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Report on Business Apple News launches in Canada, tapping former Rogers executive to lead

Apple Inc. is launching its Apple News app in Canada, bringing with it both a promise to support journalism and the potential hazards that come when publishers share content with a tech giant.

An early version of the app was released on Thursday for developers and will be available to Canadian iPhone, iPad and Mac users to download for free next week. It will feature content from outlets including the Canadian Broadcasting Corp., Radio-Canada, CTV News, La Presse and the Toronto Star, with more publishers to be added over time, including The Globe and Mail.

Like the U.S. version, which launched in 2015, the app will feature a mix of articles chosen by experienced editors as well as stories selected for each reader using algorithms that identify their preferred publishers and topics.

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Canada will be the first bilingual market for Apple News, and users can choose stories in English or French. The operation in Canada will be led by Steve Maich, a former senior-vice president of publishing at Rogers Communications Inc., who was the editor of Sportsnet Magazine and Canadian Business.

Both of those titles ceased print publication in 2016, leaving behind digital versions with fewer resources – a reflection of a business environment in which advertising revenues have shifted from traditional media to digital giants. Facebook and Google account for nearly two-thirds of Canada’s digital-ad revenue and have come under fire in the past year for how much data they collect on consumers. Those companies and social-media platforms such as Twitter have been accused of allowing false or biased news content to spread on their platforms.

Apple is hoping to stand out as a news curator with a human touch, hiring experienced editors such as Mr. Maich. The company is also framing its policy on data collection for advertising around user privacy, and giving media companies the chance to both sell their own ads to go alongside their content in the app and to collaborate with Apple for sales.

“Our goal is to add audience to news publishers,” Lauren Kern, Apple News’s editor-in-chief, said in a phone interview. “We want to help publishers monetize as much as [possible and] as easily as possible on our platform.”

Until this week, Apple News was available only in the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia. A report this month from mobile-device research firm DeviceAtlas found that 61 per cent of Canadian devices last year used Apple’s iOS operating system, giving Apple News and partner publishers an opportunity to reach large numbers of Canadian readers.

The Cupertino, Calif., company has undertaken a pair of strategic shifts in recent months as iPhone sales have slowed. It has put increased emphasis on generating revenue from its services, such as the streaming app Apple Music, while also positioning itself as focused on consumer privacy – particularly after Facebook became ensnared in scandals over the misuse of personal data.

U.S. publishers have reported sizable increases in readership through the mobile news app, but making money from those audiences has proven difficult. Advertising sales were constrained by the fact that a limited number of ads can be placed in each story and by the format of those ad units, according to reports that emerged last fall.

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“The biggest criticism has been on the monetization side," said Jason Kint, chief executive officer of Digital Content Next, an industry association that represents publishers including The New York Times, the Financial Times, National Public Radio and Bloomberg. "There are limitations because of the way Apple News built its advertising experience.”

Publishers will have dedicated channels for content on the app and can keep all revenue from ads they have sold in their channel and their articles. They can also allow Apple to sell further ads on their content on the app, with publishers getting 70 per cent of the revenue.

As ad revenues have diminished, many outlets – including The Globe and Mail, and more recently, the Toronto Star – have introduced digital subscriptions in a bid for long-term financial sustainability. Apple said its editors will select only free content for the human-curated portion of the News app, but subscribers of a publication will be able to sign in to view paywalled content available within a publisher’s dedicated channel.

Publishers will also be able to sell subscriptions within the app and offer free trials or special introductory pricing. In the United States, Mr. Kint said, publishers negotiate these rates individually. Apple declined to provide specifics on its subscription-revenue splits in Canada except that it would mirror the U.S. situation. It is common for Apple to keep about 30 per cent of revenue generated from in-app sales.

The Globe and Mail will offer “select pieces” of content in Apple News to ensure Canadian users of the app can access some Globe content, said Phillip Crawley, the organization’s publisher and CEO. “While Apple’s subscription model will be valuable to other publishers, we are committed to maintaining a direct relationship with our loyal and growing subscriber base,” he said.

Apple News is just one way the tech company is dabbling in the publishing business. Last March, it struck a deal to buy Texture, a subscription-based app partly owned by Rogers Media that gives readers access to more than 200 magazines for a flat monthly fee. Apple is planning to fold Texture into Apple News as a premium service, Bloomberg reported last month, and is hoping to strike deals with other publishers to bring paywalled content into that service.

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Ms. Kern declined to discuss any plans with Texture.

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