per day!

Now, this is not the information world your grandparents knew -- the world, say, of the old Sears & Roebuck Catalogue.

No. The sources of this modern data overload are many, including the Internet, television, radio, newspapers, magazines, mobile phones, video games, DVD players, music files, and on and on.

(According to the study, over three-quarters of data consumption is still from radio, television, and other non-computer sources, but computers and mobile devices are becoming increasingly important sources, particularly among younger people.)

In order to calculate what proportion of all this information flow is news content, I asked for help from Leonard Chung, CEO of Syncplicity, who was the first person to alert me to the series of data load studies that originated at the University of California, Berkeley in 2003, culminating most recently in this month's study referenced above.

After reviewing the numbers, Chung came up with the following conclusion: "I'd estimate it's approximately 2.7GB to 3GB per day [per person] for news/research [out of the 33.8GB per day per person total]."

If my math is correct, that means that roughly 8 to 9 percent of all data consumed in the U.S. can be defined as news and/or research content.

So this is one indicator of how much financial pressure media companies might be able to exert over Google when they threaten, as Murdoch has, to block their content from the search giant's crawlers. From a numerical perspective, you'd have to say they don't have much leverage at all, particularly when you consider that the 8-9 percent represents the total provided by all news sources, meaning that any one provider's share, even from an operation as large as Murdoch's News Corp., is barely measurable.

But news in much more important than this tiny numerical percentage implies. Recency and relevance are two of the most important factors in how search engines rank content, and the value of breaking news, in particular, is huge for any web site that displays news headlines.

Still, when it comes down to one news provider and one giant search engine, the odds don't look so good, not even for an old media mogul like Murdoch. And, while the volume of data will surely continue to increase, year over year, giving search engines and aggregators ever more options to choose from, news by its nature will grow at a slower rate.

If only, as any old news director can tell you, somedays by their nature are just slow news days.

Recent Bnet Posts on Murdoch's War:
In Poker Game With Murdoch, Google Plays its "Restricting Free" Card "As news broke yesterday that Google had made a "concession" to publishers by changing its rules to limit the number of stories the search giant will display daily for free from paid content sites to five, I had to struggle to suppress a smile..."

Denver, Dallas Papers May Join Murdoch's War on the Internet
"That a handful of newspaper companies are indicating this week that they want to join forces with Murdoch and Microsoft (MSFT) and make war on the ethos of the world wide web may not yet indicate a trend, exactly, but this development, as reported by Bloomberg yesterday is worth noting for a number of reasons--"

Murdoch and Microsoft Talk About Ganging Up on Google
"News Corp. (NWS) and Microsoft (MSFT) are reportedly in early-stage talks to form a partnership whereby Microsoft would supposedly pay News Corp. to "de-index" its news content from Google (GOOG)--"

News Corp. Execs Shocked At WSJ's Leaky Backdoor
"Although it's hard to believe, it appears that top News Corp. (NWS) execs have only recently begun to realize that the paywall they maintain around much of the Wall Street Journal's content leaks--"

Legal Experts on How Murdoch's Threats May Impact "Fair Use" Doctrine
"Media industry titan Rupert Murdoch's explicit threats this week to block Google from searching his content sites, and to sue the BBC for its use of content he says is "stolen" from his sites got me to wondering whether the head of News Corp. has, in fact, any basis in the law for launching these calculated attacks at this time and in this manner--"

Now it's Murdoch vs. the World as He Threatens to Sue the BBC
"Media mogul Rupert Murdoch continues to amuse even as he perplexes those of us hoping to divine where he is headed with his current round of threats--"

Murdoch Plays High-Stakes Game of Chicken with Google
"Rupert Murdoch is probably the most outspoken media executive of them all in threatening to retaliate against Google for what he, and others, see as--"

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