Important new research was recently presented at a major economics conference and reported on by the Wall Street Journal. The comprehensive study was conducted over nearly five years by Veronica Marotta, Vibhanshu Abhishek and led by Alessandro Acquisti, who is globally recognized for his work studying behavioral economics and the impact of privacy on digital society. The bottom-line: Acquisti’s team found that behavioral advertising, as measured and delivered based on third party cookies, increased publisher revenues by a mere 4%.
If you’re nodding your head unsurprised by this statistic, then you’re likely in the 67% of publishers surveyed recently by Digiday who answered that behavioral advertising doesn’t help their business. But make no mistake, the findings are profound as to how they inform the future of digital advertising. They will also have a strong influence on the next steps in US privacy legislation. Put simply, nearly all of the growth touted by the industry benefits intermediaries rather than the publishers who provide the news and entertainment. And for the first time ever, there is empirical research to dismiss long-touted industry arguments that privacy rules will kill the golden goose that pays for free content.
Implementing new rules
This empirical study makes it clear that the absence of rules has overwhelmingly benefited intermediaries. (This would also explain the market caps of a few of the biggest intermediaries.) And now, there remains a singular challenge: No individual publisher can change tactics unless all significant publishers move in lock step. That’s because individual companies would lose significant revenues moving on their own, even on behalf of consumers. Therefore, the bar must be raised equally, through a combination of tech and regulation.
Google is the most critical company with the most to lose and will have a seat at the head table no matter where the market or regulators take us. It will be critical for individual publishers to be able to move in the best interests of consumers and their fellow publishers without being held back by Google’s stronghold. Reuters reports that “Google has repeatedly said that it acts in the best interest of its users and offers sufficient warning to industry partners potentially affected by its moves.” We’ll see.
Recent experience suggests that Google will not cede ground. A friendly reminder that when GDPR rolled out last May in order to better protect the privacy interests of EU citizens, Google waited until the final days to push through its own interests. Global publishers had to send a formal letter of concern to Google’s CEO. They also filed a copy with every major competition authority in the western world.
Built on a
Much of the digital advertising marketplace and Google’s business have been built on direct-response advertising in which clicks and audience targeting are valued more than the media that surrounds it. This presents a challenge for media companies which have invested heavily in high-quality, premium news, and entertainment environments. Unfortunately, the largest part of the digital advertising market was whittled down to little more than an efficient delivery vehicle for cookies auctioned off to the highest bidders. And little has been done to dismantle this poorly-built foundation. Rather, our entire industry – data brokers, ad tech platforms, agencies and publishers have fueled these direct-response metrics by doubling down on them through behaviorally-targeted advertising.
The premise? That the new capabilities to collect and use browsing data across the web eliminate the waste in advertising, giving marketers their long-sought dream of one-to-one targeting with real-time measurement and publishers a share in the spoils to help fund their digital growth. And, through these same data reservoirs, advertisers could focus on cherry-picking consumers as efficiently as possible. This spawned a slew of sites optimized not for long-term relationships with loyal audiences but instead for their ability to create diverse cookie pools for these real-time markets.
The 800lb gorilla
Google was a company built for the direct response economy post-2009. Due to several years of belt tightening after the 2008 financial crisis, chief financial officers had more pressure to ensure that marketing investments met the quarterly demands of shareholders. And boy did Google deliver. Google did everything it could to maximize the personal data in its coffers and to minimize friction for advertisers who wanted to micro-target people based on it.
When web browsers were on the cusp of consumer privacy innovation by restricting tracking cookies, Google lobbyists hindered industry progress. At the same time their own browser, Chrome, took a dominant seat in the market.
When consumer ad blockers became a risk to Google’s data collection, Google began a series of secretive deals and payments in order to whitelist their own data collection tags and later commandeer a browser solution to protect its own ad formats. This saved the company billions in revenue while everyone in industry took a hit.
When a more privacy-focused mobile environment emerged from Apple, Google continued investing in its privacy-porous Android device. It earned a $5.1 billion fine for its efforts. Google also launched its own code layer in AMP. This provided the company deeper influence on what can be on publishers’ websites.
The fruit of its labors is an advertising market optimized for its own interests.
Who conducts the most bids to buy advertising in these real-time markets?Google.
Who offers up the most bid requests to sell advertising in these real-time auctions?Google.
Who operates the most negotiations between buyer and seller?Google.
What is the most valued asset in digital advertising?Personal data.
Who owns the most personal data?Google.
Put another way. Google is the largest buyer, seller, and transactionvehicle for digital ads that leverage personal data. And Google has by far the most personal data. At this point, it should hardly be a question whether this is a rigged market.
The numbers are startling. In the past decade, Google’s SEC filings show that the advertising revenues Google delivers across its vast network of millions of publishers have barely doubled, having grown from $9 billion in 2010 to $20 billion last year. However, in the same ten years, Google has quadrupled its owned and operated advertising revenues from $28 billion to a whopping $116 billion last year.
Search was (and is) the monopoly that privileges entry into any other business by Google. However, the rich interest profile that can be assembled by harvesting personal data across its operating system, browser, ad services, analytics, and its own properties comprises a behavioral advertising fortress.
The anticipated Department of Justice decision to investigate Google is the company’s worst nightmare in terms of timing on these issues. Already we’re seeing influencers and former competitors begin to open up about bad conduct in Mountain View. Inevitably, there will be more details and more reports. It’s critical to the process—and the future of digital media—that light be shone on their activities.
Without a doubt, the investigation means that Google will have a harder time finding friends in the publisher and ad tech communities. However, it’s unlikely you’ll hear publicly from many of them. And therein lies the ultimate symptom of antitrust: No company wants to cross Google. But the word “frenemy” will cut in a different direction now: You won’t find anyone watching your back when you’re under the regulatory microscope.
of ad tech intermediaries
All of this said, Google wasn’t alone in its attempts to reap the spoils of the behavioral advertising marketplace. In the period between 2010 and 2016, hundreds (if not thousands) of new companies spawned in the ad tech wild west. By my count, there were 78 ad tech companies starting with the letter “A” in 2016 and today 64 of the 78 have either been acquired or disappeared from the industry. History will determine whether most (if any) of these companies had a lasting impact on the industry.
proposition of nearly all of them was to serve a burgeoning programmatic
marketplace in which third parties could be inserted into the supply chain in
return for value. The typical webpage went from dozens of third parties to
hundreds. This triggered a real-time competition for eyeballs, most often represented
by third-party cookies.
Personal data was collected by these third parties without consumer knowledge or control. The data was then used to target consumers across the web, as cheaply as possible. All of this was done outside of consumer expectations which led to the “adtechlash” with the rise of ad blockers, various levels of tracking protection launched into Chrome’s “competition” web browsers Safari, Brave and Firefox, and new privacy laws like 2018’s GDPR and CCPA rolling out in 2020.
Now we find ourselves on the eve of new laws globally to better align with consumer expectations. Publishers need to be fierce defenders of these consumers and protecting their experiences. Ultimately, the fight to defend behavioral advertising likely isn’t worth it. At the very least, every publisher and their representative organizations should make certain whose interests they’re fighting for. This will determine who benefits over the next ten years.
Direct-to-Consumer (DTC) businesses are a unique class of company, and they’re changing
the way we consume products of all kinds. They’re often referred to as disruptors
because they use mobile and digital channels to sell directly to the buyer. By
eliminating the retail “middleman,” DTCs bypass traditional sales models and
re-think otherwise staid markets.
recently conducted an analysis of DTC companies’ ad spending across digital, TV
and print, as well as their CMOs, physical stores and funding practices. The
analysis offers insights for all brand marketers.
How do they advertise?
According to our study, for the past five consecutive years, DTC ad spend has increased
by seven to 20% annually and has continued to grow across almost every product
DTC brands typically focus
their ad spend on social media in their early years. Instagram is the primary
channel for these companies because the platform allows for very specific
targeting and a seamless purchase feature from within the app, that few other platforms
The data also shows that as DTC firms scale their
businesses, they begin to shift ad spending. Many come to rely more heavily on
TV to create broad, top-of-funnel awareness. For example, Casper spent over $30
million per year on TV over the last couple of years. Warby Parker started TV
advertising in 2016, stopped in 2017, only to return again in 2018.
Our analysis also found that DTC companies place
branded content pieces three times more frequently than traditional brands,
with the top beneficiaries being Yahoo! and Buzzfeed. Buzzfeed has won a large portion of the IAB’s top 250 DTC brands, as the
brand pairs well with DTC advertising due to its strong Gen Z and Millennial
How did they start?
Some of the most well-known DTC brands include Uber, Casper, Brooklinen, Warby Parker, and Tesla. Outside of these well-known companies, there are thousands of DTC startups across the U.S., according to the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB). For example, we counted 387 DTC brands advertising in the apparel and accessory category alone.
These companies are not only numerous,
but well-funded. According to data gathered from Crunchbase for the top 20 DTC advertisers, the companies raised an average
of $230mm in funds, through six rounds of funding, and from over 20 unique
When it comes to the leadership behind these
companies, the CMOs are sophisticated, experienced marketers. Looking again at
the top 20 DTC brands, their CMOs bring an average of 16 years of prior work
experience to their positions. 75% have past experience with at least one
“household name” company. Half (50%) of the CMOs hold an advanced
degree, most commonly an MBA, while other common degrees were in either
economics or finance.
How do they sell?
DTC companies are usually mission-driven, rather than solely focused on the product itself, and they often start by targeting the Millennial and Gen Z customer segments. DTC brands are typically available for sale exclusively online and usually specialize in one specific product category. About one-fourth have a subscription revenue model. For consumers, the brand’s authenticity and quality matter much more than price—and the brands know this.
As these firms mature, many
begin to explore other selling routes outside of just online. Of the top 20 DTC
companies, 30% had their own stores, 25% sold products in other retailers, and
another 15% used both their own stores and other retailers.
Interestingly, many DTC firms have partnered with only one retailer on an
exclusive basis. For example, Quip is only available at Target and Leesa
only available at West Elm.
DTC firms have emerged as
disruptors across multiple industries. These companies exhibit young
digital-first personas, that sell their products directly to customers via
social media. However, as these companies grow larger, they begin to take on
characteristics of older brands; whether it’s opening retail stores of their
own, employing leadership with years of experience, or pouring ad budgets into
Chartbeat has immersed itself in research around reader revenue and subscription models this year. This work has taken various forms including data analysis, comparing historical trends, and distilling insights from past use cases. However, we’ve found that the best way to create actionable reader revenue solutions has been going to the source—publishers.
In the last month, as part of our work to go from publisher revenue pain point to solution, we spent time with users across all sorts of roles. These include editorial, consumer marketing, audience development and membership management, data science and analytics, events marketing, user research, and product management, all as part of our work to go from publisher revenue pain point to solution.
After more than 400 hours of subscriptions research, here are some of our early takeaways:
Current infrastructure doesn’t match paid model ambitions
We have found that the infrastructure for user segmentation is critical for publishers to effectively market their offers and content. Yet time and again, we’ve witnessed a core infrastructure built on growing advertising revenue. In this case, the customer relationship is less important than the reach across platforms and sites. On top of that, this customer data is still tied up in legacy systems.
Therefore, modernization, consolidation, and centralization across systems is crucial for publishers. With one structure to rule them all, greater cross-team alignment can be achieved.
No need to change the channel
It’s no surprise that email is one of the most effective ways to engage consumers. Yet the publishing industry still lags other sectors such as retail in wider adoption.
The energy behind email’s return is that it remains the most cost efficient way to test conversion and retention strategies. There’s little risk and plenty of reward for readers to opt-in to newsletters and other distribution lists. That’s why those numbers could be in the tens of thousands. However, segmenting these email lists is often a manual data pull, and the content is often painstakingly curated.
To make experimentation productive, publishers need to take a page from retail marketing by taking advantage of automated services and creating dynamic lists that reflect its diverse audiences.
Get time (and sanity) back with better alignment
Industries throw the concept of “better alignment” around frequently, but its applications are often lacking in clarity. The result is fragmentation, which leads to conversions being tracked in different ways by each team in organizations. A centralized reporting system is key for everyone to understand the role they play in reader revenue. Then they can join together towards a common strategy.
Time is a scarce resource, so spending less of it on tracking and interpreting conversions for multiple stakeholders also means publishers can focus more time on improving their core products.
Be the master of your domains
Technology companies care about (and invest vast resources in) data collection. Publishers, in contrast, have not devoted a great deal of attention to how their data is managed, integrated, secured, and made available. Suffice to say, this points to a major gap in the industry’s data governance practices.
Consistent and understandable data is foundational to a successful business strategy. Data governance hasn’t always been a core competency of publishers. However, it directly influences their ability to quickly prioritize company-impacting decisions. Better data governance makes it faster and easier for publishers to synthesize and act upon trends.
Lean in to content strategy
Content attribution is disconnected from a publisher’s CMS and other internal tools in their system. Developing a content strategy for conversions (or retention) is dependent on editorial intuition plus an understanding of what the data is telling you. As publishers shore up their brands and continue to build products that appeal to consumer interests, content marketing attribution is the missing link for proving ROI.
The time is now to build out the right attribution model will support investments across both editorial and marketing. Publishers can rely on the same resources as marketers across retail and other industries, which have been growing in sophistication around mapping content strategy to ROI. Attribution is crucial to support (and justify) the additional resources that have been devoted to editorial and marketing teams.
Editorial, meet product
As we mentioned earlier, there’s been a notable shift among large publishers that no longer see editorial strategy and product strategy as two separate functions.
Product strategy is most successful when you can pull from multiple teams to build towards an outcome that actually serves the needs of end users. However, this requires a cultural change that many publishers are still navigating. There’s a push and pull at play—collaborative decision-making requires balance between competing business needs and existing revenue goals. We’ve seen this theme consistently throughout our research. Understandably so—culture change is a challenge for all kinds of organizations.
Subscriptions: What we’ve learned so far
Our early subscriptions research findings point to a familiar tie that binds cross-functional organizations and revenue goals: data. Whether we’re talking about attribution or strategy, the common thread is the data that informs the intuition that has guided publishers for decades.
Yes, publishers will continue to navigate the cultural evolution taking place in the industry, but a composite metric might be the missing link. Unite everyone in the organization to tackle their respective roles in reader revenue and support those goals with actionable data. There’s a better chance to see positive results, or at the very least, build upon the findings.
I recently connected with Christa Carone, who joined Group Nine Media as president in 2017, at the Collision Conference in Toronto, Canada. Carone, who came to the media side of the industry after leadership roles on the marketing and agency side, oversees Group Nine’s sales and marketing teams as well as its data insights group. Group Nine is a digital media holding company comprised of four popular digitally-native media brands Thrillist, The Dodo, Seeker, and NowThis. Carone and I discussed revenue and distribution diversification, content strategy, and building a business based on brand equity.
Here are some highlights from our conversation:
Michelle Manafy: Tell me a little bit about your content
distribution strategy and why you are all-in on social.
Christa Carone: Well, I’d say we’re all-in on omni
channel—and that includes social. Right now, we’re distributing content on over
20 different platforms. That includes Amazon Prime, Pluto, Roku, and distribution
deals with networks literally around the world. So, our approach to being
completely agnostic on distribution is that we want to bring our content to all
of the different places where people are spending their time. And we want that
to be a pretty frictionless experience. Instead of spending a ton of money to
get you to come to my website, I want to bring our storytelling to the place
where you are already hanging out.
Michelle Manafy: Truly connecting with audiences at
scale almost sounds like almost an oxymoron to me. What do you think?
Christa Carone: You can debate that content is king
and distribution is queen and whether they have an equal seat at the table. But
that’s really kind of how I look at it. When both are working together extremely
well, you are able to build successful brands like The Dodo, NowThis, Thrillist,
and Seeker. It’s like really honing-in on higher value content. We’re building
lifetime value of the content, what’s going to keep an audience interested, and
remain totally agnostic on the distribution strategy.
Michelle Manafy: The trick, of course, is the
monetization. The other side of a distributed model is fragmentation. So, talk
to me a little bit about how managing all of those channels ties into an overarching
Christa Carone: The beauty of our strategy is
diversification. I often say that if Facebook sneezes, we don’t want to catch a
cold. Just like in any industry, you don’t want to be overly dependent on one
particular revenue stream. It’s business 101. Media is no different than any
other type of business. So, that’s why we’ve been so focused on building
audiences across a number of different channels. We’re building audience on TikTok
right now. The monetization strategy there is nascent. But it’s going to come. IGTV
is another great example. We produce great content for IGTV and put it on IGTV
pre-revenue. But I have no doubt at all that Facebook is going to open up
monetization opportunities there. And I want to have established an audience when
Michelle Manafy: You mentioned diversification and that
every company should be focused on diversified revenue. I take it that Group
Nine that’s been baked in from the start.
Christa Carone: Keep in mind that we’re two years old. So, we’ve had the benefit of learning from a lot of traditional companies. And I often say: We’re not pivoting to anything. Some of our brands were born into video so there wasn’t a pivot to video. And the business model was already established. Some of our brands were social first. NowThis, in particular, was born as a social-first distributed brand. We didn’t pivot our business model from taking audience from owned and operated to distributing through external platforms.
Thrillist is the oldest of our brands and it has such a
loyal audience. So, we are looking at diversification around where we can take
the Thrillist brand and make it more of a whole-lifestyle brand.
Overall, our focus is on lifetime value for the content. So,
if we’re bringing in revenue with licensing, great. Bringing in revenue from
the syndication model, great. If we’re bringing in revenue by production deals
with OTT content providers, like a Netflix, that’s perfect. And if we are continuing
to bring in a healthy amount of revenue from advertising, wonderful. And increasingly
we’re thinking about how we can tap into other revenue streams like commerce and
Michelle Manafy: Could you tell me a little bit about
your commerce strategy?
Christa Carone: Our approach to commerce is really looking at brands like The Dodo and Thrillist and saying there’s intellectual property here. There’s a maniacally loyal fanbase. Can we be licensing The Dodo into product? The Dodo clearly has enough brand equity to be producing large scale consumer and canine events. Thrillist has been a friend to people for a long time. It is your recommendation action for food and beverage and travel. So, our ability to take that brand equity and bring it into commerce is already built in. And stay tuned: We will definitely be doing some more on that later this year and we just hired a head of ecommerce.
Michelle Manafy: So, you mentioned that maniacal
audience, that loyal audience. What’s the Group Nine secret? Because, as
publishers, that audience relationship is what differentiates us from the
Christa Carone: It’s such a credit to our editorial
teams. They know how weave a great narrative and tell an amazing story. It
sounds simple but I’m always amazed … A great example is from NowThis. Many
people are familiar with the NowThis video about Beto O’Rourke that went viral.
The raw footage of that video was already posted on Twitter. It already lived
on the Internet someplace. The NowThis team found it and was able to put it
through their storytelling lens. They said how can we construct it in such a
way that viewers are compelled to watch the entire piece? There is an art to
it. There is a narrative that was built in through the use of text on the
screen, through the use of effective editing so that we as the viewer were
compelled to watch it from start to finish. That is the secret sauce that
really exists within our editorial teams and applies to how we produce content
across all of our brands.
I would say the other massive factor for us is that scale
matters. We have such amazing insights that we’re able to glean from the
consumption of our videos that informs how we produce content. Based on our scale,
our data team is looking at 115,000 views of our content every minute. Every minute. We’ve built a very sophisticated
data engine that is able to pull in insights for things like the right color
for the text on the screen, the right size of font, the number of words that
should be on your screen, the fact that videos about dogs have three times
longer watch time than videos around cats. So, the editorial team can say maybe
that dog video should be three and a half minutes but maybe that cat videos
should just be two or something along those lines. You’re able to really start
to use these signals to inform your storytelling.
Michelle Manafy: So,
what’s your growth plan?
Christa Carone: Our business is really becoming much
more analogous to a TV buy. What I mean by that is that we have access to sell
all of the pre-roll against all of Group Nine content across all of the major
platforms. So, you have a television commercial and you are in, say, an auto
company and the pet owner is really interesting to you. You can come to us and
have 100 percent share of voice across all Dodo content on Facebook, on
Twitter, YouTube, Snapchat. You can buy our pre-roll on our channels and
transact that directly through Group Nine instead of the platforms. Brands are
responsive to it because of the importance of brand safety. When you have the
brand safety conversation with a marketer, you need to be able to say here’s
the right audience and it is against premium, brand safe content. It’s
fascinating to me that we’re having more conversations with TV buyers who are
shifting that investment from linear to wherever they can get eyeballs.
Michelle Manafy: I’m finding the distinction between television and all digital video is increasingly blurred, particularly for buyers.
Christa Carone: Completely. I think we have to redefine
what TV means. So, TV is not a device anymore. When the linear players, the
cable players start talking about TV everywhere, we’re in that boat. It
includes YouTube, it can arguably be IGTV, it could be lean-back viewing on
Facebook… It can be TikTok. How define TV going forward is going to be interesting.
Michelle Manafy: Talk to me about how you’re
innovating and how the industry needs to innovate.
Christa Carone: Maybe for some media companies,
diversification is innovative. It’s different at Group Nine because we were
born that way. We’ve learned so much from how past companies have run that we
know what we need to do as a media company. I feel like innovation is really
coming through how companies are able to scale intellectual property.
Christa Carone: I mean that’s been such an advantage
coming into a company like Group Nine. What I’m able to tap into is the
perspective of a marketer and think of everything we’re doing from the
perspective of the client. Will an advertiser really buy into this? I come from
companies with significant brand equity so I’m a massive believer in
intellectual property and that’s what appeals to me about Group Nine. these
aren’t four media companies. These are four brands. So: How can we look at
building brand equity that isn’t just about one particular revenue stream? That
has been super helpful to me to bring more of an innovative marketing approach
to building brands.
C-3PO as a nightly news anchor? Alexa winning a Pulitzer Prize? These silly scenarios sound like the stuff of science-fiction. But the reality is that automation, which often takes the form of artificial intelligence and machine learning, is increasingly infiltrating the fourth estate and impacting how media companies gather, report, deliver, and even monetize the news.
From transcribing to fact-checking and polling to tweet parsing, artificial intelligence has been hard at work in newsrooms for years. However, the number of organizations large and small—including giants like The Washington Post, Forbes, AP and Reuters—using AI and machine learning to compose content is on the rise. And that’s got the industry and consumers sitting up and taking notice.
Naturally—along with those in a number of fields—there are journalists worried about being replaced by automation. However, there are many who embrace these technological advancements, seeing them as useful assistants that help process and distribute the news.
“AI can help journalists cover and deliver the news more efficiently by freeing them from routine tasks, identifying patterns in data, and helping surface misinformation,” said Lisa Gibbs, the Associated Press’ director of news partnerships.
Chris Collins, senior executive editor of breaking news and markets at Bloomberg, agreed. “Technology is good at repetitive tasks and newsrooms tend to be overloaded with those. If you leverage technology to help with them, journalists can spend more time doing journalism—interviewing sources, breaking news, writing analysis and so on,” said Collins.
Bloomberg built Cyborg, a program that extracts key info from corporate earnings reports and press releases. Bloomberg also has AI-assisted monitoring tools that rely on machine learning to filter out spam, recognize key names, and classify topics to cut through this noise and capture specific events relevant to Bloomberg’s financial audience.
“By doing that, we’re able to be more competitive
when it comes to identifying news events,” said Collins.
AP uses a similar AI resource to automate corporate
earnings articles. It also employs video transcription services that create transcripts
for its broadcast customers, saving AP’s video operations personnel precious time.
Additionally, the AP’s newsroom is beginning to focus more on how AI can help the news-gathering process itself. “We recently completed a test of event detection tools, such as from SAM, which uses algorithms to scan social media platforms and alert editors when it has identified likely news events,” said Gibbs. “What we found is that using SAM, in fact, does help our journalists around the world discover breaking news before we otherwise would have known.”
Reg Chua, COO of Reuters Editorial, said his organization has been using AI for several years. “A lot of it is your basic automation stuff like scraping websites and pulling stuff off feeds and then turning them into headlines published automatically or else presenting this information to humans for checking before we publish. We also employ quasi automation and technology that scans and extracts important information from documents,” said Chua.
One of Reuters’ newest AI tools is News Tracer, which filters noise from social media to help discern fact from fiction and newsworthy angles from countless tweets and posts. “News Tracer’s core function is to tell journalists about things they didn’t know they were looking for—to quickly find news that can be reported on,” said Chua, who added that the tool provides a newsworthiness score and a confidence score to help reporters determine what to focus on.
Big and small papers
RADAR (Reporters and Data and Robots), a London-based
news service, has been a trailblazer in the realm of AI-reported local news.
“We operate as a news agency with a subscriber base of UK local news publishers,” said Gary Rogers, RADAR’s editor-in-chief. “We employ six data journalists. Our reporters work largely with UK open data, seeking out stories that will be relevant and informative for local audiences. They work as any data journalist might in finding the stories, but they use software as their writing tool in order to produce many localized versions. These are distributed to local news operations all over the UK.”
Rogers noted that AI allows RADAR to achieve
a scale of story production that would not be possible by human effort alone.
“We tackle about 40 data projects each month.
Each project will yield an average of 200 to 250 localized versions of the story,”
said Rogers. “Since last autumn, we have been producing between 8,000 to 10,000
stories per month.”
Smaller community newspapers are investing in big machine learning capabilities, as well. Case in Point: Richland Source, a Mansfield, Ohio daily, uses a program called Lede AI to automate local sports reporting.
“Lede Ai writes and publishes game recaps for every high school sporting event in Ohio immediately after it finishes,” said Larry Phillips, managing editor of Richland Source. “If it’s a big game, we will send a reporter and Lede Ai writes and publishes the first draft; our journalist adds color, flavor, and flare that can only be done by being at the game. With Lede Ai, we’ve never received a complaint about inaccurate reporting, and we’ve published over 20,000 articles.”
News media professionals worry about human
obsolescence in the face of such quickly accelerating automation. Yet many believe
those concerns are premature or misguided.
“While this has been true in most industries
and may happen in media, there is a broader picture of AI’s enabling rather than
employment-destroying qualities,” Rogers said. “AI can take over repetitive and
boring tasks, which frees journalists to do more important work. It can help journalists
find stories by sifting large amounts of information. In our case, it allows our
reporters to amplify their work, write a story in the form of a template, and produce
hundreds of versions of the story for local newspapers across the UK who lack the
resources to do it themselves.”
Consider, too, said Phillips, that “AI still
can’t ask follow-up questions, can’t knock on the doors of multiple sources, work
a beat, make a follow-up call, do the shoe-leather grunt work, garner an off-the-record
comment which leads to a story angle, and certainly can’t replicate the human element,
the nuance, that encompasses the very best work in the profession.”
Even if their human resources are relatively
safe for now, news organizations have to navigate carefully through uncharted waters
when it comes to ethics around and disclosure of AI practices.
“As these technologies evolve, having standards
around transparency and best practices – such as how do we prevent bias in data
from impacting our news coverage – will be critical for the entire industry,” added
Bloomberg’s Collins echoes that sentiment.
“It’s essential to understand what technology can and can’t handle. Clearly, as
with all journalism, you need judgement, best practices and processes in place to
ensure what you are writing is accurate, fast and worthwhile,” said Collins. “You
need to be transparent about how a story was produced, if it was assisted or published
using AI. In our experience, the combination of years of human journalistic experience
with technology such as AI is powerful. Obviously, the technology isn’t left to
run the newsroom. It is trained and overseen by journalists, who are learning new
skills in the process.”
Reading the tea leaves
Looking ahead, artificial intelligence will
create exciting new capabilities as well as troubling obstacles, say the pros.
“As newsrooms increasingly embrace AI, it will
help with everything from spotting breaking-news events, to finding scoops in data
to audience personalization,” said Collins.
But prepare for even more fake news fiascos.
“Distribution of so-called deepfakes, assisted by AI, is a troubling trend,” Collins cautioned. “How technology evolves to both spread and combat misinformation will be a major challenge for the industry.”
Yet Richland Source publisher Jay Allred and
others remain optimistic. “In the near-term
at the local level, I think AI will largely be used for two things. First, it will
fill the gaps on informational journalism tasks that simply are not done anymore
due to shrinking payrolls,” said Allred. “Second, it will surface insights from
public databases—finding out, for instance, how a particular city floods and where,
how many speeding tickets were issued and where throughout a state, where do the
most citations for drunk and disorderly conduct occur within a city. This will spur
and support investigative journalism that wouldn’t otherwise happen.”
Google has joined the likes of Apple Safari and Mozilla Firefox on the privacy front by offering users of Chrome the chance to disable or remove third-party tracking cookies. Last week, the company announced three protections that will soon be coming to the world’s most widely used web browser:
order to access consumers, developers will be required to specify – with
attributes – which cookies contain user tracking and cross-site capabilities.
users will be able to access this information and delete all cookies without
affecting those which are active on a single domain (e.g., login, settings,
browser will “aggressively restrict” fingerprinting techniques used by websites
to identify browsers without a tracking cookie, though Google is vague on what
In today’s environment, it shouldn’t come as a
surprise that one of the biggest players in online advertising and
data-tracking is coming down hard on third parties (even if they don’t have a
stellar track record with tracking). Let’s take a critical look at this new
direction, starting with the positives.
In the past, measures to crack down on data privacy abuse have swung between ruthless and milquetoast. Safari’s Intelligent Tracking Protection (ITP) has been called “nuclear” [by pundits for crippling trackers right out of the box, a measure that users rarely bother to disarm.
As a cornerstone of the digital ecosystem, Google understands the importance of data tracking for online publishers, acknowledging on its blog that cookies “play an important part of the web experience today,” It went on to add:
“Blunt solutions that block all cookies can significantly degrade the simple web experience that you know today, while heuristic-based approaches—where the browser guesses at a cookie’s purpose—make the web unpredictable for developers.”
new privacy features differentiate themselves by providing, in outline, a
standard for transparency that eliminates guesswork and ostensibly leaves users
in charge of their web experience.
approach is both more balanced and precise than the wide bat swung by some competitors.
These approaches challenged publishers to take inventory of the cookies they
drop, and to use them in a more responsible way.
not everyone is convinced that Google should wield its power over the web this
a natural vested interest in its own data-driven products and services, some
wonder whether the new privacy standards will apply to Google itself. While the
company insists that they will, its power to act otherwise points to a larger
have heard time and time again that “data is currency,” and that’s true. Organizations
depend on it for every step of the business cycle, from lead acquisition to
customer service. However, with customer bases collectively exceeding half the
global population, tech giants like Google and Facebook have as much data as they could possibly
assuming the best of intentions on their behalf, we still must ask: Should
privacy standards be determined and enforced by the very organizations who
stand to benefit the most from them?
The battle for control
drive for more and more data has given rise to the advertising crisis as we
know it today. In the face of invasive third-party trackers, malvertising, performance
issues, data breaches and other privacy infringements, consumer trust is at an
One thing is increasingly clear: The industry needs oversight, and many contenders have stepped up to fill the vacuum. From emerging legislation like GDPR and CCPA, to Google, Mozilla, and other browsers, publishers have no shortage of authorities trying to dictate their relationship with clients—both consumers and brands/advertisers.
in downgraded content, poor segmentation, and privacy agreements galore, end
users are the casualties of this struggle, and the battle for privacy
governance has quickly become a case of too many chefs spoiling the pot.
here’s a thought: What if organizations were equipped to set their own rules?
And instead of concentrating power in the hands of Silicon Valley giants, what
if the relationship between businesses and advertisers could be self-governed?
A better way forward
and media organizations are on the cusp of winning the future of digital. With
historical direct relationships with brands and ownership of coveted
first-party data, there’s never been a better time to take control of the
digital revenue channel. The first step to winning is knowing the parties that
contribute to your supply chain and verifying compliance with publisher
policies covering data, security, quality and performance.
most cases, more than 90% of their code is third-party generated and the veil
of mystery surrounding a third-party’s identity has been a significant obstacle
to content moderation. If Google did one thing right with the new Chrome
updates, it was forcing developers to identify the purpose and scope of their
cookies to the end user.
long as businesses can vet the partners executing on their platforms,
vulnerable and abusive code can easily be censured, creating a better digital supply
chain for users, ad exchanges and publishers alike.
this future, Digital Vendor Risk Management (DVRM) can arm organizations with
the information they need to govern their digital assets. With built-in
regulatory compliance, DVRM not only identifies risks, but ensures that the
proper response is taken in any jurisdiction.
best solution for customers and the best solution for business always go hand
in hand. Rather than bringing them under an iron fist, DVRM creates a
sustainable digital ecosystem by empowering businesses to protect their
customers while driving revenue.
About the Author
Chris Olson co-founded The Media Trust with a goal to transform the internet experience by creating better digital ecosystems to govern assets, connect partners and enable Digital Risk Management. Chris has more than 15 years of experience leading high tech and ad technology start-ups and managing international software development, product and sales teams. Prior to The Media Trust, Chris created an Internet-based transaction system to research, buy and sell media for TV, radio, cable, and online channels. He started his career managing equity and fixed income electronic trading desks for Salomon Brothers, Citibank and Commerzbank AG.
It’s no secret that web-enabled video is booming. Driven by the combination of an increasingly sturdy infrastructure to support its delivery and the growing popularity of online streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu, consumers of all stripes are spending more time watching video on personal devices. So, advertising budgets are being adjusted accordingly, as brands seeks to take advantage of the shift in behavior and make online video a larger piece of their media mix strategy.
New research from Brightcove – Video Advertising Trends and Preferences – demonstrates many positive developments for online video promotions: solid through rates (~60%), modest error rates (~25%), and manageable blocking rates (~20%). Yet, for all of the positive momentum surrounding online video, I frequently find myself advising clients to tread carefully when it comes to embracing the tactic.
Here are the three key issues that are top-of-mind with marketers when it comes to video advertising, and how publishers can respond.
1. It’s Easy to Do Video Advertising Badly. To be sure, it’s never been easier to create videos. However, while the means of production is readily accessible for just the cost of an iPhone, the other requisite – and costly – inputs haven’t changed. Sophisticated videos still require a multifaceted team comprised of a copywriter, art director, talent (performer), editor, and post-production expert to create a quality asset. Any attempt at cutting corners typically results in a shoddy asset that has the potential to hurt a brand’s marketing efforts more than it helps. That’s not to say there are exceptions – there are, and they get a lot of attention. But they are just that: exceptions.
Implication for publishers: Due mainly to its price tag, but also because of the relative complexity required to do video well, the domain remains the purview of large companies with deep pockets and the means to create quality assets, either using internal resources or with the help of agencies. And that’s where publisher sales efforts should be focused. Otherwise, sales groups can find themselves spinning their wheels for months trying to woo small companies with tight budgets to pull the trigger on a video campaign, only then to have it stall or perhaps worse, and push something out to the marketplace that winds up being problematic. For publishers focused on building out their video advertising offerings, providing video production resources to brands can be a meaningful – and potentially game-changing – tactic.
2. Video Is The Champagne of Online Marketing Channels, But Most Companies Can Do Just Fine With The House Table Wine. Video is a major attraction to both senior marketing managers and also non-marketing executives, and for good reason. Only over the past decade or two has video become a viable advertising option for the mainstream. For most of the second half of the 20th century, video advertising (with all of its barriers to entry) was almost exclusively the purview of household consumer brands like Coca-Cola, General Motors, and Nike.
The development of reliable wireless broadband and the emergence of platforms like YouTube and Instagram have changed all that, of course. And this has democratized video advertising. However, just because it’s available doesn’t necessarily make it a good fit. Indeed, for most small and mid-sized companies, alternative digital channels such as search and display offer more options by way of speed-to-market, testing, and optimization.
Implication for publishers: Though video can be used as a direct response tactic – think of all the late night infomercials and class-action-lawsuit-recruiting pitches – it’s most effective as a component of a multichannel, sustained campaign. In other words, it’s part of a solution, not the solution. In this kind of a use case, video reinforces messages and offers being delivered via complementary channels, both online and off. For years, I worked on acquisition campaigns for a big telecom company. We used video as an upper funnel tactic to establish awareness, and reaped the benefits later on in the lower funnel area of the customer journey. Publishers that can offer these multi-touch point solutions know how and when to add video to the media mix, and do so in a way that effectively sets expectations and creates a roadmap to success.
3. Many Brands Want to Jump Into Video Advertising With Both Feet, But Markets Need Education. Even experienced and savvy marketers are prone to miscalculating what’s required to manage campaigns that rely on video to be successful. First and foremost, budgets get out-of-whack right out of the gate, as ‘workable media’ metrics get wonky simply due to what’s required to create the video asset. That’s not the case with brands that have been running TV spots for decades, of course, but rather for companies trying to move upstream in the online advertising value chain.
Accustomed to an environment where advertising units can be churned out easily in hundreds or even thousands of variations – as is the case with search, display and even content marketing – the usual rules go out the window with video advertising. So the entire digital marketing methodology that most active online promoters have adopted, which is based on a plan-design-launch-analyze-repeat methodology, doesn’t really work with video advertising, nor does that last-touch attribution metric which we’re all, however sheepishly, still embracing.
Implication for publishers: Media companies are in a unique position to genuinely educate customers and prospects on how to do video advertising successfully. Taking a measured approach to pitching video ad solutions requires some discipline and might also result in leaving short term money on the table, but given all of the potential pitfalls, it’s preferable to the damage that could be done with either existing, long-term (and profitable) customer relationships or potential new ones. Given the relative newness of video advertising.
There’s no doubt about where video advertising is headed. Along with the voice/speech category, video is on an upward trajectory that will last for years. Everyone loves video: consumers, executives, B2C, B2B, domestic, and international audiences alike. There’s no better package for message delivery. And it’s why the entertainment industry (using TV and movies as its backbone) remains just about as relevant today as it’s ever been, even in the wake of the internet revolution that was supposed to decimate the category. However, just as it’s difficult to make a quality, differentiated TV show or movie, so is the case with online video advertising. It’s part art and part science, and requires a ‘secret sauce’ to be effective. Brands will be well-deserved by wading carefully and deliberately into this space, and savvy publishers that serve as their guides will be rewarded as well.
About the Author
Tim Bourgeois is a digital media consultant that helps brands optimize ROI on advertising, technology and agency investments. Connect with him on LinkedIn.
The legal and policy community continues to debate the impact of General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the ins and outs of the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), and how (or whether) Washington should regulate consumer privacy. While the debate rages on, we are seeing a stream of consumer-focused privacy-oriented product rollouts. It is interesting to look at what these controls actually do and how they might inform the policy debate.
In a concession to consumer privacy, Google recently announced that it would allow consumers to block companies from tracking them across the web when they are using Chrome. Specifically, they will differentiate between 1st party and 3rd party cookies. As such, they will allow consumers to delete 3rd party cookies while preserving the 1st party cookie, which, for example, allows a website to remember a consumer’s log-in information. In addition, Google will soon roll out features to prevent companies from identifying consumers via device fingerprinting, another method used to track consumers across the web.
Let’s be clear, Google is late to the privacy game given the long history of privacy protections offered by Apple and Mozilla. Apple has famously blocked 3rd party cookies by default in Safari and recently introduced Intelligent Tracking Prevention (ITP), restricting the ability of companies to access cookies when a consumer is not interacting with that company.
Services that care for consumers
When a consumer visits YouTube on Safari, Google can access the
cookies they have set on their browser. However, as soon as the consumer
navigates to another website, Google can no longer access those cookies. ITP
essentially breaks the ability to track consumers around the web. Apple has also worked to block loopholes where
cookies, set by companies like Google and Facebook, pretend to be 1st
party but are then used for tracking and secondary use. Unfortunately, it is
hard to muster much confidence that Google will be anywhere as diligent as
Apple in closing loopholes, given its business model is built on its ability to
expertly track consumers.
Beyond the most commonly used browsers, a whole suite of new services have popped up. Duck Duck Go, a search engine, and Brave, a browser, offer strong privacy controls as their primary value proposition. As we’ve noted for several years now, more and more consumers are turning to ad blockers to protect themselves and/or improve their web experience. Forcing these massive platforms to once again compete on privacy will be good for everyone, particularly consumers. The question, of course, is whether some of these companies are simply too big to change at this point.
Back to my original question: What can policymakers learn from
these new consumer privacy controls?
For starters, consumers increasingly demand more and stronger
protections of their data and digital lives or the market wouldn’t be headed
that direction. You can reasonably debate whether Google’s recent announcement
went far enough. But the fact that a multi-billion-dollar company like Google
did anything at all speaks volumes.
It’s also worth pointing out that all of these new controls, which curtail the ability of companies to collect consumer data at scale, are not actually breaking the internet despite the frequent claims of ad tech lobbyists. In fact, given this push to meet consumer demand for greater privacy controls, it’s funny and a little sad to look back at the hysteria from some of these lobbyists.
The big takeaway is how these companies and their engineers are
designing services and features to meet consumer expectations for privacy. This
new wave of privacy controls gives consumers the ability to stop companies from
tracking them across the web. Yet, these services preserve the ability for
websites and apps to collect and use consumer data when the consumer is
interacting directly with that company.
This approach makes sense. Consumers share their data so that companies can use it to provide a service or content. In this fair value exchange, the consumer can choose to engage or not. Consumers do not expect companies to track them outside of that fair value exchange and doing so is simply bad business.
It isn’t a question of whether consumers want their privacy
protected, these market moves demonstrate the demand and inevitability. And, as
policymakers consider how best to craft consumer privacy protections, it’s
worth noting how today’s best engineers have attempted to meet consumer demand
and expectations for privacy.
When was the last time you channel-surfed to figure out what to watch?
It’s probably been a few years, right? But less than a decade ago, almost everyone watched live TV—either cable or network broadcast. Then in 2007, Netflix launched its streaming service and AppleTV was released, catalyzing a major shift in how we watch TV. Hulu and Amazon also launched streaming services, and a number of other smart TVs were released, including Roku and Amazon Fire.
The technical term for these increasingly popular services is Over The Top (OTT). With OTT, content providers distribute streaming media as a standalone product directly to viewers over the internet, in turn bypassing telecommunications, multichannel television, and broadcast television platforms that traditionally mediate such content. A recent study predicts that global streaming subscriptions will surge to 333.2 million by 2019.
This new world order will likely cause a major turn away from traditional broadcast TV.
While traditional TV providers face physical network limitations, OTT opens the door to reach a global audience wherever an adequate internet connection exists. This will both decentralize content recommendations and democratize content, allowing content providers to reach previously untapped markets. But it’s not without its challenges—and the traditional program menu is chief among them.
Here’s how OTT is impacting the way content providers deliver media to their customers:
Today, both providers and consumers have more content options than ever before.
Once upon a time, the only way to get to consumers was through that one pipe coming into their homes. No more. Today, there’s no longer a stranglehold on network connections, which means content providers have more delivery options than they know what to do with.
Thus, all those innovative services and content aggregation companies—like Netflix and Hulu—were born.
Open access has allowed for content aggregation companies or new content delivery companies to provide whatever content they please to massive audiences. And skyrocketing connection speeds are only intensifying this trend.
In particular, 5G—or the fifth generation of cellular mobile communications—promises faster speeds, a more stable connection, lower latency, the ability to connect even more devices to the network, as well as reduced costs and energy consumption. In terms of speed, 5G technology intends to be 10 times faster than 4G. Ever faster mobile speeds are changing what real-time means. It’s also made it easier for content providers to reach audiences.
And content providers aren’t the only ones with more options. The OTT revolution gives consumers more choices than ever, too. Instead of just subscribing to Comcast or basic cable, consumers now have access to any number of OTT services. They can also watch on multiple devices, whether it’s Apple TV, Roku, or their smartphone.
In my house, we’re heavy users of AppleTV. But we also use YouTube TV, ESPN+, and Bleacher Report (to get all my Champions League soccer matches). And HBO, of course, because we have to watch Game Of Thrones.
Traditional economic theory says that choice is always better for the consumer and will lead to pricing efficiencies. However all of these options can be more than a little overwhelming—which is something the industry needs to think about in this new OTT world order.
Content owners need a better technological solution—but there are no easy answers.
In the past, it was a big deal for the service providers to figure out how you were going to design the program menu. Even the smallest changes to the design can have a major impact on the user experience.
But what’s a user to do when there are 17 services and they need to figure out which to watch?
This is one of the biggest challenges for content owners in the OTT era. There are so many different independent streaming services people regularly use, and consumers don’t want to have to sit down and click on 17 different top menus in order to figure out what to watch.
After all, watching TV is supposed to be a relaxing experience.
As we enter this new world order, content providers need to figure out a user-friendly menu where consumers can easily toggle between streaming services. There’s no one recipe. However, one option is to have the various content services pick up on user intent/interest based on their actions in the moment. At my predictive analytics company, Liftigniter, we provide a lot of the building blocks to do this. But it’s going to require more than just some really good tech from a startup.
Rather, it’s going to require the industry to pull together to devise a solution.
Regardless of how this all shakes out, the primary goal for the user should be twofold: price efficiency and a user-friendly personalized experience. After all, the OTT revolution is all about democratization and relevance.