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InContext / An inside look at the business of digital content

Trust is an opportunity. Don’t miss it.

December 7, 2017 | By Jason Kint, CEO—DCN @jason_kint

The problem is simple. The solution is hard.

When DCN (re)launched in 2014 as the trade organization for the future of the premium publishers, we predicted a decline in trust in our industry which has, indeed, bore out.

The thesis: A migration to automated channels for both the delivery of advertising and the discovery of content represented a significant opportunity. But we also warned that the industry needed to make consumer, advertiser, publisher trust a priority in order to fully realize the opportunity. Now we have to ask ourselves: Has the industry failed in doing this?

With trust at the core of everything we do, DCN has spent much of the past three years shining a light on advertising supply channels, advocating positions that align with consumer trust, and learning from each other across the growing DCN membership.

This week, DCN released new research showing a measured and significant decline in trust for digital information discovered on Facebook and YouTube. It’s a problem that no one wants to talk about as it puts us at direct odds with the most powerful companies on the planet. But it’s real. And it’s a real problem for the whole industry.

Unlike much of the previous research, this study focused on more than news, analyzing the impact on entertainment content and also on advertisers. One significant finding is that the gap in trust on social networks and YouTube also impacts the publisher and advertiser brands that choose to participate in these platforms.

As always, developing a nuanced interpretation of research is critical. The easy spin is to argue for a reversal of trends by pointing out that brand websites and apps enjoy considerably-higher trust than Facebook and YouTube as sources of digital content. They do. However, history shows us that’s the short-sighted and self-preservation mindset publishers don’t need. For more than a decade, newspaper and magazine companies hoped that young readers would migrate back to print. They didn’t.

In fact, as Bharat Anand pointed out at the DCN Next: Summit last January, the great migration away from newspapers began in the 1940s. Here is the rub: We’re not going to beat the major platforms – Facebook, Instagram, YouTube – at what they do best. They provide remarkable scale and ease-of-access to information and entertainment. At the same time, they provide microtargeted audiences and ease-of-buying for advertisers. Quite simply, they are formidable players in the industry for both publishers and advertisers. But they have also been a significant force in driving the bar lower on media trust. Combined with a White House executive office seeking to discredit the media, we’re in a gnarly vortex and struggling to find the way out.

What we do know is that the solution to this problem will need to include the same ease of discovery of news and entertainment as provided by the platforms. Friction is not your friend. And advertisers are going to continue to want more in scale and automated channels. These two trends are irreversible and align with consumer and advertiser needs. Facebook, Instagram and YouTube, must be forced to enable a future beyond just protecting their financial interests and begin to take responsibility for their role in the larger digital media ecosystem.

The shot: Only significant global pressure will force Google and Facebook to risk their own business interests and be accountable to media overall.

  • More and more analysts are seeing it. At the recent Business Insider Ignition conference, professor and analyst Scott Galloway absolutely crushed his argument that Facebook and Google should be broken up. If you haven’t seen his remarks, I strongly recommend you watch now. Unbundling YouTube, DoubleClick, WhatsApp, and Instagram from their respective acquirers is a hard but a logical step.
  • Advertisers and agencies are fed up. Facebook and Google are enduring multiple colonoscopies as they submit to full audits of their measurement systems. No doubt Facebook has significant exposure here. Trust but verify.
  • Publishers are pressing Facebook and Google for more value which comes in the form of listening to their needs, supporting their business models and increasing brand presence in their feeds.
  • The press is starting to hold Google and Facebook accountable. The increased scrutiny of the company’s influence on academia, think tanks, and lawmakers – along with the overwhelming exposure of their issues – has made for an uncomfortable 2017 for the platforms. The more the independent press digs in, the more problems they find and the more safety in numbers as they call out the most powerful companies on the planet.

The chaser: Premium publishers are the solution. Advertisers are also expressing an intention to move their investments towards higher-trust media and measurement while doing everything they can to avoid being associated with the cesspools that exist on Facebook and YouTube.

Remarkably, every quarter of 2017, DCN members have seen sequential growth in digital revenues versus the same periods last year. In the swirl of what has been called the Media Apocalypse, DCN members are seeing the distant light. As much as Google and Facebook foresee opportunities to grow trust in their media by embracing trusted media brands, we’ll all come out for the better.

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