Associated Press forms group to support mobile news coverage

The Associated Press is creating a new organization to help broadcasters and newspapers generate additional income as more people get their news from mobile phones and other wireless devices.

The project shows that the AP — a 164-year-old news cooperative — hopes to play a leadership role as long-established media outlets try to reverse several years of decline brought on by their inability to capitalize on the Internet.

Tom Curley, the CEO of the AP, said the news organization is establishing a digital-rights clearinghouse to help the news media protect their content and generate more revenue as technology creates new channels for distributing the content they produce.

“We’ve stood by while others invent creative, new uses for our news and reap most of the benefit,” Curley said last week in a speech before the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association in Austin.

“The digital marketplace is on the cusp of an even bigger phase of growth on new platforms and devices,” Curley said. “We have arrived at a moment of significant opportunity.”

As the clearinghouse tries to generate revenue for its participants, it may find itself negotiating with powerful companies such as Apple and Google, both of which have created products that give consumers new ways to read news. The AP recently negotiated a new licensing agreement with Google, a deal that Curley suggested might have been more lucrative had the news media united their interests through such a clearinghouse.

In creating the clearinghouse, the AP is drawing upon research that began in 2007 to establish an enforcement and payment system loosely modeled after the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers. ASCAP collects royalties and distributes them to more than 390,000 songwriters and others involved in the creation of music.

The news clearinghouse would try to negotiate licensing deals for stories, photos and video produced by participating news organizations, including the AP. News organizations would still produce and own content made available to the clearinghouse. Any payments would go to them, after subtracting administrative fees expected to be 20 percent at first.

Curley said the group would eventually extend beyond newspapers and broadcasters to include magazines and other content providers, including those outside the United States.

The clearinghouse also intends to fight piracy by relying on a tracking system, called a “news registry,” that the AP began developing more than a year ago. Besides detecting unauthorized use of content, the registry’s tagging system can provide insights about the people who are viewing content or the frequency with which a specific company or expert is mentioned in news coverage.

In hopes of avoiding antitrust issues, the AP is setting up the clearinghouse as an independent organization. An executive hasn’t been appointed to run it yet. It could be in operation by the end of the year.

Curley described the new mobile technology as “a multidimensional, multiplatform opportunity” that goes beyond existing delivery mechanisms such as websites and search results pages.

The AP and many of the newspaper publishers that own the cooperative already have seized on the opportunity by creating applications for the iPhone, the iPad and Android-powered phones. More than 70 newspapers now pay for an AP service for creating smart phone apps in a partnership with Verve Wireless. Plans to do something similar with the iPad are in the works. The AP charges a fee for creating these mobile applications.