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.
Despite a steady stream of negative news about social media platforms, eMarketer predicts that marketers will continue to invest ad dollars there. eMarketer’s US Social Trends for 2019 foresees continued fallout from 2018’s social media scandals and revelations, particularly for Facebook. It appears that marketers will continue to advertise on the problematic platform, despite declines in usage and engagement along with increased regulatory scrutiny.
Facebook-owned Instagram, the report points to the likelihood of “growing pains”
and investigations into data practices and privacy, in part stemming from the
actions of its parent company. Overall, eMarketer says that 2019 will be a year
to watch in terms of changing user behavior and engagement across social media
and Instagram, eMarketer predicts that:
They will bring in a combined $67.25
billion in worldwide ad revenue, up 23.5% from 2018.
They will see US expenditures increase
20.6%, to $27.57 billion this year.
Time spent on Facebook among US users
will remain flat this year, at 40 minutes per day.
Time spent on Instagram will inch up
only slightly, to 27 minutes from 26 minutes in 2018.
the report points out that, much as marketers have had trouble shifting ad
dollars away from linear TV despite declining audiences, they won’t be inclined
to quit Facebook either, even in light of its mounting problems. In fact, Next
year, eMarketers predicts that marketers will put $32.18 billion into social
ads, with the vast majority—$27.57 billion—spent on Facebook. That will bring
social ad spending to 47% of TV ad spending ($69.17 billion) this year.
Snapchat, eMarketer predicts that usage will slow. However, the company will
have better luck garnering revenues from its existing users. eMarketer estimates
that Snapchat’s US average ad revenue per user (AARPU) will top $10 this year
($10.18 to be exact), up 30.4% over 2018 (when AARPU grew just 10.9%).
2019 productions include:
An explosion of the stories format (followed by a backlash)
The spread of vertical video
The newsfeed will maintain its dominance as social media’s primary UI
Social shopping will gain traction
turbulence in the social media landscape, we’ll all need to keep an eye on
Facebook’s place and popularity in the marketing landscape as well as the ripple
effect that increased scrutiny on platforms data usage will have on all
players. It will also be interesting to see if the stories format remains
relevant in the long haul, as well as continued shifts in the perception of, and
tactics around, influencer marketing.
The internet is filled with tricks and tactics to reach your
There’s the e-newsletter blast, the banner campaign, the
native ad widgets. There’s Facebook and Instagram and Twitter. These methods
are constantly changing and requiring publishers to adapt to new rules and
regulations, but one thing remains constant: if you want to reach your
audience, you’re going to have to pay. Given that paid promotion is a part of most content
programs these days, it’s vital that publishers are getting the best bang for
their buck – or else their margins will suffer.
In recent years, platforms have cracked down on organic traffic, forcing publishers to adjust their spend accordingly in order to drive traffic to their sites. It’s also changed how we sell products like content. You can no longer put an article or video on your page and sit back as the views roll in. Instead, campaigns need a dedicated (and usually significant) amplification budget to deliver the results the client expects.
Considering this, it’s important to ensure that you’re getting the most bang for your promotion buck. Otherwise, you’ll end up breaking even — or worse — on something that should be a significant revenue stream for your business.
Two of the most common tactics are Facebook and native ad
network promotion. Each has its pros and cons (scale, price, engagement), which
we’ve explored in the last five years at Pressboard. But after more than 3,000
stories, we’ve stopped using native entirely and have shifted our whole client
content promotion budget to Facebook. Here’s why.
The Native Ad Problem
Native ad networks have been praised for their ability to
deliver a nondisruptive ad experience to viewers. In fact, research from the Native
Advertising Institute suggests that readers prefer them over pre-roll video
ads and banner advertisements, probably because they blend into the page more
And while they do succeed in sending traffic to a site,
native ad networks face one major challenge: quality.
In order to outcompete other native networks and provide
advertisers with adequate scale and inventory, many native networks have had to
expand their reach beyond premium sites. As a result, quality of traffic has
naturally given way in favor of quantity. The readers on these sites are often
less qualified, which means they’re less likely to click on and engage with
At this kind of scale, native ad tactics also inevitably encounter brand safety issues. We’ve all seen those cringe-worthy headlines popping up in “Stories You Might Like” panels; it’s even worse if your sponsored content is sitting next to one of them.
Why Should Publishers
Not all native ad networks are created equal. There are networks with built-in quality control measures, like minimum time spent, that ensure the audience they reach is, well, actually human. They can also lead to massive revenue if done thoughtfully.
But at the end of the day, there are better ways to deliver
the results your clients want to see.
Content is different than banner ads or other kinds of advertising. While a banner needs 0.5 seconds to communicate its message, content needs audiences to engage with it to be effective. That connection is incredibly powerful: branded content leads to 59% greater recall than other digital ads. Beyond this, advertisers need to show that their investment in content is making an impact, and their clients are increasingly concerned about engagement rather than clicks. Therefore, it’s vital that the people who click on your ad intend to read and scroll through your content.
In a recent study, we compared how two traffic sources — Facebook newsfeed and native ad networks — compare when it comes to engagement and click-through rate.
came from over 1 million unique reads promoted through Facebook or native ad
networks and tracked using Pressboard’s platform. We analyzed engagement
metrics including time spent, scroll depth, and click-through rate on links in the article to
determine which tactic was most successful. The results?
The Facebook Solution
After reviewing the results, Facebook is the clear winner
when it comes to both engagement and conversion. Readers spend an entire minute
engaging with content when they reach it from a Facebook ad. That’s almost two times
higher than traffic coming from a native ad network. They also convert at
double the rate of what we’d expect from a reader who reached the content after
clicking on a native ad.
we considered cost, Facebook outperformed native ad networks. Sure, native
drove cheaper clicks and impressions, but that advantage changed when we looked
at verified reads. Fewer clicks on native ads reached the content we were
trying to promote, whereas the Facebook audience was more likely to reach our
content. As a result, each actual read that came through Facebook cost $0.34,
while reads earned through native ad networks cost $0.59.
Anyone that invests in content promotion knows the importance of every dollar. And while clients aren’t concerned about the publisher’s bottom line, they are invested in the performance of their content. Finding a platform that delivers strong conversions and engagement and at relatively affordable cost is a win-win. Until something inevitably changes in the AdTech space, we think we’ve found it.
Certain terms like “new wave,” “new school,” and “online video” start to lose their meaning over time. The same seems to be true of the “NewFronts,” now in their eighth year in New York. The showcase for traditional and digital native publishers selling their video offerings to marketers has been split up into twice-per-year affairs (with a fall showcase in L.A.). Just 16 publishers presented in New York this year, down from 36 in 2017.
The idea of the TV Upfronts and NewFronts are to dazzle
advertisers and get them to commit a chunk of their advertising to the
publisher, though there is less scarcity online. Have the NewFronts made
progress over the years? Most definitely. Has that progress meant there is no
need for them anymore? Not quite.
What’s most interesting at this year’s shindig is that
traditional players are pushing new acquisitions and initiatives, while the
digital natives are trying to sound more traditional with ongoing series. This
points to a convergence of purposes and the fact that online video, OTT,
streaming video et al have commingled
to the point of absurdity. This leaves marketers grasping at just what they’re
buying and how they can track and optimize it all. And yet there’s still a
place for publishers at the NewFronts as a showcase for offerings and to
generate much needed buzz.
The biggest challenge for publishers, as always, is trying to stand out from dominant players like Hulu, YouTube, and even Twitter. And the dominant players just get more dominant. YouTube casts an immense shadow as the largest ad-supported video platform online. But, as Digiday’s Sahil Patel points out, YouTube users are spending 200 million hours per day watching YouTube on a TV, up from 100 million hours last October.
And Hulu hit $1.5 billion in ad revenues last year by
offering a mix of legacy TV programming and original shows. During its
NewFronts presentation, Hulu execs pointed out that they have 26 million paid
subscribers, and a much younger audience than cable, at 31 years old vs. 53
years old. Plus, 80% of Hulu viewing takes place on a TV set, up 75% from last
year. (And Hulu even sponsored Digiday’s coverage of the NewFronts.)
This puts many publishers in a bind because
they have to sell their uniqueness to advertisers while also cutting deals with
the platforms to expand reach.
“Mass reach is still a thing,” Mediahub’s Michael Piner told
Digiday. “And there are certain partners that are being prioritized because
they can achieve the mass reach of TV.”
What do publishers get?
So what do publishers get for their money and trouble at the NewFronts now? Well, the decrease in presenters means they do get more attention from attendees. And at least one publisher, Studio71, was touting its upfront ad sales. The company has presented at the NewFronts from 2016 through this year’s edition. Studio71’s CEO Reza Izad told Digiday that 85% of their revenues each year came from upfront commitments. They boast 100 million unique viewers per month on YouTube and vet each piece of content on the network.
Still, many publishers such
as Group Nine and Refinery29 decided to forgo the NewFronts for a private tour
to increase intimacy – and likely save costs. The increased competition for
digital video ads is partly to blame, and people are also paying more for
services such as Netflix and HBO that don’t serve ads at all.
But it’s still hard to ignore the growth of digital video, especially if you sell video advertising in entertainment. The IAB’s Video Ad Spend Report surveyed marketers and found they would be spending $18 million on average this year on digital video ads, up 25% from last year, with the Media/Entertainment vertical up a whopping 75%. (And yes, that means studios are buying more ads on other media.)
Meanwhile, notable presentations from Meredith and Conde
Nast discussed new shows for their OTT services, and Meredith is also
distributing them through its local TV stations. And as OTT moves into
broadcast, cable network Viacom was showcasing content on its newly acquired
PlutoTV OTT service.
“Viacom is embracing digital inventory, and at the same time we see Condé and Meredith pushing themselves into the OTT universe,” Wavemaker’s Noah Mallin told AdAge. “They are starting to resemble each other more and more.”
As AdAge’s Jeanine Poggi’s so astutely points out, this is
the year when the NewFronts actually looked a lot like the regular TV Upfronts,
with the themes of brand safety, original programming, and scale. “This year more publishers spoke about renewing
existing shows, creating long-form content akin to TV and
positioning themselves as the new ‘primetime,'” Poggi wrote.
So where does that leave publishers and the IAB? Perhaps the
time has come to ditch the NewFronts and merge them into the regular TV
Upfronts. More importantly, publishers need to calculate carefully the benefits
of a flashy program on stage at the NewFronts, and whether that still beats a
private tour or other marketing outreach. Ultimately, it will take a new round
of upstart video-centric publishers who want to make a splash to inject new
energy into the NewFronts.
Given that OTT is the new TV, how should audience interaction be considered? TV is conventionally viewed on a large screen ten or so feet away and described as a “lean back” viewing experience. However, the new capabilities that come with OTT are associated with “leaning forward” – similar to browsing the Internet. In the digital age, people navigate content by swipes on mobile touch screens or clicks on portable laptops and desktops. In other words: They lean forward.
media perspective, it has proved optimal to follow traditional TV practices in
order to maximize viewer time with OTT video content. This starts with playing
video the moment the app opens just like tuning into a TV channel. These days, the
practice is becoming standard particularly across OTT apps for broadcasters
with linear establishments. (AKA, leaning back.)
By the numbers
behind the lean-back practice are particularly compelling when comparing
average view time for media companies that have transitioned from on-demand
menu starts to starting with video streams. Average viewer times have increased
between 80-120%— more than doubling from less than a half hour to over an hour
Moreover, Pluto TV, the leading free streaming service with more than 15 million monthly users, takes it a step further with 24 hours of programming on OTT channels. Pluto recently announced a view time of two hours per session, which already represents half the average daily view time of TV in the U.S. of nearly four hours. And consider Hulu (with 28 million customers), which recently announced binge watching on the service as a new ad targeting metric. So, length of viewing time is now a metric of significance in OTT viewership and even advertising.
advertising perspective, lean-forward ad engagement can be far more impactful.
This means capturing consumer attention with interaction of any kind, whether a
game of sort for brand recall or data capture for direct response. In digital,
user interaction is the driving force behind premium and higher value ad
However, when we consider OTT as the new TV — where leaning back is the status quo on a connected TV versus the underwhelming amount of time spent watching OTT on mobile phones — a new balance must be struck with the level of interactivity and added value that is possible. Compare this to the lean-back paradigm of TV in OTT, where the remote is purely a means of turning the stream on or off or tuning the volume up or down.
lean-back, media companies and marketers will need to capture the most
meaningful signals from viewers through their viewing behaviors and activity
along their content journey. They will also need to break the mold with
interactivity in simple and beneficial ways to the viewer, such as skip or
continue to watch a certain commercial like done with simplicity in digital.
For OTT, we’ll
need to take a hybrid view to maximize consumer understanding and ad performance.
As a medium, OTT must be evaluated in the context of “lean back” in terms of
programming presentation, and a “lean forward” opportunity in the presentation
of commercials through viewership behavior.