This week marks the beginning of the third annual media literacy week. With fake and misleading news continuing to dominate the headlines, media literacy week’s mission — to highlight the power of media literacy and its essential role in education today — has never seemed so timely.
This is particularly true for those in the ad tech and media space. It is imperative for industry players, such as my employer, (whose firm policy against fake news and a history of commitment to consumer trust and long-term publisher sustainability is detailed here), to come together to combat the problem of misleading news via process, people, and policy. I also believe that industry has a moral responsibility to educate and engage the larger public on the issue as well.
Consumers need to understand how the complex ad-tech space affects them as they spend ever more time online. They also need to have better context for the content they are consuming, so they continue to ask the right questions, and stay critical of the information they see online.
This is one reason why I’m so excited to be working with the LAMP (The Learning About Multimedia Project) as Disruption Hub lead of its 22×20 campaign. 22×20 is a nonpartisan, nationwide media literacy and civics campaign to help every teen — 22 million in the US who will be of voting age by the next election — cast informed votes in the 2020 election and beyond.
The 22×20 campaign directly addresses a perceived crisis in the U.S. around youth media literacy and civic participation. According to analysis done by CIRCLE, only 50% of 18-29 year olds voted in the 2016 election. Meanwhile, a 2016 Stanford study showed that more than 80% of high school students do not question the source of news claims made on social media, and 82% of middle school students have difficulty distinguishing between online advertising and news. This data not only speaks to a need to equip youth today with the skills to discern fact from fiction, but also a need to empower them to engage with our civic process.
To quote Estefania Alba, one of the bright and engaged 16-year-old’s working with 22×20 (who recently wrote about her experience with The LAMP and 22×20 for Teen Vogue), “Just like voting gives you a voice, media literacy hands you the microphone and empowers you to have an opinion.”
As a contributor to 22×20’s three-year mission, I’ve been working together with educators, journalists, funders, student leaders, and other tech leaders, to develop an actionable framework for ramping up the media literacy skills necessary for civic engagement across the nation’s youth.
22×20 first kicked off in September, at a summit at the David and Helen Gurley Brown Institute for Media Innovation at Columbia University in New York City. Together, more than 60 of us from across the United States gathered together to strategize against some of our key milestones. Our collective ideas encompassed curriculum, distribution of curriculum, policy and advocacy, communications, professional development, and other out-of-the-box thinking. Now, a few months later, we continue to map out our actionable three-year plan via smaller working groups, conference calls, and late-night Slack chats.
While our efforts for 22×20 are still in its early stages, we’re hopeful that the movement will spark real change around youth media literacy and civic engagement. The ability to discern and more importantly, challenge, misinformation is key to participating in the democratic process. We need to equip young people with the skills to parse fact from fiction so they can decide for themselves what they believe is ultimately right. And we also need to make sure they know that their vote has the power to make a difference.
This week, 22×20 is excited to kick off one of our very first initiatives, in honor of Media Literacy Week. In collaboration with #sschat, an open group of dedicated network of educators and enthusiasts who aim to improve their collective teaching of social studies, we’re engaging educators across the country on the topic of youth, media, and the election on Twitter. We invite all who are interested to participate in the conversation.
Jennifer Bassett (@Jabers) is Outbrain’s Managing Editor. She has 10+ years of experience in the content strategy and editorial space. She began her career as a book editor and has consulted for top agencies, nonprofits, and media companies including Memorial Sloan Kettering, Havas Worldwide New York, and Interbrand. In her personal time, she co-founded the acclaimed newsletter Red for the Blue and when she’s not talking content, she’s playing music with her band The Missing Footage. You can read more of her writing on Outbrain.com and jennifer-bassett.com.
Concerns about fake news and potential Russian involvement in the U.S. 2016 general election is reaching fever pitch that was highlighted last week with multiple congressional hearings, and, digital advertising is in the crosshairs. And, like many challenging discussions about digital advertising, transparency is at the heart of the issue.
Digital compliance for political ads
The proposed Honest Ads Act, a bipartisan effort to govern digital advertising according to the same rules followed by traditional broadcast media regarding political advertising, and is the one tangible fallout from the investigations.
The act calls for all politically-oriented digital ads to be declared at purchase, clearly labeled in the creative, and available for consumer access via a searchable interface. Among other things, the buyer must disclose their contact information, candidate and/or campaign, ad flight duration, number of impressions/views, and targeting criteria. The platform must collect this information and retain it for at least four years. It applies to digital platforms with at least 50 million unique visitors a month for the preceding 12-month period that have political ad buyers who spend at least $500 within a calendar year.
In a nutshell, it requires publishers know their ad buyers, ensure ads comply with (regulatory) policies and provide consumer access to these ads and any associated targeting criteria. Sounds familiar?
Transparency starts with the buyer
As The Media Trust announced a few short months ago, our Digital Vendor Risk Management (DVRM) platform provides real-time visibility and insight into non-compliant activity and threats operating in an enterprise website and mobile app environments. More than a risk management framework, DVRM operationalizes client-specific digital asset policies, continuously evaluates digital partner compliance, and actively facilitates the resolution of violating behavior.
The crux of this solution is the ability to identify and manage an enterprise’s digital ecosystem participants, from ad tech up to the source buyer, and authorize their presence. In addition to privacy regulation and escalating security concerns, the Honest Ads Act is just another reason why enterprises need to know their partners.
DVRM – A simple solution to a complex problem
Applying a political lens to DVRM it’s evident that the platform is already satisfying most of the requirements to enable transparency and accountability. Advertising supply chain partners register via an online portal; ads are uploaded and continuously scanned according to targeting criteria; client-specific policy violations are flagged; and, ads are stored for historical reference.
Self-regulation forces a new digital approach
Major platforms have announced their approaches to address congressional concerns and hopefully stave off the vote, let alone passage, of the Honest Ads Act. However, this self-regulation will need to extend to others meeting the requirement threshold, like ecommerce and media publishers.
Regardless of Honest Ads going to vote, changes are in the air. As an industry that has largely grown via self-regulation, the signals are obvious. It is incumbent upon the industry to embrace these changes, especially with the DVRM platform as an easy way to codify and operationalize your policies.
Chris Olson founded The Media Trust (@themediatrust) with Dave Crane in 2005. He currently serves as CEO, where he drives the company’s vision, direction and growth plans. Prior to establishing The Media Trust Company, he spent four years as the chief operating officer and board member at Spheric Media. From 1998 until 2000, he was the vice president, global equities at Commerzbank; and from 1993 until 1998, he was the vice president of electronic trading at Salomon Brothers, Inc.
With their enormous size, influence and well wishes to do good for humanity, the American tech giants have long escaped the regulatory and legislative scrutiny of Washington. But increased attention on how Russian operatives may have used Facebook, Twitter and Google to meddle in the 2016 U.S. presidential election — and a mounting anti-Silicon Valley sentiment — are providing an opening for regulation to finally come through. Most Americans don’t necessarily trust the tech companies, yet they maintain high approval ratings, enormous clout and popularity for their products and services.
Google, Facebook, and Twitter have all faced the House and Senate Intelligence Committees this week, and the EU is on its way to passing legislation that will maintain data protection and privacy in Europe. After many years of avoiding regulation, the tech giants are finding themselves cornered from the left and the right, with some sort of American intervention on tap. The question is just how effective it might be, and how much the tech companies’ lobbyists will water down those efforts.
The argument for accountability
Take the case of Google. Among some of Google’s media rivals who are critical of the way the search giant surfaces news stories, the effort to increase government regulation has been dubbed “Project Goliath.” Yelp’s disdain for the company has grown over the years, and recently led to the filing of a federal antitrust complaint against Google for scraping photographs from Yelp reviews.
The News Media Alliance, which represents 2,000 news organizations, in July started advocating for antitrust exemptions in the hopes they might help bump against the Facebook-Google advertising powerhouse (Google is the world’s largest recipient of advertising revenue). The European Union has also fined Google $2.7 billion — the largest antitrust fine the EU has imposed on a single company — for favoring its services over rivals in search results.
And that’s just one company. Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft — what New York Times’ senior technology correspondent Farhad Manjoo collectively calls the “Frightful Five” — have been waging a battle over an anti-sex trafficking bill. The bill’s promoters want to curb legal protections for sites that host content promoting sex trafficking, but critics say the bill’s language could restrict free speech. Facebook and Twitter, to name two of the frightful, are continuously in headlines over the platforms’ influence on politics both nationally and globally.
And we can’t forget about Amazon, the massive online retailer that now owns brick-and-mortar Whole Foods and recently clocked more than $1 billion in ad revenues in the third quarter.
Tech lobby ‘armies’
The amount of pressure on these companies, and the momentum with which it is finally cascading, makes it likely that some amount of regulation is bound to happen. Ahead of their Congressional hearings, both Facebook and Twitter madechanges to their advertising platforms, with more transparency around political ads in the hopes that self-regulation might ward off a harder fist from Washington.
Yet the power and money of these technology companies, and their influence on Capitol Hill, also means regulation will be hard-earned and hard-won. The New York Times’ Cecilia Kang writes:
“Internet companies are deploying some of the largest armies in corporate America to battle on Capitol Hill. House and Senate staffs say lobbyists for the big technology companies have swarmed their offices in recent weeks. Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft have sharply increased their lobbying spending — a combined $14.2 million in the third quarter, up from $11.9 million a year earlier. Facebook, which has faced the most scrutiny over the election, increased its third-quarter lobbying budget this year by 40 percent, to $2.85 million.”
To say the rivals and critics of these companies don’t stand a chance in circumventing the giants’ power might be an exaggeration, but money talks. The IAB has also come out in defense of these internet companies, arguing that the problems within their industry are best left for them to solve on their own — not with the help of Washington.
Inspiration from the EU?
If U.S. players in this struggle are looking for inspiration for regulation, their European neighbors might be a good source. Compared to Washington, the EU is much more suspicious of the industry’s altruistic proclamations, and is demanding changes to Facebook and Google’s business practices that emphasize privacy for and consent from consumers regarding their data. Given the EU has already launched a taskforce aimed at protecting WhatsApp user data from Facebook, one can imagine the strict clampdown on tech will continue.
Will the U.S. match up? Likely not. But if the media cycle continues the way it has been in the U.S., and the critical voices here stay loud, it’s safe to say tech’s free pass is long gone.
As we approach year-end, general managers and department executives across the world are in the throes of 2017 performance evaluation and 2018 strategic planning. Among their functional peers in sales, finance, operations, and human resources, senior marketing managers have unique challenges when it comes to measuring performance and justifying budget increases.
To wit: senior executive – CEOs, CFOs and line of business GMs – expectations of marketing operations have never been greater. Indeed, one study revealed that “80% of CEOs don’t trust or are unimpressed with their CMOs”. So it comes as little surprise that more than half of CMOs have been in their jobs for three years or fewer.
Indeed, it’s a constant struggle for marketing leaders to find solid footing amidst the shifting sands of digital enablement, big data, and artificial intelligence. After more than a decade of absorbing aggressive overtures from the internet giants, martech companies, and digital media concerns, the most senior executives have continued to approve bigger marketing budgets. Today, the marketing line item now accounts for more than 10% of revenues at some of the world’s largest companies, and CMOs are experiencing unprecedented pressure to justify continued investments and budget increases.
In a digital-first and data-intensive world, here are the measurement metrics that matter most:
1. Brand Awareness.
At the end of the day, it’s the marketing team’s job to deliver on two primary tasks, and defining and promoting the corporate brand is one of them (demand generation is the other). For companies like Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, and GEICO, brand management is the driving force of the business, and referenced in every strategic planning discussion. For the rest of us marketers, brand awareness is regarded as a ‘soft’ metric by the senior executives we report to. So it’s up to us to create a measurement strategy and educate the company on its importance.
How to Get There:
A digital-first approach – website analytics, social media listening, and competitive benchmarking – is the fastest way to measuring a brand’s relative share of voice and level of engagement with target audiences. The world’s largest brands invest heavily in monitoring their brand’s effectiveness through surveys, focus groups, and consumer recall. However, most companies can get a firm handle on a brand’s impact using solely internet-based techniques, and a digital marketing audit is a great way to initiate the effort.
2. Demand Generation & Capture.
From toothbrushes to jet engines, marketplace demand needs to be both generated and corralled, and it’s the marketing group’s responsibility deliver on this task. Some products, such as car insurance or residential real estate, are ‘bought.’ Thus, marketers in these segments are mainly focused on being in front of the prospective buyer with effective messaging throughout the sales cycle. In categories where items are ‘sold’ – think automobiles, pharmaceuticals, and enterprise software – marketers need to first educate prospective buyers about the need (perceived or otherwise) for their products, and then convince the prospect of their superior offering.
How To Get There:
Most of the large management consulting firms (like McKinsey) have invested significantly in some variation of a “customer lifecycle journey” methodology, and these are useful for helping to define the different points of engagement and identifying relevant metrics (for both new and returning customers). The first step for marketing teams is to define their unique customer lifecycle checkpoints – from awareness to engagement and consideration – and install metrics to monitor their relative performance over time (monthly, quarterly, annually, etc.). Subsequently, most organizations require an education process, aimed at non-marketing executives, to generate consensus and buy-in on the measurement strategies.
3. Cost Per Conversion.
Cost per conversion, or “CPC”, is very much a digital marketing term, but the concept is straightforward and useful in both online and offline activities. The approach requires marketers to determine how much an engagement activity – such as an inbound phone call or watching a video advertisement on a website – cost to generate, and then work towards some performance metric. For example, most companies understand their prospect-to-customer conversion ratios reasonably well, if not specifically then intuitively. A car dealership, for example, might understand that that it needs to generate 10 visitors to the lot to generate one new customer, or 100 visits to its website to generate one email inquiry, and 25 email inquiries are required to get a new customer; and the average new customer generates $30,000 in sales and $6,000 in gross profit margin. With these metrics in mind, the dealership can comfortably spend $250 to generate a lot visitor or $1 to generate a website visit and accommodate its profit variables.
How To Get There:
Job one is to create the unique model specific to the business, and get a firm handle on the relevant metrics. A B2C company’s measurement strategy will be virtually unrecognizable to a B2B concern, but the general approach – cost modeling measurable actions – will be the same. Even just a handful of relevant ‘conversions’ can help guide a marketing group’s budget allocation in a meaningful way. Most importantly, these metrics allow marketing contributions to be measured vis-a-vis revenues and profitability, which are the most valued metrics by CEOs, CFOs and boards of directors.
For better or worse, long gone are the days of marketing operations that were considered in terms of vanity (or not considered at all). With marketing budgets continuing to swell, and rapid digital adoption making quantifiable performance measurement more accessible to companies of all shapes and sizes, senior executives are holding marketing accountable for revenue-generating contributions and ROI. In the long run, marketers will benefit from this evolution, as the quality of their contributions to profits and corporate performance increase, but the short term will continue to be bumpy as expectations get sorted out and responsibilities more clearly defined. Senior marketers can help accelerate this process by embracing core performance metrics and working to continually improve their performance in those specific areas.
Tim Bourgeois (@ChiefDigOfficer) is a partner at East Coast Catalyst, a Boston-based digital consulting company specializing in strategic roadmaps, digital media audits, and online marketing optimization programs.
As Chief Technology Officer at Purch, John Potter brings a wealth of experience having spent more than a decade with CBS Interactive/CNET, where he held many roles. Most recently he served as Vice President, Software Engineering, managing a staff of 100+ developers in support of brands like CNET, CBS News, ZDNet and Download.com. John holds multiple patents for his system designs that improve Internet connectivity and document classification. At Purch, his role entails managing all aspects of technology, engineering and operations, and he has successfully participated in, and integrated 10 acquisitions.
Could you describe / define ad fraud?
John: Ad fraud is a persistent problem that, according to the IAB, costs the industry $8.2 billion a year in the U.S. While ad fraud is found in various forms, from a publisher’s vantage there are two main problems: One is fraudulent copies of sites that are created, and whose advertising inventory is then presented on programmatic platforms as coming from the original publisher sites. To add insult to injury, most of the traffic on these fraudulent sites is from bots. The other is non-human traffic on legitimate publisher sites from bots scraping the sites, attempting to insert comment links, or coming through content recommendation systems in an attempt to defraud them.
Each of these problems causes different issues and needs to be responded to differently.
How have issues such as bot traffic and audience verification impacted the digital advertising marketplace?
John: The prevalence of non-human traffic and fraudulent or non-viewable advertising inventory has led to an undermining of marketer trust in internet advertising. This directly harms all publishers. Just as importantly, it has led to the need for marketers to add software to their creatives to confirm viewability and detect non-human traffic. This increases the size of ad creative degrades the user experience on publisher sites. Then there are multiple, competing measurement systems in use. All this complicates the ability of publishers to deliver on marketing campaigns.
Are these issues particularly problematic given the rise of programmatic?
John: Yes, all of these issues have been compounded by the rise of programmatic. Marketer’s campaigns are running across a larger number of sites, most of which they have no direct contact with. This makes fraud a lot harder to detect than when you are signing a direct deal.
Why is it important to understand/have an accurate picture of the audience being reached?
John: In the end, all marketing is targeted at particular audiences. As publishers, it’s our ability to provide those audiences that makes us valuable to marketers. At a minimum, marketers should be able to expect that any ads they purchase will be viewed by real humans on a legitimate site that is brand-safe. Publishers and programmatic platforms need to do everything they can to make sure we meet that minimum expectation, and initiatives like TrustX can help with that.
How should the industry be addressing ad fraud?
John: First, publishers and the programmatic platforms need to cooperate to wipe out fraudulent advertising inventory. Ads.txt is a great start towards this, but it’s just a first step. I’m really enthused about the potential of blockchain solutions that will track advertising at every step of the process, and leave an auditable trail. Ideally, we get to the point where every advertising impression sold and served is auditable by all parties to the transaction.
Publishers also need to work hard to block fraudulent traffic on their sites. At Purch, we already do a lot to block bots from our sites, and to prevent advertising being served to any that get around our blocking attempts. We’ve now moved on to integrating real-time bot detection and ad blocking into our server-to-server header bidding platform. I know other publishers and programmatic platforms are taking this issue seriously as well, but it will need to be a continuing concern for a long time to come.
The illustration used in this article, Picco Robots, is reproduced, with modifications, under a creative common license.
Apple recently announced that iOS 11 will include Intelligent Tracking Prevention (ITP) in Safari. In a nutshell, ITP will go beyond merely blocking 3rd party cookies by segregating any cookie after 24 hours without interactivity on its parent domain’s website. The segregated cookie could still be used for log-ins, but not for tracking and/or retargeting purposes.
Despite a chorus of cries that this move will “sabotage” the current economic model of the internet, I actually think this is just Apple trying to keep up with consumer expectations. For years, Apple has attempted to block 3rd party cookies, although ad tech companies have worked to bypass Apple’s efforts. The thinking has been that consumers only want to be tracked by companies with which they have a relationship. ITP simply ensures that consumers can only be tracked by the companies with which they have a current relationship. There are some kinks, for sure, but overall it makes sense.
After reading some of the reactions to Apple’s move, I had to step outside just to make sure the sky wasn’t actually falling. The response from the ad tech industry has not been surprising. The ad tech lobby has a long track record of protecting legacy models, even when they are probably not the best path for long-term success. However, calling Apple’s move one that will “harm consumers by distorting the digital advertising ecosystem and undermining its operations” seems pretty far off base.
Given the industry’s fear of government regulation, I’m surprised the tech giants aren’t more supportive of private sector moves like Apple’s that seek to address underlying consumer concerns. As we see in the EU’s forthcoming General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), governments can and will step in if the industry does not demonstrate that it can effectively self-regulate. When our trade bodies fail to step up and put into place strong guidelines that address customer concerns about important issues such as privacy, we put ourselves at risk of increased government scrutiny (many states already have privacy bills in the works.)
Instead, ad tech companies have dedicated massive amounts of capital and resources to developing new ways to track consumers, build larger and more sensitive profiles of consumers and deliver highly targeted ads. For the most part, the returns for investors have been terrific. For consumers – not so much. The well-documented reality is that digital tops the list of consumers’ least favorite forms of advertising. And tracking (aka “targeting”) is one of the aspects of digital advertising cited as particularly irksome.
Think about it: Right now, 67% of digital ads are direct response ads designed to get consumers to click. This is the equivalent of the junk mail cluttering your email inbox and those direct marketing ads that stuff your mailbox and end up in landfills. On top of that, digital ads are often overloaded with calls to unknown 3rd party servers, which dramatically slow the down the page. Worse, on mobile, it not only damages user experience, it soaks up more of a consumer’s data plan.
It’s no wonder consumers are downloading ad blocking software at higher rates each year. It’s no wonder that almost no one ever intentionally clicks on an ad. Suffice it to say that the claim that reducing the persistence of tracking cookies will harm the user experience is absurd. And frankly, a model that relies on these cookies to create an experience that’s driving ad blocker adoption is not one we need to defend.
Contrast that dynamic with Apple. Countless books have been written on how Apple is dialed into the wants and needs of consumers. The company boasts a loyal customer base and for good reason: Consumer experience is the priority. ITP is an extension of Apple’s consumer focus. Given the company’s track record as compared to the current state of digital advertising, ITP is likely to join the long line of successful consumer-friendly features developed by Apple. And if we want to have the same kind of success in the digital ecosystem, respecting the consumer and creating an experience they enjoy must be at the foundation of our advertising efforts.
On their 20th birthday last September, the digital magazine Slate reported 17,000 paying subscribers for their membership program, Slate Plus. Today, that number is at 35,000.
The surge in subscribers owes in part to the Trump bump—Slate Plus membership jumped by 46% after the election. But the underlying catalyst is that Slate has gone all-in on loyalty to lower their dependence on platforms like Facebook and monetize their incredibly loyal audience. By launching new podcasts (and using them as platforms to promote Slate Plus), revamping their newsletter, and doubling down on comment moderation, Slate has committed to creating engaging content that keep readers coming back.
That commitment necessitated a shift in how Slate thought about measurement, moving away from a focus on unique visitors to a metric that matched their primary goal. Establishing engaged time as a “North Star metric” enabled teams across the organization to put loyalty at the forefront of their initiatives.
Connecting the dots between audience loyalty and engaged time
Digiday’s Lucia Moses regarded Slate’s loyalty initiative with a healthy amount of skepticism: “Introducing a new measurement approach isn’t easy, though. Publishers may like to talk about engagement, but there’s no industry standard for it. … And measuring loyalty, as Slate is trying to do, is murky anyway.”
In short, fostering a loyal audience sounds great… but how do you measure it in a way that makes sense for the whole company? That’s a question Slate’s Director of Research Anna Gilbert has spent a lot of time thinking about.
Gilbert and her team considered the number of unique visits and returning visitors to represent loyalty, among other metrics. Ultimately, they chose total engaged time—how long visitors actively read, watch, or listen to a piece of content—because it helped them measure the sincerity of their visitors. “When we have first time visitors that come to Slate and read two or three articles and spend a minute and a half or two minutes, we want that to be reported and credited in this loyalty initiative. And we think that those everyday visitors, or those twice-a-week visitors, are also captured really well,” said Gilbert. “They’re worth far more than drive-by visitors who quickly leave the site.”
Wherever a reader is in the funnel, whether they’re a first time or everyday visitor, Slate is now able to answer the question: “Are they staying on Slate longer?”
Implementing a new metric and acting on insights
Gilbert acknowledged that rolling out new metrics can be hard because it requires figuring out how you move the needle. “If you write more stories, that leads to higher unique visitors. It’s a pretty clear relationship. If you’re at the end of the month and you’re not close to your goal, you know tangibly what you can do. Whereas with engaged time, the levers are not as clear. You need to figure out how to reframe your thinking around it.”
Slate’s partnership with Parse.ly has helped every team to align behind engaged time as their core metric. “Seeing engaged time in the Parse.ly dashboard helped us make a much smoother transition from unique visitors and the Big Bang Facebook days to a more real relationship with our most loyal readers,” said Gilbert.
The editorial team uses the Parse.ly dashboard to track which stories are getting the most engagement, while the sales team employs it for storytelling to prospects. The product team uses Parse.ly’s API to power Slate’s infinite scroll reading experience, which recommends relevant content once a reader has finished an article. As for identifying levers, Gilbert’s team is analyzing raw engagement data made available through Parse.ly’s Data Pipeline to identify factors—like referral traffic or publication time—that correlate with a high amount of engaged time.
What about staff working on Slate Plus? “They’re one of the most data driven teams at Slate. They’re constantly using Parse.ly to monitor engaged time in combination with subscription and marketing data from other sources to figure out what’s working or where new opportunities might lie,” said Gilbert.
The future of monetizing loyal audiences
As more and more publishers turn their sights to subscriptions as a viable source of revenue, Slate’s journey to fully focusing on loyalty offers a roadmap to success.
And Gilbert has hopes that the industry at large will come to see the value of standardizing engaged time. “When our sales team goes out and does pitches, they definitely talk about Slate’s loyal visitors and how much time they spend with our content. But they still show the UV number. I think establishing a clearer relationship between engaged time and revenue generation—so that we’re talking about revenue per minute instead of revenue per pageview—will help frame why engaged time matters for more than just editorial tracking.”
The UK TV industry has always punched above its weight class. Smaller than Oregon, with a population equivalent to that of California and Texas (66 million), the British TV sector is a vibrant £14 billion a year ($18.58bn/yr) business, which has created formats, content, and executives, who have made their mark around the world.
So, what the can media organizations everywhere learn from their smaller cousins across the pond? Here are seven ideas and considerations (not, by all means, unique to the UK) worth exploring:
1. Consider moving millennial orientated services online only
We know that millennials consume content differently. They’re more likely to watch video content on devices like smartphones and laptops than older demographics. They’re less likely to watch TV-like services on an actual TV.
Against this backdrop, in 2016 the BBC made their youth targeted TV network, BBC Three, online-only. In part, the move reflected the fact that younger audiences are increasingly consuming less linear TV. But, it also yielded major savings (estimated at c.£30 million / $39.6 million p.a.) as the online-only service requires less original programing, and isn’t burdened with the same transmission and distribution costs.
The BBC’s move didn’t just make financial sense, it was also an effort to more explicitly take content to the spaces that their younger audiences inhabit.
2. Explore opportunities for ad free options
British viewers have grown up in an environment where TV advertising is much less pervasive. The BBC, for example, has no adverts at all, just trailers for other BBC programs and services.
“Seven in ten (67%) say they like to watch TV programs and films on demand to avoid adverts, or because there are no adverts,” UK communications regulator, Ofcom, recently noted.
This preference – coupled with the use of ad blockers on web based TV services – should be a cause for concern, given the continued importance of traditional advertising. One potential solution, explored by the UK’s oldest commercial broadcaster ITV, is to offer a premium IP delivered service that mirrors the ad-free experience provided by HBO and Netflix.
In 2013 the network launched an iOS app that allowed Apple users to watch the last thirty days of their content (from five different TV services) without advertising, as well as live simulcast of ITV3 and ITV4, for £3.99 ($5.27) per month.
The service, called ITV Hub+, has now been rolled out to other platforms including Smart TV’s. (It also costs £3.99 a month.) Will consumers pay more for this convenience? Evidence suggest they will, and this is therefore a model that other broadcasters may want to emulate.
3. Be everywhere
Given the range of ways in which audiences consume – and access content – it’s increasingly incumbent on broadcasters and other content providers to be as accessible as possible.
The BBC iPlayer, an internet streaming, catchup, television and radio service from the BBC, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, has always been available across wide range of devices, including mobile phones and tablets, PCs, gaming devices and Smart TV’s.
BBC Three, their youth orientated service, doesn’t just live on the BBC’s own app and web services, it also has its own YouTube channel with full episodes – and entire series – available to watch.
Other UK broadcasters have followed suit. The ITV Hub, for example, is now available on 30 different platforms, including Google Chromecast, and Xbox. At the end of 2016, the broadcaster noted that consumption (the measure of the number of hours watched) is up by 43% in the past year; and, interestingly, that Live TV accounted for c.30% of all requests.
4. Embrace bingeing, archive access, and offline viewing
On-demand services like Amazon, Hulu and Netflix have changed viewing behaviors. As a result, traditional broadcasters need ask whether they too should go “all in” and do things differently.
That might mean releasing new series in their entirety, offering new content for download and offline viewing (which the BBC and others offer) as well as providing “digital boxsets” so that audiences can binge on older shows.
These moves are not just designed to protect revenues and audience share, they also reflect evolving consumers behaviors. Failure to respond to these expectations means that traditional broadcasters risk being left behind.
5. Serve better ads, because audiences still watch a lot of TV
It’s not just online ads that are often terrible, many TV commercials aren’t great either. And yet, we continue to watch a lot of TV, creating prime conditions to deliver strong, effective, advertising to captive audiences.
“The average time spent watching broadcast TV across our 15 comparator countries,” the UK communications regulator noted, “was 3 hours 41 minutes per person per day in 2015.”
That’s a lot of screen time (most of it live viewing) which, when coupled by the mass audiences TV can still reach, continues to remain attractive to many advertisers.
6. Innovate and experiment with new forms of ad delivery
TV’s mass reach makes it an appealing medium for advertisers. Yet, at the same time, we also know that audience’s attention is increasingly fragmented. For many younger audiences, TV is already the second screen, and has been for some time.
As far back as 2012, the Pew Research Center found that 58% of smartphone owners used their phone to keep themselves “occupied during commercials or breaks”. But, Pew found, respondents were often engaged in second screen activity related to what they were watching. This resulted in advertisers trying to find new ways to engage audiences on their second screen. (See some great examples below targeting Game of Thrones fans).
Personalization, time-shifted ads and the use of products (like Sky AdSmart in the UK) to serve different ads to different households (or different people in the same household) against the same content, may still be relatively small markets, but they’re expected to grow quickly. As such, they’re a technology that broadcasters need to be doing more than keeping an eye on.
7. Recognize online revenues can be a major growth area
In 2016, TV revenues in the UK were worth £13.8bn, a figure which is remarkably resilient considering that TV revenues in 2011 stood at £13.3bn.
The sector’s revenue mix has also proved to be surprisingly durable. In 2016, 30% of UK TV revenue was generated by advertising, compared to 29% in 2011, subscriptions accounted for 46% of revenues in 2016 and 44% in 2011, and broadcasters enjoyed 30% of total UK display advertising in 2016, down just 1% from five years ago.
However, this relative stability doesn’t mean that sector can rest on their laurels. Finding new revenue sources, remains important. And in this space, online revenues are growing fast.
In 2011, online revenues were worth £0.3bn for UK TV companies. Jump forward to 2016, and this figure was £1.7bn, a substantial increase. Given this rapid growth, and stagnation in other areas, expect more efforts to be focused on this space.
“Despite fundamental changes in the advertising market over the last ten years,” writes regulator Ofcom in their latest UK Communications Market Report, “the television advertising market has remained very resilient due to its primacy in providing mass audiences.”
That’s not going to change any time soon, but as viewing habits on both sides of the Atlantic continue to evolve, so broadcasters and advertisers need to refine their strategies accordingly. This means finding new ways to capture attention, serve relevant – and increasingly targeted – ads, and experiment with new revenue models.
Three areas that I believe merit more attention are: more flexible pricing models – recognizing that many audiences love to watch certain shows, series or events, but that they don’t necessarily want (or can afford) a year-round subscription – simulcasting shows (nationally and internationally) to prevent piracy, and identifying opportunities to both reduce churn, and discourage the illegal sharing of logons and subscriptions.
What we see in the UK, as well as here in the US, is that although TV’s business model is changing, there are opportunities to diversify both content distribution and income strategies. How broadcasters continue to respond to the challenges – and opportunities – presented by digital disruption, is a subject many of us will continue to watch with interest.
Damian Radcliffe is the Carolyn S. Chambers Professor in Journalism at the University of Oregon, a Fellow at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University and an Honorary Research Fellow at the School of Journalism, Media & Cultural Studies at Cardiff University. (And, by way of disclosure, Damian is originally from the U.K.)
The first dot-com boom was about tech startups collecting millions of eyeballs. About five years ago, there was a resurgence of that kind of thinking in digital media. BuzzFeed, Upworthy, Gawker, and many others made an art of clickbait headlines and viral listicles and quizzes. But the focus on “vanity metrics,” like sugar-spun cotton candy, wasn’t really good for them, or the bottom line.
As traffic declines and clickbait fatigue ensued, many of these publishers tried to reach audiences through their social channels and bore the brunt of algorithmic changes. This left them wondering if the chase for views, shares, and clicks would really pay off. Those measurements are imperfect at best, and often misleading at their core. However, doubling down on what really matters can move businesses forward so that they can surmount this problem. Beyond the obvious shift toward subscriptions, engagement, and impact, publishers know that the real difference-maker for their business is serving their most loyal customers.
Highs and lows in the chase for numbers
The underpinnings of how we got into this mess can be traced to two overarching reasons.
The first is the psychological boost of the numbers game. Just as a Facebook user beams when she sees the number of likes and shares skyrocket on an individual post, so too do advertisers and news publishers when they see rising numbers for corresponding clicks, views, social shares, impressions, and the like. In a competitive industry where measuring popularity can and often is boiled down to who has the biggest following, a quick glance at the numbers can settle — or aggravate — any existing tension.
Of course, the real point to metrics should be creating a long funnel that gets to something bigger. Metrics should assess genuine leads, conversions and end goals. But it’s easy for marketers’ performance measurement ABCs — acquisition, behavior, conversion — to be shoved aside when views and impressions — sometimes paid for in promoted posts or campaigns — already captivate so much of the budget. Still, paying for a click might not amount to anything at all.
Zane McIntyre, co-founder and CEO at Commission Factory, boils down this unhealthy relationship in AdExchanger with a strong case in point:
“When advertisers conduct tests to determine the best thumbnail for video views, for example, advertising ‘reach’ is determined by the number of people who see it — if only for a moment. But then viewers quickly leave, often after the premise they were promised is under-delivered. It’s a vanity metric and can be easily manipulated with clickbait and paid content promotion, both of which can get content in front of a targeted audience quickly and cheaply.”
This brings us to the second big trend fueling the vanity metric craze: trust in (sometimes unreliable) parties whose skewed metrics leaves little room for proper assessment. The often-tense relationship between publishers and platforms is just as much of an issue here as it is anywhere else. When Facebook and Twitter allow you to pay for promoted posts or tweets, the idea is that you sacrifice some amount of control to the gatekeeper in hopes of gaining more control (in the form of a following) with audiences.
But Facebook’s repeated metric discrepancies have included miscounting Facebook Live reactions, misreporting the average duration of video viewed, and over-reporting on the amount of time spent on Instant Articles. That’s highlighted the necessity for accountability, transparency and third-party verification in performance analytics. It’s an onus on the social giant, already reeling from issues of trustworthiness, to circumvent these problems. But it also lights a fire under publishers and marketers to take metrics back into their own hands — and not relinquish control purely for the sake of ego boosting and more reach.
The close cousin of measuring and increasing impact is increasing engagement, with the hopes that deepening a relationship can lead to a sincere boost in vested interest and more subscriptions. Take the efforts of GateHouse Media, with its chain of local newspapers. The large publisher launched a campaign last summer called “Newsroom Hero,” which profiled GateHouse Media journalists as more than just journalists. The campaign kept the focus on the positive influence and impact reporters bring to communities — whether in their reporting, civic engagement as volunteers, or in their own families. It’s the first such campaign for the publisher to focus on impact, and their hope is to translate that into more meaningful metrics — beyond the raw numbers of 35 million monthly digital visitors and nearly 23 million weekly readers.
Increasing engagement shouldn’t be mistaken for solving the metric conundrum. It’s hard to point to impact as a cost-cutting national chain of local newspapers. But as MediaShifts’s Jason Alcorn points out, it’s a milestone for a local news chain to talk in the language of non-profits, who aim for impact to satisfy funders and subscribers.
It’s a tall order indeed to turn numbers, whether high or low, into actionable insights that deliver real leads and results. But the fact that this inner conscience is being spoken aloud more and more shows that vanity metrics are no longer in vogue — and the quest for meaningful measurement might just lead to better business results for everyone.