Media channels, more than ever before, need to develop consumer relationships throughout the funnel. To do this, they must focus on providing trustworthy content relevant to users as well as context relevant to digital advertisers. The fact is that not all content is equally trustworthy. Marketers who use reach and viewability as their key criteria need to factor trust into their media planning equation.
The new edition of Adtrust’s research, The Company You Keep, offers the latest findings about consumers’ trust in media and the impact of context on digital advertising. The study, based on 4,000 Australian adults, measures consumer trust in content and in advertising being carried by the medium. The study measures the influence of the environment on the advertising on it. The greater the trust in content, the greater the trust in ads, the greater the drive for purchase intent. Yes, environment matters.
The study measures the trust net score (TNS). This measures people’s distrust as well as their trust. The score subtracts the number of consumers who do not trust content (or ads) from the proportion that do trust. For example, if 45% of consumers trust radio content and 20% do not, the net trust score for radio content is 25%.
Among all media (online and off), newspapers earn the highest trust net score (TNS) for both content (48%) and ads (38%). Among digital media sites, news sites earn the highest TNS in both trust in content (34%) and trust in ads (23%). Social media sites earn the lowest TNS in both trust in content (-20%) and in trust in ads (-28%). Importantly, consumers’ trust in news media’s content and advertising has continued to increase over previous studies.
The study asks additional trust-oriented questions about Facebook. The social platform is distrusted more now than it was six months ago. In fact, more than half of all Australians (58%) report that they now trust Facebook less than last year. Further, only one in 10 Australian adults (14%) agree that “I trust the information provided in advertising on Facebook.”
The Adtrust research one again finds that trust of the advertising environment, the place where the ads appear, impacts advertising effectiveness and purchase intent. It reiterates the importance of marketers advertising in a clean environment with trusted publishers.
Today’s consumers expect brands to navigate the social media landscape more responsibly. A new Edelman Trust Barometer study shows that consumers across nine countries expect brands and marketers to think about content and context and to boycott certain environments when purchasing media. Consumers are aware of the influence advertisers have in the marketplace, given their impact on revenue. Edelman’s research shows that people lack confidence in social media and look to brands to leverage their influence to act on social media problems such as fake news and data integrity
Environment clearly matters, and brands are accountable for their choices. Nearly half of all consumers globally agree it is a brand’s own fault if its advertising appears next to hate speech. They also feel that the points of view that near a brand’s advertising and marketing messages are an indication of that brand’s values and what it stands for.
Additional findings from Edelman ‘s review of social media in 9 countries includes:
Only 40% (34% in the U.S.) trust that social media platforms will address fake news and hate speech.
60% (61% in the U.S.) report that they do not trust social media platforms to behave responsibly with user data.
40% (38% in the U.S) say they have deleted at least one social media account in the past year because they did not trust the platform to treat personal information properly.
Nearly two-thirds (62% and 48% in the U.S.) said that they want government to play a stronger role in regulating social media.
Importantly, consumers want brands to apply pressure on social platforms to protect them from inappropriate use of content and misuse of personal data. Nearly seventy percent of consumrs agree that brands should pressure social media to do more about false information and fake news and protect users from offensive/harmful content and to ensure personal data is protected and used ethically.
Consumers are demanding transparency and privacy protection from social platforms. However, they have little trust in them to fix these problems. And they clearly value the efforts that brands make to influence these issues. This represents an important time and opportunity for brand marketers to step in, act and enforce on behalf of the consumer. This with help rebuild trust in the media marketplace as well as in the brands that do so.
This year’s Reuters Institute Digital News Report contains some signs of hope for the news industry. According to the report, “Change is in the air with many media companies shifting models towards higher quality content and more emphasis on reader payment.” However, as the report points out, these emerging trends are fragile, unevenly distributed, and are emerging in the wake of many years of digital disruption, which has undermined both consumer and publisher confidence.
Based on a YouGov survey conducted with 74,000 people in 37 countries, this is the seventh in an annual series of reports that track the transition of the news industry towards an increasingly digital and multi-platform future. Among the many challenges highlighted in the report is a low level of trust in the media in most countries and concerns about fake news. The business side continues to struggle despite a rise in reader revenue, as it has failed to offset continued declines in print and digital advertising revenue.
Here are 6 key takeaways from Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2018:
The use of social media for news has started to fall in a number of key markets after years of continuous growth. Usage is down 6% in the United States and is also down in the UK and France.
Globally, the use of messaging apps for news is on the rise. WhatsApp is now used for news by around half of the sampled users in Malaysia (54%) and Brazil (48%) and by around third in Spain (36%) and Turkey (30%).
Across all countries, the average level of trust in the news in general remains relatively stable at 44%, with just over half (51%) agreeing that they trust the news media they themselves use most of the time.
By contrast, 34% of respondents say they trust news they find via search and fewer than a quarter (23%) say they trust the news they find in social media.
Last year’s significant increase in subscription in the United States (the “Trump Bump”) has been maintained. The average number of people paying for online news has edged up in many countries, with significant increases coming from Norway (+4 percentage points), Sweden (+6), and Finland (+4).
Privacy concerns have reignited the growth in ad-blocking software. More than a quarter of consumers now block on any device (27%). More than four in ten (42%) now use blockers in Greece (+6) with significant increases in Germany (+5) and the United States (+4).
The report concludes that the many changes this year serve as a reminder that things that once seemed certain (such as the importance of Facebook and the online advertising model) can quickly shift. The entire space continues to rapidly evolve, with technologies like voice-activated interfaces and artificial intelligence are on the rise, which will bring new opportunities as well as challenges. While the future of news remains uncertain, the report does provide hope that quality content will be increasingly rewarded in the future.
It’s hard to see change when you’re in the moment. Progress is something that’s best observed in hindsight. It’s easy to let the challenges of the day grab your focus. Going the next few feet often feels more important than miles you’ve already come. I think about this often when I look back on the changes that have taken place in our industry over the last four years.
Viewability has been completely overhauled. It wasn’t so long ago that even the most hard-nosed media buyers were resigned to the idea that 30% of their ads were destined to be below-the-fold, partially loaded– in effect, unviewable. Today those numbers have improved dramatically. Even the least demanding buyers know that they can get to 60% viewability, and with the right tools and solutions in place 100% viewability is within reach. In retrospect, it seems crazy that we ever accepted anything less.
What’s going on
You can tell the same story about fraud. Just a few years ago the conventional wisdom held that fraud levels of 30% (or or even 50%) were an unavoidable. To reach real people, you had to go to through a mountain of bots. It was the cost of doing business, and an “unofficial tax” on digital advertisers. But that was before the industry reset its thinking about what is actually possible. Today, thanks to advances in fraud detection, most advertisers would consider a fraud threshold of just 2% to be the upper threshold of what is acceptable.
Today, “fraud free,” “viewable only,” and “100% brand safe” are all commonplace. These would have seemed out of reach for advertisers just a few years ago. And those aren’t just slogans, they’re promises with meaningful business implications.
Why it matters
There’s a tendency to get lost in the weeds, or to think about metrics as goals unto themselves. As focused as we are on reducing fraud, improving viewability, or protecting brands those things aren’t really the end goal. A more viewable ad ecosystem means cost savings for advertisers, more efficient CPMs, and better ROI for your marketing dollars.
When we accepted that only 50% of our ad buys were reliably fraud free we were accepting that we might be throwing away about half the money we spend in digital. Half of an advertisers million dollar ad buy could go to waste. For publishers that meant half a million dollars going into the pockets of fraudsters instead of into their revenue column. A healthier ecosystem means better business opportunities for everyone.
The work of cleaning up the digital advertising industry is just beginning. We’ve made great strides in desktop environments, but the conversation is already moving with the audiences as well. New platforms like mobile in-app, proprietary platforms, and over-the-top video all face challenges of their own. But those challenges shouldn’t deter us. Instead we should look back at the incredible progress we’ve made and realize that that same kind of transformation is possible in every new environment.
Advertisers and publishers can continue to carve out big opportunities on mobile, video, and social the same way they have on desktop. That’s why we believe that the work we do is so important. We want to encourage everyone to keep rethinking what they’re willing to accept from the digital ecosystem. It’s the only way to keep improving value, effectiveness, and revenue to move digital forward.
Harmon joined Integral Ad Science in 2013 to support the company’s accelerated growth and demand for its media quality solutions. In his role, Harmon is responsible for strategic partnerships and integrations of Integral’s digital technology solutions with both publishers and platforms.
Harmon is a veteran of the online media industry, leading and mentoring teams on both the publisher and agency side of the business. He is a frequent speaker and writer in the digital advertising community and is an advocate of both the art and science of digital marketing.
As Microsoft founder Bill Gates said this week, “People don’t mind having a little bit of demographic information about themselves used to target ads. That’s value added to the user.” When data is clearly used to improve the relevance of the ads consumers see, it can improve their overall experience.
Unfortunately, the amount of data collected and the myriad ways in which it is used are opaque to most consumers. And, when they get a glimpse behind the curtain, (as with Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica dealings) consumers grow mistrustful of data collection—and even online advertising—as a whole.
However, it is possible that if consumers are more informed on the tracking process and what’s going on behind the scenes, advertising would be more effective and impactful. This is what Tami Kim, Kate Barasz, and Leslie John examine in their study, “Why Am I Seeing This Ad? The Effect of Ad Transparency on Ad Effectiveness” published recently in the Journal of Consumer Research. Their research analyzes the impact of ad transparency on ad effectiveness.
Today, some websites and advertisers are informing users (albeit in a limited fashion) about what they are tracking and their data practices. Some sites may display an adChoices icon that indicates an ad is targeted based on user characteristics. Consumers can find out why the ad is being displayed to them by clicking on the icon. Other websites are alerting visitors, upon first visits, of their tracking user software and practices (e.g., cookies).
The Ad Transparency Effect
Kim, Barasz, and John conducted five studies using the Facebook platform. They analyzed the findings to identify the core dimensions of ad transparency needed to positively impact ad effectiveness.
Study 1 allows consumers to select acceptable tracking methods from a pre-defined list. The analysis identifies two important ad tracking practices consumers find acceptable: 1) the information is obtained from tracking within the site and not outside of it; and 2) the information (attributes) is provide by the consumer and not inferred by the site.
Study 2 tests the effectiveness of revealing data tracking practices within a site versus across-websites. Participants are shown an ad. Then, they are shown either no information or messaging as to why they are seeing this ad (message a: the ad has been generated based on user information obtained within the platform or message b: the ad has been generated either based on information obtained cross-platform). The results from Study 2 confirms that transparency messaging increases ad effectiveness especially when it reveals the information is obtained within the platform and not from cross-website tracking.
Study 3 examines the impact of revealing a targeted ad is based on stated attributes versus inferred attributes. Participants are shown an ad and then given one of two messages (message a: the ad is generated based on information stated by the consumer or message b: the ad is generated based on information inferred by the site). Results for Study 3 indicate that privacy concerns are higher in the inferred attributes and detracts from advertising effectiveness.
Study 4 looks at the role trust plays in a site’s data transparency and its impact on ad effectiveness. The results of this study indicate that users who trust a site are more likely to engage with an ad that offers ad transparent messaging than those sites they distrust.
Study 5A and 5B explore the impact of ad effectiveness when there’s both trust of a site and ad transparent messaging. Study 5A divides consumers into two groups, half are assigned to a loyalty program (higher trust of site) and the other half to a non-loyalty program (no trust of site). Personal information was obtained transparently from the loyalty program consumer group.
This study found consumers are more willing to click on recommended items, spend more time, and purchase more when they both trust the platform. They will also provide their own data (attribute information). Study 5B includes two additional consumer groups and offers messaging regarding shared or inferred user attributes. Message group one: Recommended based on what you’ve shared with us (implies data user provides). And message group two: Recommended (implying the data is inferred about the user). Study 5B reveals that consumers are more likely to have a higher propensity to click on recommended items if they state their attributes than those targeted based on inferred attributes.
Kim, Barasz, and John’s research is an important step to understand how consumers’ readiness to engage with digital ads is affected by their awareness of the data practices used to deliver such ads. Ad transparency messaging is a critical step to increase advertising effectiveness on your site.
Facebook has been under fire ever since the revelation that it allowed the political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica to harvest user data and use that information as fodder for the Trump campaign. While outrage against the social media giant is warranted, we also ought to be concerned about the entire digital advertising ecosystem, where everyone — including publishers — is on the hunt for data.
Indeed, rather than just pointing at Facebook, feeling smug and a bit of schadenfreude, publishers and advertisers should take a deeper look at their own practices. And how about going even further: Take a leading role in ensuring user privacy. Think about what you can do to make sure data hunger doesn’t comprise user interest.
Walled Garden War
Anger toward Facebook isn’t anything new for media companies and publishers. If anything, the Cambridge Analytica scandal is just one point on a timeline documenting publishers’ tempestuous relationship with Facebook. At a recent Platforms + Publishers roundtable I produced at Facebook, there were plenty of angry small publishers who pointed to a loss of 50% or more of Facebook-referred traffic. Someone even mentioned that going to Facebook was like going back to an abusive partner. You think things are getting better and then, smack! you are hit with an algorithm change and a poisonous political data scandal.
As Axios’ Scott Rosenberg put it, the current fury against Facebook is personal for journalists because they, along with their institutions, blame Facebook (as well as other tech behemoths like Google) “for seducing their readers, impoverishing their employees, and killing off their jobs.” Given the stronghold Facebook and Google have over the digital advertising industry — which has also rendered publishers and advertisers dependent on the duopoly — any backlash that can knock down these tech companies, even a little, stands to make things better for their competitors and the ecosystem at large.
But there are a couple fallacies with that kind of thinking. First, Facebook has played a crucial role in helping news outlets reach their audiences where their audiences are. And it’s no secret that the micro-targeting of a news item to user — based on the data gathered — worked to help the publisher, even if publishers always felt they were on the losing end of the relationship. And Facebook has certainly made a much bigger effort at helping to drive memberships, donations and subscriptions to publishers; in fact, that was the overarching theme of the roundtable I produced at Facebook.
And secondly: While it’s easy to nurture a grudge against Facebook, it’s harder to understand the complex relationships between publishers and platforms – where there can be collaboration and animosity. National outlets may be more vocal about their criticism around Facebook’s ability to adequately compensate publishers. However, local publishers in particular see Facebook, Google and other major tech platforms as potential allies that can help elevate their standing, and help them compete with national outlets.
Not only that, but consider BuzzFeed’s Mark Di Stefano’s scoop that both The Economist and the Financial Times hired Cambridge Analytica to help them grow their subscriber base in the United States. It’s unclear whether the data benefited the two British companies, but clearly, that’s what they were looking for. As media and tech thinker Doc Searls accurately notes, news publishers are also guilty of using third-party tracking apps that return internet advertising to their users. But, as everyone is now realizing, there’s no guarantee what actually happens to that data. “What will happen when the [New York] Times, the New Yorkerand other pubs own up to the simple fact that they are just as guilty as Facebook of leaking its readers’ data to other parties, for—in many if not most cases—God knows what purposes besides ‘interest-based’ advertising?” Searls wrote on his Harvard blog.
But the best reckoning publishers could have right now is not about Facebook, but themselves — and the steps they can take to make sure they have their own data houses in order. As the Association of National Advertisers put it in a statement, “In truth, the Cambridge Analytica controversy is greater than Facebook alone…It’s a brand reputation and data security risk for every ANA member that advertises and monetizes brands on online and mobile outlets.”
One huge step, already started by the Advertising Research Foundation (ARF), is to call for new industry guidelines and standards around data collection that also focuses on prioritizing user protection. The ARF has invited other industry bodies to contribute to the endeavor; now it’s up to the rest of the players in the digital advertising ecosystem, publishers and advertisers included, to do their share to ensure a safer internet. Data is the ultimate feast for everyone, but if the hunger for it leads to toxic consequences, it poisons the entire body.
Marketers are concerned about brand safety and focused on investing their media dollars wisely to ensure that their ads are seen in a good environment. And rightly so. A new Australian study from Galaxy Research, The Company You Keep, provides insight into consumers views on trust in relation to the media and advertising they consume.
The framework of Galaxy’s study was the Adtrust Matrix, academic research published in 2009. The Adtrust Matrix is a recognized set of dimensions and elements used to measure trust in advertising. It includes four key characteristics, which breakdown further into 20 attributes:
Usefulness: valuable, good, useful and helps people make the best decisions
Affect: likeable, enjoyable and positive
Willingness to rely on: willing to consider the ad-conveyed information when making purchase-related decisions, willing to rely on ad-conveyed information when making purchase-related decisions, willing to make important purchase-related decisions based on ad-conveyed information and willing to recommend the product or service that I have seen in ads to my friends or family
In total, almost 3,000 Australians adults rated the content and ads against the 20 Adtrust characteristics across Newspapers (National, Metro, Regional, Community), Television, Radio, Magazines, Cinema, Outdoor, Digital news media (newspaper-based websites and apps), Social, Search and Any (other) websites.
The research findings identify newspapers as the medium scoring the greatest in consumer trust in advertising, followed by cinema, radio, magazines and digital news media. Further, the study shows social media scores lowest in consumer trust in advertising.
The Galaxy research finds a high correlation between trust in advertising and the content experienced in the same environment. The consumer scores offer a strong link between the content experience and the advertising experience. An overall high degree of trust in advertising occurs where there is a positive net trust in content. An overall low degree of trust in advertising occurs when there is negative net trust in content.
These findings were similar to those from DCN’s research study, Trust as a Proxy for Brand Value, which also found a high correlation between consumers trust in content and their trust in ads in the same environment. In the DCN study, consumers scored branded sites high for trust in advertising while social media scored the lowest in trust for advertising. Both studies confirm that greater trust in content leads to greater trust in ads.
Trust Drives Purchases
Importantly, the Galaxy research also shows greater trust in ads yields greater purchase intent. In fact, 50% of respondents agree that the more they trust an ad, the more likely they are to buy the product/service.
The Galaxy research finds once again that the environment, or context, in which the ads appear, has an impact on the ads receptivity and effectiveness. It reaffirms the value and importance of working with trusted publishers in the marketplace.
G-day is looming! On May 25, the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) will kick in and – despite the hype – many publishers aren’t ready for it.
Over the course of Advertising Week Europe, held March 19-22 in London, several panels grappled with the issues surrounding GDPR. It became clear that, while marketers are focused on new ways to reach consumers, publishers are faced with the challenge of understanding consumer consent, and if necessary de-personalizing the message, while maintaining trust and keeping revenue streams flowing.
During the Digital Content Next seminar, I had the opportunity to ask DCN CEO Jason Kint, Anthony Hitchings, Digital Advertising Operations Director for the Financial Times, and Jo Coombs CEO of Ogilvy One UK, whether GDPR (referred to in some circles as the God Damn Privacy Rules) represents a massive headache or a huge opportunity.
Headache or Opportunity
Trust is the number one priority explained Kint. “Trusted relationships and transparency become key as publishers work with vendors and with consumers to ensure satisfaction. Premium publishers could see user loyalty rise, if intrusive messages become standard on all other sites. Premium publishers, with trusted and recognizable brands, stand to come out ahead as the industry experiments.”
“It’s certainly keeping us busy, but I wouldn’t say it’s a headache,” said Hitchings. “For months now, we’ve been doing supplier reviews — due diligence with all our suppliers. We’ve been doing system audits, we’ve been practicing system access requests based on our own platform, and looking at the length of time we hold data for.” Even though this might seem like more than a bit of a headache to many, Hitchings said he’s optimistic, because the FT has a “direct relationship with users.”
The Relationship Business
All the panelists agreed that the nature of the relationship with users is key. Publishers need to be open and honest about data collection. However, it poses a serious threat if the industry at large thinks it’s just fine to grab profiles or take surfing data. “When you know how consumers feel, you start to feel slightly more concerned about what the industry does,” Hitchings added.
“Every single piece of data represents a person, and that person obviously needs to be protected and respected by the brands. We are talking to brands about, not just the media they are purchasing and how they are using consumer data. This is every single touchpoint with a customer. It is their data and they need to be in control of it,” said Coombs.
However, she added that while a lot of work is being done on GDPR from the business side, consumers are not being educated. They need to better understand what they are giving up when they click on a box to agree to get rid of a cookie use banner she explained. “We need to help consumers understand what they are ticking and what they are saying yes to,” she added.
Hitchings pointed out that trying to convey the complexities of ad exchanges to users is “not going to be an easy job.”
“The biggest concern that publishers have right now is the actual execution of how to have that very discussion,” said Kint.
“Publishers that have a trusted relationship [with users] can decide what to put in front of that user. Typically, if a user is visiting a site like the Financial Times, or even a search engine like Google, they have a general idea that their data is being collected and used in certain ways. And they are probably okay with their data being used for personalization of the page, or posting on the message board, or fraud protection, etc. But for a data broker to be watching what they’re doing and then reusing their data across the web is probably outside their expectations,” he continued.
“Google currently collects data from about 80% of the top one million sites and uses that data however it wants to maximize its own value. The very notion that Google can continue to do that after GDPR is a concern. Users do not want Google watching the web,” Kint continued.
“There’s a fine line between being personalized, useful and relevant, and being a useful value exchange, and actually being just too creepy,” agreed Coombs.
The issue that hasn’t really been addressed by the industry is third-party risk, said Hitchings. “We’re trying to understand what adtech is doing with data and one piece of due diligence took more than a year! So, I don’t think publishers are going to have the bandwidth to assess the risk for more than a handful of partners,” he explained.
This aligned with Kint’s view that only trusted publishers and partners can be successful post-GDPR. And that’s going to be a good thing for consumers as well. Hitchings pointed out a couple of thousand trackers on every page is just daft — and creepy.
Jennifer writes for some of the biggest names in media, including ArsTechnica, Computerweekly, TheNextWeb, Macworld, PCworld, and The Register. She regularly features as an EU policy expert on BBC radio.
The most significant opportunity in more than a decade to steer value towards our members is playing out now in Europe.
It is DCN’s role to help shape the future of the digital ecosystem to bend towards the interests of trusted content companies while your team focuses on the day-to-day operations. We work every day to do this and to raise the bar of trust with both advertisers and consumers. Unlike other parts of the web media industry, we’re fortunate these efforts often align. That is, by increasing trust for consumers and advertisers, the brands of DCN will prosper in the long-term. We are starting to see the pendulum swing in our favor – both in consumer subscriptions and the trust and transparency of the advertising market – and are working hard to accelerate it.
Since DCN exclusively represents content companies, we occasionally have a different point of view from other parts of the media ecosystem including intermediaries (e.g. ad tech companies, Google, Facebook). The business model of these intermediaries has for many years relied on harvesting the data generated from advertiser and consumer relationships with our members’ websites and apps. Right now, there is significant debate over how to best participate in the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in the EU and what the effects of the roll-out of will be. The rules of GDPR, which set a new bar for consumer privacy, were finalized years ago and since that time have inspired a rich amount of misinformation, disagreement and fear, only increasing as the GDPR enforcement date of May 25, 2018 approaches.
The IAB and IAB Europe, which are charged with representing a much broader set of stakeholders including hundreds of ad tech companies, Google, Facebook, Oath, and many others with significant intermediary interests, has released its plan to handle the GDPR roll-out. The IAB framework, which was submitted for industry commenting, was clearly designed by ad tech companies and included endorsement from 23 ad tech companies and, most notably, zero publishers.
Details will be discussed in other forums but can be summarized as it:
relies on cookies which are unreliable in many experiences;
pushes all liability to the publisher without providing any control over the CMPs, SSPs, DSPs, exchanges and how they use this data;
outsources the consent relationship with the user to a “Consent Manager Provider” (CMP) operated by an IAB-friendly;
does not leverage the direct relationship between a publisher and its audience to manage consent and store it persistently in the browser (e.g. DNT);
fails to reduce friction for users giving consent for purposes most important to publishers and most acceptable to users;
unintentionally creates more friction with your audience for editorial and product features for the sake of protecting ad tech vendors.
Thus, it will most likely enable a practical use case where global consent is enacted to protect the status quo of maximum behaviorally-targeted advertising and unbridled data collection. In other words, their goal is to use “free” services to encourage users to click, “Turn All On” and opt back into the status quo.
Please reach out to us directly and make certain your business leaders and partners understand there are serious flaws with the IAB Consent Framework. We strongly urge publishers to hold off signing up with the 23 companies (and Google and Facebook behind the scenes) to support the framework in its current form.
Once again, there is a window here in which publishers can rebuild consumer and advertiser trust. The most significant advertisers in the world are aligned with us on this as they begin to see their pursuit of truly one-to-one advertising across the wider web as economically and legally challenging. GDPR will create opportunity for audience selection based on cohorts and context which is a significant risk to Google and Facebook. GDPR moves advertisers away from their current buying habits supported by the myth they can simply harvest demand through microtargeting personal data. Creating new demand through context and true relevance is the sweet spot of trust and true publishers.
And where there is significant risk to Facebook and Google and opportunity for growing consumer trust, you will come out ahead.
Strategies for differentiating their premium news and entertainment companies in an environment of disruption, trust issues, and monetization challenges were the focus of the annual closed-door members-only Digital Content Next (DCN) Summit held Feb. 8-9 in Miami, Florida.
DCN CEO Jason Kint updated attendees on consumer privacy, net neutrality, and press freedom policy initiatives. He said that pressure on platforms will increase this year and that advertisers will seek greater transparency. Kint cited findings from DCN’s new Distributed Content Revenue Benchmark Report, which found that publishers only garner 5% of their revenue from social platforms. However, he also touched upon the growth in paid content, on-demand video, and promising signs of sustainable advertising models.
For the digital media industry, Trust has reached a crisis level, Kint said. He and other speakers throughout the event pointed to the 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer, which reveals a low consumer perception of the media, platforms, and advertisers—particularly around digital.
An absence of trust has been a driving factor toward regulatory scrutiny in the U.S. and abroad. It has also profoundly affected digital advertising, one of the mainstays of the industry. Kint applauded DCN members for embracing DCN’s new tool for rebuilding trust: TrustX. The cooperative private programmatic marketplace serves as a collaboration platform for marketers and publishers to create innovative advertising solutions that drive measurable value and improve the consumer experience with confidence and safety at scale.
Kint was far from alone in extolling the importance of trust in the digital content marketplace, however. Fatemeh Khatibloo, principal analyst at Forrester Research cited the building blocks for trust, which include integrity, competence, transparency, privacy, and data security.
David Sable, Global Chief Executive Officer, Y&R, noted that trusted brands employ honesty, environmental sustainability, and kindness. He also pointed out that millennials are keen to identify trusted news sources. Building trust starts early, according to Sean Cohen, president, International and Digital Media, A+E Networks, citing how brands such as the History Channel have become a trusted source for students.
While Edelman’s barometer noted a five-point jump in trust of journalists, a social media-weaponized world has given way to readers and viewers expressing anger, often anonymously and without consequences, as vividly reported by a panel of journalists— Arianna Davis of Refinery29, Jorge Ramos of Noticiero Univision, CNN’s Brian Stelter, and Katy Tur of MSNBC Live.
Brand Quality and Context
People won’t pay for brands that don’t focus on quality, noted Andrew Essex, former CEO of Tribeca Enterprises and Droga5 [pictured, top]. Quartz President and Publisher Jay Lauf also emphasized value-based selling over commodified volume selling.
Context is critical, he said, adding that marketers “are terrified” about ads appearing on an exploitive YouTube video or inadvertently funding fake news on Facebook. And Hearts & Science research on negative reach confirms advertising appearing next to content a consumer finds offensive does more harm than good according to the agency’s president Zak Treuhaft.
And, in a world dominated by memes and disembodied news delivered via social platforms, “Context is king,” according to Sean Cohan, President, International and Digital Media, A+E Networks. For example, he pointed to the History brand’s increased emphasis on providing a larger historical context for today’s news, such as the history of sports figures’ involvement in political protests.
Disruption and Opportunity
Disruption has led to a competitive marketplace imbalance as DCN member companies try to transform their business models, as Kint noted. At the same time, disruptive technologies, such as voice assistants, can create significant opportunities.
Loren Mayor, COO, NPR, spoke of the station’s mission to connect with people through storytelling journalism and is using on-demand audio and podcasting to enhance audience growth and engagement.
Smarter use of data and respectful personalization were subjects that came up in a number of conversations and presentations. More-informed data will help drive value, according to Lou Paskalis, SVP, Enterprise Media Planning, Investment and Measurement Executive, Bank of America Merrill Lynch.
Marcus East, EVP, Product & Technology/CTO, National Geographic, said that successful brands create personalized experiences and help consumers save time and money, create emotional connections, offer life-changing elements, and promote positive social impact.
That said, in today’s uncertain digital environment, the hallmarks of reputable journalism have reemerged as critical for consumer trust and attention. Michael Anastasi, VP News, USA Today Network, Tennessee pointed to importance of the Indianapolis Star’s investigative coverage of U.S. Olympic gymnastics doctor Dr. Larry Nassar, which stands out in a time of local news outlets’ survival uncertainties.
Anastasi said that USA Today leverages its local/national symbiosis on to inform some of its stories. He cited the brand’s coverage of the opioid crisis across all platforms—and with national, local, and individual ramifications. The comprehensive coverage was made possible through a sponsorship from BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee.
In addressing financial sustainability in non-profit journalism, ProPublica President Richard Tofel noted significant growth in donation-based revenues since the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The non-profit model seems to be working for ProPublica as Tofel said that they launched with a staff of 25 nine and a half years ago and now number more than 100.
Diversification and Monetization
Unsurprisingly, revenue was a key topic at the Summit. And while advertising remains a critical focus, diversification was a dominant theme. In all aspects of monetization, good consumer experience and engagement were essential. As Ed Davis, EVP & CPO Advertising Products, Fox Networks Group put it: “Attention is currency.”
Maggie McLean Suniewick, President, NBCUniversal Digital Enterprises, showed off the many ways the company’s Olympic coverage is tapping into a wide range of platforms to engage target audiences wherever they might be. Bloomberg Media’s initiatives include global partnerships that help it transcend the competitive U.S. market according to Scott Havens, Global Head of Digital, Bloomberg Media. And The Washington Post has launched 15 products specifically designed to engage consumer interaction according to Jarrod Dicker, The Post’s VP of Innovation and Commercial.
The History Channel is leaning into new platforms and partners with The New York Times on stories and photo spreads. Sean Cohan, President, International and Digital Media, A+E Networks said that the company is seeing doubled social engagement, significant newsletter interest, and substantial boosts in YouTube video revenues.
Marty Moe, Vox Media President, said his company focuses on finding ways to grow quality, scale, and audience across its eight brands while retaining relevancy on each platform. However, diversification brings challenges such as tracking and measuring performance on multiple platforms, noted Christy Tanner, EVP & GM, CBS News Digital CBS interactive.
Dr. Jens Mueffelmann, CEO, Axel Springer Digital Ventures GmbH, President, Axel Springer USA, said his company’s success in global acquisitions is based on later-stage investment, development and partnership. While its successful classified ad profits have stunned critics, Mueffelmann urged companies to “stay paranoid” and continue to keep a close eye on emerging digital technologies and players.
On the heels of the news that The New York Times added 157,000 digital subscriptions in the 2017 fourth quarter, pushing its subscription revenues – which comprise 60% of overall revenues – to more than $1 billion, COO Meredith Kopit Levien encouraged everyone to get into the subscription business. It’s important to understand what drives subscribers, she said. For The New York Times, it’s the resources to create better original content, including 250 daily stories, a popular crossword puzzle and a cooking app, she said, noting “our strength is as a brand.”
While challenges in trust, brand quality, disruption and diversification continue to throw roadblocks up in the news and entertainment industry, Kint emphasized that for DCN members, there is strength in numbers, citing The New York Times’ subscription victory as a victory for all DCN members because of what it symbolizes for the industry.
At the core, DCN members are focusing on what they do best and continue to innovate and experiment in order to best serve audiences.
“All of our members have a direct and trusted relationship with your audience and with your advertisers,” Kint told the packed conference room. “They come to your brands because they know what they’re going to get when they give you their valued attention or valued advertising dollars.”
Public trust in the media is at an all-time low, yet Americans still believe that the media plays an important role in today’s democracy. A new report from Gallup and The Knight Foundation, “American Views: Trust, Media and Democracy,” reveals that more than eight in 10 Americans (84%) believe the media either has a “critical” (44%) or a “very important” (40%) role in democracy. So, if journalism is essential to the foundation of democracy, why is its trust in such a fractured state today?
The Gallup/Knight Foundation research provides several insights to this question. The research identifies the spread of inaccurate information on the internet as one of eight leading consumer concerns. In fact, three-quarters of Americans (73%) state the “spread of inaccurate information” as their top concern, with young adults, ages 18-29, highest at 80%. Consequently, adult’s top concern centers on the “distribution” of false news and information.
Share and Share Alike?
The spread of false news and information is further intensified by the sharing and forwarding of news stories, a common practice among consumers today. In particular, social media offers an easy and accessible gateway to share information. Close to two-thirds of Americans (64%) state they frequently/occasionally share news stories with friends, family, or social media followers.
The Gallup/Knight research suggests that Americans are beginning to recognize the pitfalls of social sharing when ideological viewpoints and biasness are not always vetted properly to ascertain credibility. In fact, more U.S. adults believe that citizen videos (58%), the internet (57%), news aggregators (54%), and cable news (52%) have a more positive impact on the U.S. news environment than social media (42%) sites like Facebook and Twitter and political leaders using social media to directly communicate to users.
What exactly do consumer view as fake news?
The Gallup/Knight Foundation defines fake news as “misinformation with the appearance of legitimately produced news but without the underlying organizational journalistic processes or mission.” The research found that consumers have a broader sense of fake news and include: presenting false information as if true, reporting stories before facts are checked, slanting stories to depict a specific point of view and accurate stories showcasing political views negatively.
With so many news sources available, Americans find it hard to stay up to date and informed. Interestingly, even with numerous news outlets, consumers report difficulty finding a balanced source. Four in ten respondents (44%) state that they cannot name an objective source. While consumers also seek news aggregators, more than half of users (57%) are concerned with their method of story collection. Most often these hidden algorithms are not shared.
U.S. adults also recognized political affiliation as a large influencer on the views of the news media. More than half of democratic respondents (54%) report a very or somewhat favorable opinion of the news media. However, the opposite can be said of republican respondents, where more than two-thirds (68%) view the news media in an unfavorable light. Further, respondents report confusion when it comes to sorting out the facts (41%). Democrats tend to be informed about current events and more confident that they can sort out the facts (52%). Republicans on the other hand are more skeptical about sorting out the facts are Republicans (52%)
While Americans have access to more news media outlets than ever before, it a complex ecosystem to navigate. Distribution, aggregation and technology are all strong influencers of the news as well contributing to the proliferation of misinformation in the public domain. Supporting trustworthy publishers and journalists is more important than ever before so that they can distil accurate information and weed out the inaccurate in order to safeguard the democracy of the media.
“At this point, I start from a position of distrust in dealing with Facebook as a company.”
Regrettably, I found myself sharing these thoughts last Friday with reporters who were working around the clock to process the latest Facebook news. And I’m not alone. Even the most trusting publishers have gone from giving Facebook the benefit of the doubt when they rolled out Instant Articles a few years ago, to a “prove it” mentality today.
This is unfortunate considering the power and influence that Facebook has on our lives. Like it or not, Facebook is effectively the largest public square where nearly two billion people around the world gather to exchange information. And there is certainly merit to the argument that the world benefits from the success of Facebook’s experiment to create an open and connected world.
So, what changed?
Business as Usual
Ben Thompson wonderfully captured the heart of the question several years ago, “Even if Zuckerberg is right, is there anyone who believes that a private company run by an unaccountable all-powerful person that tracks your every move for the purpose of selling advertising is the best possible form said global governance should take?”
Our industry is at an important crossroads. In many ways, the Facebook announcement to reorder News Feed priorities isn’t very different from Google’s early shifts and changes (remember Panda?). Many times search engines have been more impactful to the finances of publishers than anything a publisher could control directly. But really, despite some early utopian proclamations, these platforms are just doing business as usual. They lean in heavily to innovation that aligns with their own business interests and has a positive product outcome while slow-walking anything that creates risk to their own financial interests. Why wouldn’t they?
Yesterday, I sent an email to the members of DCN that was quite critical of Facebook. Implicit in my concern is the parallel that can be drawn to Google (something I highlighted in a Washington Post op-ed last October). These two companies are the front door to information for billions of people. So, when they make a tweak or announce a significant shift, the entire information industry needs to pay close attention.
We are paying attention.
Moonshots, Money and Responsibility
Unlike business as usual, “moonshots” are intended to drive real break-throughs that go beyond the horizon of the more cautious bets constrained to basic organizational needs or that don’t inject risk into the cash cows. Last November, we asked Google and Facebook for moonshot-level thinking and initiative to address the fake news and other garbage flowing through their platforms. Yes, the fake news was starting to erode the solid foundation our members’ business is built upon. But the problems go well beyond business. The issues in play resonate deeply through our society.
To put it bluntly, both companies have failed to step up to the task. As a result, there are increasing levels of tension in the press, in Washington, and in Brussels as this distrust spreads. And this isn’t good for anyone.
There are two platform pressures that work against trusted publishers and, importantly, public interest:
Platforms are biased towards solving problems for the lowest-common denominator “publisher” so the solutions can be applied to the wider web. This often creates collateral damage for publishers playing the long game – cultivating brand and engaging customers – and not just focused on immediate financial gain. We’re seeing the impact now as Google attempts to solve for ad blocking or how the industry has dealt with measurement issues.
Platforms also have incredible growth expectations, as they really have one goal to surpass Apple as the most valuable company on the planet. These revenue and profit obligations create an inherent bias toward their own products. In fact, the European Commission already found Google guilty of this. Facebook will always drive consumer intent and publisher interests to the most profitable outcomes. This is why video was Facebook’s #1 priority last year. And now it’s not.
There are also two big issues that affect the entire ecosystem and, importantly, public interest:
Americans don’t trust “the media.” In fact, they trust it less and less each day. The research says they do appropriately trust many of our members and the journalists and creatives they employ. However, what Americans think of as “the media” continues to change and now includes platforms, distributors, advertising technologies, artists, advertisers, and publisher brands. And the public doesn’t separate or even understand where the buck stops with each. Every ounce of research I’ve seen shows that more and more consumers are going to places like Google, YouTube, and Facebook to get their news and information despite trusting these platforms significantly less than other outlets. This distrust in platforms and ad technologies extends into the media at large.
Facebook and Google are the two most significant sources of traffic to publishers. Facebook drives about 17% of the inbound visits to DCN members; Both companies share less than 1% of their revenue with DCN members. They are very important for the discovery of news and entertainment. Yet they feel it is very unimportant to pay for the creation of it.
These gaps aren’t going to be closed through hearings in Washington. They’re also not going to be closed by walking away from dialogue. Ultimately, we need major platforms to decide that moonshots matter and be both humble enough and comfortable enough with their own vulnerabilities to work with publishers and academics on solutions. I don’t see that happening yet but I believe that we’ll get there in time. It’s just that important.