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Google at a Crossroads

It all started when the London Times published an investigative piece a couple of weeks ago about ads from prominent brands appearing on terrorist sites and alongside other types of objectionable content. Of course this has been going on for years, at least since the beginning of programmatic buying, but all of a sudden brand safety leapt to the front of advertisers’ consciousness and they began pulling out of Google sites like YouTube and the Google display network. And these are not minor brands; they’re WalMart, Pepsi, Starbucks, Coke and other powerhouses.

Quite often, these little volcanoes erupt in the digital advertising world and brands make noise about something they don’t like. But then the furor dies down and things go back to “normal.” The Wall Street Journal, however, says this is the beginning of something new for the Google ad business, because marketers have been here too many times before, and they really can’t fall back on the excuse that they don’t know what they’re buying. Behind every marketer who may not understand, there’s an agency that does, and the agencies should know better.

Despite Google’s apologies and promise of new tools, ads were still on hate sites, fake sites created by bots, and pornography last week, which prompted the Journal to put a couple of veteran reporters on this lingering story.  CEOs and CMOs of big companies are now involved, and perhaps because of potential implications of being linked to terrorist sites, Google is going to have to make some changes.

And not just Google alone. When you are going for  scale, it is almost impossible to perfectly police what is being bought. Or so it is said. But the research done by the Journal reporters seemed to point to willful blindness. It does seem incredible that big companies, either the advertisers or Google itself, can’t type in some search terms and find out whether their brand ads are still running on hate sites.

This led reporter Suzanne Vranica to say that no one in the industry is really incentivized to fix problems like these when they occur, because everybody gets paid. The publishers get paid, the holding companies try to push as much inventory through these platforms as possible so they’ll get paid, and the advertisers have the advantage of cheap ads. So throughout programmatic’s history, people on all sides of the supply chain have simply looked the other way at ad fraud.

Encouraging terrorism, however, is a horse of a different color, especially after being seen on fake news sites during the election got them worried. Just after fake news subsided as a concern, the fear of seeing your brand in the headlines for funding terrorism arose for these companies, many of whom are public.

Admittedly, in the back of every advertiser’s mind is the reality that they’re getting what they pay for when they buy cheap ads, but that doesn’t mean they won’t turn on Google and Facebook to save their own reputations. They are coming to realize that they helped build these platforms and they are really the people who pay the bills. The walled gardens are not giving them the data they need, and at the end of the day, that’s the main issue. The advertisers ceded their power, and now they are demanding it back.

 

 

Top Mobile News Apps

Trying to figure out which news apps are the most popular with mobile users is a daunting task. Like all measurements, these change according to who is measuring and how the measurements are being taken. If one measures just unique visitors, dedicated news sites don’t fare very well.For example, below is a list of top mobile apps in the US. This is year-old data, but the most reputable we have until Comscore counts again. Unsurprisingly, there’s not a traditional news app in the top 25. And if you ask consumers where they are getting news, they’ll tell you Facebook , YouTube and Twitter, except for specific news that comes from Yahoo Stocks, the Yahoo Weather Widget, and the Weather Channel. The news sites are posting their content to these top sites to capture their traffic.

ZEDO Top Sites 2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But now look down at this list of the top  US news apps from the Google Play store. These are “real,” or pure new sites, and the typical news sites, are there — Yahoo, CNN, Fox, Buzzfeed, NBC, BBC, and the Guardian. Notice the absence of the New York Times here. Because Android controls the mobile market in sheer numbers, and because these apps are free, we can guesstimate that these apps have some popularity outside the US as well. It would be safe to extrapolate the IOS picture from these apps, with the possible exception of the Google sites.

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A third count shows the top smartphone apps at the beginning of 2015. Once again, not a traditional news app in the bunch. We again draw the conclusion that people are getting their news from Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and Twitter, with a bit of Google +, which is very popular outside the US, thrown in.

Our determination is that traditional news publishers are behind the power curve, and that publishing articles to Facebook and links to Twitter, Instagram and YouTube is catching on. Nevertheless, it’s not time for publishers to throw in the towel on their own sites just yet. What they must do is place the emphasis on shareable content that can live on and off the social streams. It’s important that Facebook’s walled garden not be the only news source on the internet, especially in countries where it is either banned or not widely used.

ZEDO Top news apps 2015

 

TV Execs Minimize Video Threat, but…

Big numbers have been released by comScore about the growing number of online videos served by both Facebook and YouTube. Between the two sites, they delivered more than 24 billion views in August alone. To get down to the specifics. comScore’s executive chairman said that Facebook had delivered a billion, yes that’s billion, more video views than YouTube, and Facebook itself announced in September that it was delivering a billion views a day. Welcome to Q4 and the potential for massive advertising spend.

What do those big numbers mean for the advertising industry? Well, if you listen to the networks, not much.

In a June 2014 report, RBC Capital Markets analyst David Bank stated “the online video market poses little threat to the traditional network TV ecosystem.”  To highlight the drastic contrast between the two markets, Banks asserted the advertising value of an entire week of YouTube viewership is equivalent to that of a single, first-run episode of CBS sitcom “The Big Bang Theory.”

“Is ‘The Big Bang Theory’ a big show? Yes,” said Bank. “Does its scale threaten the fabric of the rest of the TV advertising ecosystem? We do not think so.”

A “Big Bang” viewer sits through around eight minutes of advertising, while a YouTube viewer is exposed to far shorter, less frequent pre-roll ads, some of which can be skipped. Moreover, Bank noted, only around 16 percent of ad minutes in online video run against premium content, and roughly half of that inventory is available on properties owned by major media companies like CBS or ABC.

So more and longer ads make TV superior, even when run against mediocre content? But how engaged is the TV viewer vs. the video viewer?  Video viewers may be exposed to fewer ads, but they can’t fast forward through as much advertising as TV viewers can since the advent of time-shifted viewing. Morevoer, Facebook serves autoplay video ads, although some users dislike that because they almost HAVE to view them. Does that produce positive engagement with a brand? We’d say it depends on the brand. The jury’s still out on the overall effect.

But here are better ways to serve video advertising than just pre-roll on two sites. For one thing, we believe video ads can be cut loose from pre-roll and served on non-video sites where they can run in the middle of content a visitor is already reading. Our inArticle format does not run auto-play sound, so we’re  courteous to a reading visitor. But we don’t let the visitor forget either, because we leave a 1×1 copy of the ad at the bottom of the page, so if a visitor wants to read all the way through the content and return to the ad, she can.

We’ve also got a Tier 1 network at your disposal, so if you want to buy video ads and you can’t find enough pre-roll to scale your campaign, our ZINC high impact formats could be perfect for you.

Industry Changes Demand Technology Leadership

Our industry is changing fast. We’re aware of that, and our technical team is hard at work coming up with new, more effective solutions to help advertising survive and content continue, in most cases, to be free. Advertising is the time-honored way to support content, but the invasive methods of some marketers have brought about a backlash.

Will advertising go away? Unlikely. There isn’t any other acceptable way to support media sites. And even e-commerce sites must attract customers. But advertising is due for the same kind of change publishing just negotiated. Using modern advertising technology, we have to target consumers in a way that is convenient and non-intrusive for them, and relevant for their needs.

Susan Wojcicki, the VP Advertising at Google, gave a talk at the IAB Digital Summit, wherein she defined the five drivers of digital advertising’s future. The first driver is choice. Users will be able to choose whether to view an ad. Even now, our full screen video ads on the web give the viewer an option to start the audio and move the ad to full screen. But this is only the beginning of providing choice to the viewer about whether to engage with the ad. The browser is a big player here. Most of the action around the future of advertising will concern the browser.

The second driver is control. Consumers will look at ads they deem relevant. It will be up to the ad tech industry to do its targeting correctly. And then we have to make the ads more interesting to look at. This demands better creative for digital advertising. In the old performance-driven world, ads were not particularly memorable unless they offered a way to convert instantly.Click here. In the world of brand advertising, the conversions are more indirect, but the advertising can be much more engaging. We may not be asking a viewer to click on anything.

Wojcicki also speaks of the need to target people, and not their devices.  We as users should be able to get ads that are relevant to where we are and what we’re doing right now. If we’re mobile, restaurants might be appropriate. If we’re home, perhaps it is shoes.

And the fifth driver is calibration, or measurement. Everything will be measured. And not necessarily by page views or clicks. We are at the point where those measures of efficiency should be replaced by measures of effectiveness.

Wojcicki’s (and therefore Google’s) future vision takes into account recent industry-wide conversations on privacy, including the decisions of most mainstream browsers to turn on “Do not Track” as a default and block the use of third party cookies.

We can live in a world without third party cookies if we want to. We can live with “Do Not Track” turned on. The advertising industry just has to make its products more relevant to the users. And ZEDO must continue to develop products like high impact formats that help the visitor engage.

 

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