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.

New Advertising Formats Rescue Publishers

Nobody wants the publishing industry to go away, but current conditions sure make it difficult for it to survive. It used to be that advertisers had to come to publishers to reach potential customers. Now, however, all kinds of tech companies sell customer data, and the publisher’s audience appears to have become less critical to the targeting process. Thus, there has been an almost constant erosion of the power of the publisher to impact ad buys, even as his reach increases. The New York Times has 31 million online subscribers, a number unheard of in the print era. But to an advertiser, that could be nothing compared to a Google or a Facebook, who reach billions.

To survive in the programmatic environment, publishers have had to drop their CPMs. from double to single digits. The survivors have already made the shift, and the new startups are unburdened by legacy cost structures (you may remember printing presses).

Yet there are still ways for legacy publishers to survive the commoditization of  what appears to be an infinite supply of  inventory.

One way is through video ads.  There is a relatively small supply of pre-roll to run against video content, and it is so limited that advertisers who want to run on video sites can’t get the reach they need without resorting to other forms of publication to get enough scale. On the other hand, video is increasingly popular with consumers, who watch it on mobile devices in ever-increasing numbers.

Advertisers who want to run video to reach large audiences must find other sites.

On these sites, smart publishers can either create content specific to advertisers , which we think of as content marketing, or   allow advertisers to develop their own content to fit the existing content of the publisher, which  is called native advertising. With either native advertising or content marketing, the simplest thing for an advertiser is to be able to repurpose existing  TV ad content into a standard IAB space.

However, there’s still no guarantee that the ad will be seen, as the statistics say that 50% of video ads go unwatched.

We have the answer to this problem with ZINC’s InArticle video format, which runs on your site in a standard IAB unit, but gets 25% higher CTRs than a typical video ad because it can expand to full screen and leaves a 1×1 reminder at the bottom of the page.

Our InArticle format,  sold directly or programmatically, allows advertisers to reach new audiences across new channels at scale. Our publisher partners have been very satisfied with the high CPMS this format is able to command, and advertisers are thrilled with our viewability metrics. We’ve got first rate video ad viewability partners who help our publisher partners provide the metrics they need to sell successfully.



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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IAB OK’s Trading on Viewability

For three years, we’ve been screaming that in digital advertising, there’s no such thing as “below the fold,” with its devalued impressions. We asserted that if an ad is seen by a visitor,it should be paid for. Now, IAB‘s new standard has directed that this should and will happen. Above and below the fold will no longer be the determinant. The new determinant will be viewability.

The IAB, after much sturm und drang ( 18 months of committee meetings and discussions at leadership summits)  released its standard for viewable display impressions last week. As expected, a viewable ad is one in which a minimum of 50 percent of pixels are in view for a minimum of 1 second. It doesn’t matter where that ad is placed on the site.

This shouldn’t be news to any of us; we have been following the issue of viewability and wondering when advertisers would start buying for it. Now that the Media Rating Council has lifted its November 2012 Viewable Impression Advisory for Display Advertising, the industry should start making transactions using viewable impression currency immediately.

IAB has a list of vendors certified by the MRC, and although their measurements can vary plus or minus five per cent, agencies with brand advertising campaigns will expect guarantees on viewable impressions. As for ZEDO, we’ve been working with comScore since it was AdXpose, and our high impact formats are all certified 99% viewable.

However, the bad news is all of this applies only to display advertising for now; video won’t be available for trading until June and video is the fastest growing segment of the online advertising business right now.

As IAB’s Sherrill Mane wrote,

Publishers who have been testing display viewability data know all too well that the investment in resources is substantial. You need to finance purchase of data from multiple measurement vendors, assign the right teams of people to develop test parameters, conduct enough comparisons so that you have an idea of how to forecast inventory and optimize yield. Even if all the steps are executed well, you are likely seeing variances across vendors. Some of the variances may be greater than what you’d need for confidence in the decisions you need to make.

Before you go nuts trying to decide which vendor you are going to use to measure viewability, you might want to take a look at IAB’s reconciliation study, which examines the different methodologies used by the vendors.

If you happen to like comScore, all currently used ZEDO high impact formats are certified by comScore.



In a Hostile World, Ad Blockers Make Things Worse

An ad-blocking software company has raised over $25,000 to wage a campaign to let people know they don’t have to see online ads. Its new goal is to raise $50,000 more to buy a billboard on Times Square. According to the founder,

We’re going to use ads to get rid of ads. We will use the money raised to make AdBlock banner ads and video commercials, and we will show these across the internet to people who don’t have AdBlock. If we raise enough, we will implement our craziest advertising ideas and capture the whole world’s imagination.

There’s a fine sense of irony at play here. Even the founder of ad blocking software realizes that to get the word out about almost any product or service, you have to use advertising!

If I didn’t find this hypocritical, I’d find it hilarious. After all, he also wants you and your friends to view ads to learn about his company, and he’s willing to pay publishers for the privilege of showing banners and videos.

It only shows you one thing: how deeply advertising is embedded in our culture, and how in a global world where you want to reach more people than you know individually, advertising of some kind is essential.

This is not the same as saying that we should all be patient with intrusive, useless ads. Rather, it’s time for both advertisers and publishers to get their respective acts together and use the capabilities given them by big data and similar technological advances to target better audiences with more useful messages.

Advertising in the future must be –USEFUL. It must serve a purpose. Its purpose could be to inform, to entertain, to teach, or to create convenience for the customer. It should appear only when the customer is willing to receive it. (yes, ZEDO sells the InView Slider and the InArticle video ad, so we’ve got a horse in this race.

And here’s the tough part: the customer who receives it must recognize its utility. In this data-rich environment, there’s no reason to serve porn to children or Viagra ads to old ladies, and yet that still happens. Careless publishers who don’t examine their user data sell the wrong ads to unsuspecting audiences. Careless agencies and brands who don’t mine their customer data and don’t look at the publishers’ data should not be buying ads in environments that are known not to be brand safe for them. The numbers are out there.

But so are the incentives. The agency wants to get the brand greater “reach.”  The publisher wants to sell more ads. This results in misaligned targeting, ads that don’t work, and angry visitors. And the poor ad server in the middle gets an email that says “get your stinking ads off my computer.”

This does not have to happen. Blocking ads is throwing the baby out with the bath water. But it is doomed to happen unless we in the advertising and publishing industry get our acts together and quit making decisions based on raw numbers and start making decisions based on accurate, target, information. We need to work together to fix this before a disgruntled public fixes it for us.

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The Rise of ZINC

Things at ZEDO and in the ad market are so exciting. For a while now we’ve been working on our new division, ZINC, hiring people, moving to a Madison Avenue office in New York, and re-branding as way more than an ad server. In the last month things have continued to accelerate.

This has really been an amazing week for ZINC. It’s as though we have unlocked a pent up desire on the part of media planners for something online that will engage visitors and not violate them, and all we have to do is show up, give a demo, and we get an insertion order. Our sales teams have never been so welcome in the offices of media buyers.

Admittedly, some of our other high impact formats, like the slider and the shuffle, have always done well. They’re easily measured as 99% viewable, and they are visible without being obtrusive. They only appear when a viewer is there to see them, so they can be placed below the place formerly known as the fold. We’re certainly not complaining about their performance; the company has grown revenue about 20% this year (unusual for a company that’s not a startup), and it’s been mostly because of them.

But the icing on ZEDO’s cake, and what makes it seem like a startup again (but with huge resources), is the ZINC division’s new large canvas InArticle video unit, which is not a standard ad space, but so much more. When you hover over the ad, the video begins to play, and the sound goes on. And if you click, the video expands to full screen. People who see it are blown away. Auto brands are using this format to reveal their new models, TV networks to tease their new shows, and CPG companies to show their products. And small agencies across the country buy directly from our online platform:

What’s even better? We always had a network of premium publishers to place these ads with, but now the publishers are more willing than ever to get on board with us. When we show up with an insertion order from a major brand, we no longer have to wait for the contracts to be signed.

What’s missing from this picture? We can’t hire fast enough. We need enthusiastic people who want to be in the advertising business and sell to major brands, entertain agency clients and take meetings with studio heads, and do all the exciting things the ad business is known for. We’re looking for people who have just a bit of experience in digital media or sales, but it’s the energy we really  want, and the willingness to learn and create what advertising will look like in the future.And if sales is not your forte, we also need account reps to take care of these agencies and brands once they’re on board.

Use Our Viewability information to Buy Advertising

This morning I read a post from MediaPost’s RTB Insider talking about how to use viewability to buy media. The thrust of the post is to tell people we need a technology to show whether an ad is viewable BEFORE it is served. The author, Alex White from DG-Peer39 , insists this technology isn’t available yet.

True viewability technology and measurement should live in the ad server, a technology that acts as the source of truth for both advertisers and publishers. In an ideal world, servers will make an ad call only when the space for the ad comes into view on the browser and while this technology isn’t widely available yet, I mention it here as a goal the industry should reach. Many ad servers are now rolling out the ability to report on viewability.

With all due respect to Alex White, he is behind the times. We have been partnering with comScore and Nielsen for a couple of years now, and have been able to report on viewability.However, we also have the ability to act proactively, as he suggests.

Eighteen months ago, we developed an ad format, the ZEDO Inview Slider, that only appears when a viewer is on the place on the page where the ad slot is.In the past, we have used it to help our publishers generate new revenue from below the fold ad slots that couldn’t be monetized before. Our premium publishers sell these ad formats with their direct sales forces,they are also sold programmatically.

And recently, we’ve also launched  ZINC a network where agencies and advertisers can buy these formats from our publishers.

We have exactly the technology White is speaking about.

Viewability will ultimately come down to two technologies: one based inside the ad server for premium publishers, the other relying on the statistical likelihood that an ad is “in view” for the large marketplaces and exchanges. 

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Notes From the Changing Digital Media Industry

Isn’t it fun being in the digital media business? Whether you are advertising side or the publishing side — and as a provider of high impact formats for premium publishers to sell direct and brand advertisers to buy, ZEDO is on both sides of the table — you know that once again we’re undergoing rapid changes.

The biggest change, of course, is the move to mobile. AOL announced last week that it is redoing all of its content sites for mobile. (Last year we gave ZEDO’s own site a responsive design facelift). Ad Age says

AOL is planning to redesign all of its content sites with responsive design — an approach intended to optimize a site’s layout across devices with different screen sizes — during the coming months, according to Jay Kirsch, president of technology and entertainment at AOL.The change in design is meant to streamline the ad sales and display process, Mr. Kirsch said, speaking to a reporter during a dinner at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Responsive web design will let AOL serve ad space on its mobile and desktop websites from the same portal rather than sell mobile and desktop display separately.

In a different, but related move, the New York Times’ internal agency Idea Lab has begun working on interactive formats that make new use of the banner ad. One, for GE, involved a Google Hangout that a viewer could watch through a banner at on the Times.

With mobile and desktop merging, interactive ads and high impact formats become more important. For example, there’s ZEDO’s new shuffle ad format, which shuffles among two or three different ads. The animation in this format keeps engagement high. Best, this uses normal ad sizes and is really simple to use even if ZEDO isn’t your ad server. You don’t need to change the page layout, and you still get extra impressions and revenue. No site release is required. The format can double or triple your ad impressions; since the animation keeps the performance (CTR) high, you will make money from the first day.  And you can serve Shuffle Ads above or below the fold and for any creative dimension.


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The Future of Publishing

The future of publishing will be better than its past. So says former Salon editor and current Head of News and Social Product at Google Richard Gingras. Gingras spoke at the Scripps Institute for Entrepreneurial Journalism recently. He had a lot to say about how publishers can influence their own futures.

Publishers need to re-think the nature of a news product, he said. Most visitors to a site no longer come to its home page, because they come through both search and social — straight to the page with the story they want to read. So there’s no such thing as a successful home page anymore; in a sense, every page is a potential home page for those readers looking for a specific story or topic. They used to come because they knew the publisher’s print product — but now they come from social networks, on the recommendation of their friends and followers.

So Gingras’ first advice to publishers: don’t spend all your time and money thinking about your home page. Instead, spend it on optimizing all your pages for social and search.

Second, think mobile first. Many publishers are just getting around to thinking about digital first. But that shift happened twenty years ago, says Gingras. The fact that news stories are now consumed primarily on phones and tablets of all sizes (he sees the tablet and the phone converging, with tablets getting smaller and phone screens getting bigger), makes another re-think necessary.

Gingras says we are only in Chapter 2 of the online revolution. This chapter will consist of doing a better job of “advanced personalization,” or mapping both stories and ads to a user’s interested. The current efforts at personalization fail, because advertising is targeted at content, and not at vibe. For example, if you read a story on Syria in the New York Times, the algorithms that try to personalize content for you have a tendency to show you other other articles about Syria. But maybe you wanted more serious journalism? Or more daily newspapers? Or more from the specific reporter?

You can see that we’re just in the early stages of giving the reader (or the visitor) what he or she really wants. That’s why advertising and publishing will continue to change.

At ZEDO, we predicted content consumption through tablets last year, and now we’re predicting the rise of full-screen video, in both publishing and advertising. Our job is to be a platform partner for premium publishers, and a brand-safe place for advertisers to go.


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Ad Formats That Really Work

As many in the industry move to Real Time Bidding, we cannot help thinking we ought to help our premium publishers move in the opposite direction. After all, RTB increases inventory and commoditizes prices. How can that be good for premium publishers and brands that want to stand out? Don’t we need inventory that attracts attention and thus is worth more?

ZEDO believes, and we can back this up with metrics from both Nielsen and Comscore, that what’s important is that an ad  gets viewed, or in our language,  is not a simple display ad, but a high impact format. 2013 will be the year of viewable impressions, a movement championed by the IAB and many other industry thought leaders.

We were far out front of this movement with our InView Slider, which boasts 99% viewability month after month for the publishers  who use it. And the Slider isn’t sold through anonymous network; it is often sold through direct sales, commanding far higher eCPMS.

Now, we’re not saying the eCPM is an effective measurement for online advertising, and we are participating in efforts to come up with a better pricing model, especially for tablets and mobile, but right now it’s the only model the industry has, and we’re stuck with it. So we’re committed to offering formats whose higher viewability and impact make advertisers  willing to pay more for them.

A good example of this is our full-screen video, in which an ad expands to fill the screen and audio begins when a viewer mouses over it, or our expandable  mouse-rollover ads. These ads command higher prices, because they get more attention.

Some of these formats are so innovative that they’re not even on our site yet, but are only available to our customers and partners by scheduling a demo. I know every ad tech company says they will increase ROI, but how many of them have been around long enough to back their claims with numbers? As one of the veterans and thought leaders in the industry, we would like to re-introduce ourselves to you through our high impact formats and viewable impressions, as well as our standard ad server offerings.

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