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SXSW: Buzzfeed Releases Ad Platform for its Social Streams

Since its launch in  2006, Buzzfeed has always been one of the most innovative digital publishers, and it has been rewarded accordingly with enormous economic success.  Founded by former Huffpo co-founder Jonah Peretti, whose expertise is in making content go viral, Buzzfeed’s technological edge came from learning what content was likely to be shared among readers and optimizing  the Buzzfeed site using that knowledge. Speaking at SXSW Interactive last year, Peretti explained that his product was created for the “bored in line and bored at work” segment of the population, who would share content they found interesting with their friends, upping the platforms visitor counts.

But even in the short space -for a couple of years, things have changed in digital publishing, and last year Buzzfeed began publishing some of its content directly to social platforms like Facebook.The rationale? Meet the audience where it already goes, rather than force it to go to the Buzzfeed site.

While that might be a good strategy for Buzzfeed’s content, what are the ramifications for its advertisers?

Well, it appears that the advertisers can now follow Buzzfeed across its social platforms.

During a keynote at South by Southwest Interactive, BuzzFeed’s marketing chief Frank Cooper unveiled a beta test of an ad format dubbed Swarm. It allows advertisers to run campaigns simultaneously across all of his company’s Web and mobile properties and six of its social platforms: Snapchat Discover, Vine, YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and Tumblr.

While this appears to be a big win for Buzzfeed advertisers, it doesn’t come without problems for brands who are trying to figure out what they’re spending money on and whether they’re’ getting a big enough ROI. Since many social platforms don’t track what people are talking about the way Buzzfeed does, it will be tough for brands to measure what this social reach is worth and decide what to pay for it.

Another problem?  All these social platforms have different audiences, and running the same ad formats or ad copy across the board may simply not work, and adapting the ads could prove costly to brands who are already running their own cross-channel campaigns.

Like many innovations, this one may take a while to prove its utility.

 

Good-bye :30 Spots, Hello Digital Video Creative

Seriously? Digital  is now the second biggest advertising market and we’re still using 30-second spots? Has anyone really thought this through?

The research on whether people will watch video online, and for how long, is in. While we used to think two minutes was the outer limit, we now know that it’s over five for a good story, especially on a tablet. Younger people have moved from TV to digital in large numbers, and even little kids reach for the tablet before the TV. In theory, this could change the delivery of advertising, allowing for both longer and shorter ads, and unleashing new powers from creatives.

To keep up with their customers, brand advertisers are shifting their metrics from CTRs to completion rates. Completion rates are not a function of time; they’re a function of good story telling. A good story keeps people engaged and produces more brand recall than any 3o-second spot ever did. If we get away from the limitations caused by time, we’ll be a lot better off. Without the temporal limits of TV, we can tell different kinds of stories.

Mobile is a great place for video ads. Buzzfeed founder Jonah Peretti once said that his site was for the bored at work, bored in line audience, and those are the people who will watch a video that tells a good story, even if it’s conceived and even executed by a brand. In fact, IAB just did a study of video watching on mobile devices:

 many respondents said that they’re watching more video on mobile devices than they were a year ago, including 50 percent of those surveyed in the United States, and 42 percent in Canada, New Zealand and South Africa.

They’re not watching 30-second clips, either. In fact, 36 percent of respondents said they watch videos that are five minutes or longer on a daily basis. (That’s not a majority, but it’s more than just a tiny sliver of the audience.)

The IAB says that viewers in China are particularly open to watching movies and TV episodes on their phones. In addition, 37 percent of respondents in China and 35 percent in Singapore said they’re watching less TV due to watching more mobile video.

We suspect that next year publishers will be seeing many new in-app and in stream formats that don’t look like 30-second spots.

 

Publishers Combine for Larger Audiences

The recent merger of 17-month-old Recode with Vox Media, owners of The Verge, coupled with the recent demise of GigaOm, another respected tech industry publication, raises the question of survival for independent publications with niche audiences.  In actuality, the idea of trade industry networks that support niche publications isn’t new; print publications long ago combined into industry networks the size of IDG or  AdvancePublications. Perhaps the little guy can’t survive alone.

In fact, Vox Media itself, which is venture-funded, may end up being part of Comcast, which was an investor in both Recode and Vox.

The push toward larger and larger digital media networks is driven by the changing vagaries of the advertising market. This year alone publishers have had to re-design their sites for viewability as large marketing budgets like those of GroupM began to insist on 100% viewability as a metric. Just as publishers got slightly comfortable with the concept of being paid only for viewable impressions rather than impressions served, another change came over the horizon: Facebook’s trial with nine publishers who will publish directly to the Facebook site rather than on their own. This product, called Instant Articles by Facebook, is being tested by sites that include Buzzfeed, NBC News, Atlantic,  the New York Times, and National Geographic.

On the face of it, giving up traffic to Facebook seems counterproductive or at least counterintuitive. However, if you think about the fact that Facebook and Google already control 80% of the digital advertising dollars, you can see why a publisher might consider it, especially in the beginning when publishers are being allowed to keep all of the ad revenue they generate on Facebook’s site. No one, by the way, thinks this will last.

The best analysis of why publishing on Facebook was inevitable for even the biggest independent publishers is given by Newsosaur:

Superior mobile prowess.In addition to the sheer size of its audience, Facebook has mastered the art and science of mobile publishing better than almost anyone. In the first quarter of this year, the company reported, 65% of its traffic and 73% of its ad revenues came from such highly optimized mobile sites as its Paper app. 

Superior audience engagement. Based on the amount of time people spend on Facebook, it is fair to say its users are considerably more passionate about the service than the visitors to a typical news site. According to Alexa.Com, the average user spends 18.4 minutes per day on Facebook, as compared with 9.5 minutes at the New York Times, 6.4 minutes at NBC News and 5.4 minutes at BuzzFeed.  

Superior customer data.Because enthusiastic users frequently and liberally update the site with a plethora of personal data, Facebook knows more intimate and accurate details about more people than any company in the world. The information is updated dynamically in real time, as people report everything from their favorite new song to the jeans they want to buy to the fact they will have a baby in six months.  

Superior ad intelligence.Facebook enables advertisers to target messages with heretofore unprecedented precision, thanks not only to the rich information supplied by users but also by analyzing information captured from the friends in their networks.  The ad-intel is supplemented with location data acquired from Facebook’s popular mobile services. 

Superior content targeting. In the same way data is used to target commercial messages, Facebook has the capability to match the right content with the right user by monitoring her searches and media consumption. If Facebook sees that someone likes cooking Italian food, it can slip relevant recipes from the NYT food page into her news feed, paired conveniently with an ad for a pasta maker. When Facebook recognizes that a bride is planning a honeymoon in Florida, it can send her travel videos embedded with customized hotel offers. 

The Newsosaur blog is written by Alan Mutter, a former journalist, editor, and CEO of several tech startups, who now serves as a consultant to the media industry. Because of his position at the intersection of media and technology, he probably has the best perspective on what’s ahead for publishers — even the Buzzfeeds of the world.

Publishers Don’t See Big Benefit from Tracking Data

A very provocative article in Digiday last week suggested that although ad budgets and ad revenues are up, publishers are not reaping the benefits. Nor are consumers. The writer, Jason Kint, asserts that user tracking is having a negative effect on the quality of content that is being consumed, and an even more negative effect on publishers’ revenues because all the extra  money generated by rising ad revenues is going to the services that track and retarget users.

The much-hyped automation of advertising is incredibly promising, but right now, it’s being used almost entirely to collect and bid on data to re-target audience using tracking cookies. This data is driving immaterial growth in ad revenue to publishers small and large. It is also feeding a frothy and endless market for ad tech companies.

The digital pie is rapidly shifting away from sites and services being consumed to the companies that track consumption. As digital continues to gobble up advertising share from its offline ancestors, it does so at the direct expense of brand advertising. The industry touts record ad revenues but ignores that more than 65 cents out of every online ad dollar is being spent on performance media fueled by data tracking.

As we move to mobile devices, more specifically to smart phones, tracking  becomes more abhorrent to consumers; they’ve said so in many ways, including installing ad blockers in their browsers, taking advantage of do not track options, and complaining to vendors.

But tracking doesn’t help brands, either. When they buy ads using tracking data, they’re buying performance metrics, not brand lift. And the performance end of the market doesn’t work anymore, because the same users who don’t like being tracked have ceased to click on display ads. We keep looking for the performance metric, and it may shift from CTRs to viewability to something else, but we’re always talking about measuring the individual consumer’s actions and buying on that data.

We’ve got a way to go before we arrive at the “right” way to use data to help the ecosystem. Right now, tracking data may be as harmful as it is useful.

The answer to this is for publishers to focus on ad formats that brands want. These almost always include video, and  should include ZINC’s InArticle and InView formats. If publishers ran those, they would get more brand dollars rather than performance dollars online and would therefore  increase their revenues.

 

 

 

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