Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Netflix's Gift To Digital Advertising

Netflix, Amazon and HBO have taught me, my family and most of the planet that the best TV programming does not come with commercials.  It's been a massive cultural shift.  Television and commercials have been as dependent on each other as milk and cereal going back to the days of the first broadcast.

A massive business shift is accompanying the cultural shift and completely upending the media and advertising industries.  Roughly 35% of the $500 billion spent globally on advertising goes to television and it seems every digital media company has a plan to grab some of it.  As Derek Thompson in The Atlantic said: "Netflix's extraordinary success is the best thing that could ever have happened to digital advertising."

It's not all going away.  Sports and live entertainment programming is somewhat safe. (Although Fox just announced it will be introducing 6 second commercials in their NFL games as viewers, unable to skip the commercial, are reaching for their mobile devices during breaks in the action.)

Ironically, people are becoming more accustomed and comfortable with seeing an ad in front of a short piece of video content on their phone than they are on an Emmy Award winning show on their TV.  A variety of innovations including speedy load times, better targeting, shorter ads and a quick ad-skip option have made ads in front of digital video content a clean and manageable experience (for the most part).  TV's multi ad TV breaks feel more anachronous and cumbersome by the day.

And short form video content is a booming sector of the media business as not only Facebook, YT and Snap continue their relentless focus and innovation, but hundreds of large and niche publishing companies build out sophisticated video production operations that churn out compelling content and further acclimate us to watching clips and short pre-roll ads on our phone.  

A recent column in ReCode describes a "visual revolution" in journalism that predicts not a full pivot to video, but a new format for story telling that is just another example of the opportunities for re-expressing TV advertising.
That video that is currently soaring across social media — maybe it’s a text-heavy explainer with dynamic motion graphics, or a video-driven news story with sharply concise captions — is less an evolution of video itself and more of an evolution of the hundreds and thousands of pieces of text-based journalism that are produced and consumed digitally. Audiences that spent time consuming only the first couple of paragraphs of a news story are now watching 45 seconds of a video that conveys the same information. And, yes, sometimes with words on the screen. I believe this will become more sophisticated and more prevalent, and before you tell me that it’s intellectually inferior, just believe me — it’s not in its final form. It’s on us to innovate so that it has the power and impact we want it to.
Perhaps it is just like the early days of television.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Will We Scroll More Than We Surf?

The 30-second TV commercial is entering it's sixth decade as the most lucrative, ubiquitous and durable advertising format in history.  I spent the early years of my career selling TV ads and a pretty significant % of all TV ad time sold in US these days in overseen by friends of mine.  I hope the business thrives forever.  And as long as watching TV programming with ads included remains something we spend hours a day doing, it will.

Scalable, tolerable (and ultimately effective) ad formats tied to massive media behavior are rare.  Google's search business (roughly $50 billion this year) is the only other one that comes close in scale to TV advertising in the past 60 years.

A third is here and it is quite possible you are seeing it in action as you read this post - feed-based content, interspersed with ads, that we scroll through on our phones  A recent piece in Re-Code highlights the Feed Mindset
Today’s consumer lives in their feed: Scrolling and scrolling ... and scrolling ... through an infinite amount of content with the flick of the thumb. This new behavior, unheard of four or five years ago, is synonymous now with a modern internet built around the content feed.
And an article in The Atlantic aptly titled "How Mobile Today is Like TV Six Decades Ago" highlights how Mobile's current advertising growth arc is similar to TV's in it formative years.  TV, arguably the most most pervasive and culturally transforming media platform, dwarfing every other media format that came before it and after, finally has a real rival. The channel surfer is becoming the feed scroller.  

When the TV advertising riches started flowing, 3 networks shared the spoils.  With mobile, it is two - Facebook and Google.  Facebook was the primary instigator and now beneficiary of our new scrolling habit. The ads in FB's mobile feed are the main revenue driver of the company now, quickly becoming as significant as search ads are to Google's bottom line.

But niche, mobile-first publishers like us are also benefiting as we package our unique content for the scrollers and see rising CPMs.  Digital dimes are becoming quarters, and even dollars.

And when the ads are presented seamlessly (natively) and are contextually relevant, they get nearly universal  positive (or at least tolerable) user feedback.  

It certainly feels like a powerful new publishing model.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Game Of Platforms

When I started in the media business 25 years ago, things were much easier.  Consumers had little influence over the content they were served.  The most disruptive and fastest growing sector of the industry at the time was cable television, an entertainment oligopoly controlled by a handful of cable operators who blessed a handful of programming companies channel slots - the equivalent of  permanent shelf space in the only supermarket in town. Consumers, with no other options were force-fed a lot of dreck as the nascent cable channels, many of who went on to become great brands, were given years to find their stride.

Today, things have changed dramatically. (Although there is still plenty of dreck.) The development and maturation of the Open Web has given consumers influence over what is produced and power to anyone and everyone to be a content creator, curator and programmer.  But what hasn't changed is the enormous strength of a handful of platforms, who, like the cable operators in their day, hold the upper hand.

The extraordinary opportunities the Open Web has provided along with inevitable consolidation of power in the hands of a few players was highlighted in a recent TechCrunch piece:

I, too, am a believer in the open web — a platform that anyone can hack on powered by standards (http) and great technology (servers, devices, browsers). It delivers on the promise of the Internet: a world in which everyone is connected, and you can command as much attention as your content deserves (no matter your budget or connections).   
But .... it is threatened by dominant technology companies such as Facebook, Google and Apple who have an economic interest in creating their own “walled gardens” of Internet content that they control and monetize.

But others think the platforms can empower publishers, and much like CNN, ESPN and HBO grew and thrived on the back of a dominant distribution platform, new media brands like Buzzfeed, Vice and Vox can thrive as the new platforms have to serve their massive subscriber base with higher quality content.  This from Today's NY Times:

I think platforms, or marketplaces, make it a lot easier for, say, the content providers or app developers that are very, very good to rise to the top, and pretty much commoditize everyone else. So if you’re average, it’s definitely going to be very bad. Life is going to be worse on a platform, because you’re exposed to more competition. If you’re very good, life on a platform is a lot better.
YouTube Red, Facebook Instant Articles and Snapchat Discover are the most exciting examples of social networks and publishers exploring their ongoing mutual dependence.  And just today,Vox announced a new brand that will publish exclusively on Facebook.  

But as I have opined many times, the platforms will always hold the upper hand, as they own the relationship with the audience.  How media companies build and maintain direct relationships with their own audience in a platform-centric media world is the ongoing challenge.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

This Micro Moment

We are averaging 250,000 video views per day on our wildlife network MaxAnimal, and this month will pass the 100 million view mark since we launched last year.  As expected, roughly 75% of the views are happening on smart phones.  Our intention from the start was to keep the clips short (1 minute on average) and thrilling, so to connect with an audience that has a limited attention span and will readily share.

Some recent data shows how well we are positioned, but also how nimble we need to be to keep growing at this pace and expand to longer form content.

Google issued a study last month titled "Win Every Micro Moment With A Better Mobile Strategy" that reports people now check their phones 150 times per day and spend 177 minutes on the device, resulting in dozens and dozens of mobile sessions averaging a little more than a minute each.

And a much circulated presentation from the recent WSJD conference included this fascinating slide:

Short Attention Span Theatre.  The Attention Apocalypse.  Micro Moment Warfare.  Everyone has a name for this moment in time when GIFS are the most popular new media form, some brands are posting 50 times per day on Facebook and Vine Stars are the new YouTube Stars.

Our goal (as well as the goal of some of the media companies in the slide above, particularly Vice) is and always has been to use the short stuff as a gateway to longer, richer content experiences (and building an engaged community.)  Because, on the other side of the spectrum, there clearly is a craving for long-form journalism, podcasts, documentaries, high quality TV dramas and other more immersive content experiences. 

How much attention we have for both is the question, and can the publishers most effective at the bits, bytes and bursts engage their viewers for longer sessions.

Monday, July 27, 2015

The Future of Advertising at VidCon

Dozens of the independent creators featured at VidCon this year have reach as big as cable and broadcast television networks. But more importantly, because they have such an authentic and passionate relationship with their subscribers, (see picture of screaming fans) advertisers are striking marketing partnerships with them at an extraordinary rate.

It seemed like every other company I spoke to during the conference was in one way or another providing services that connect brand advertisers with “influencers.” (marketing speak for social media stars.) And many of the bigger creators - now representing every imaginable programming genre from gaming to science to entertainment - are producing content as good and often better than most of what you can find on television.

They have talented writing and production teams, state-of-the-art equipment and operate like highly efficient production companies, studios and networks. Brand advertisers find them nimble, creative, and collaborative, often developing relationships similar to the ones they have with their traditional ad agencies. Perhaps even more importantly, these creators are testing and then conquering (or discarding) every new emerging distribution platform, providing the brands a unique media lab.

For a brand to be able to sit down and collaborate with an individual creator that has a real time relationship with an engaged community of millions, and has the team and production expertise to deliver a targeted and compelling brand integration in a matter of days, is truly revolutionary.

The advertising industry is need of an efficiency make-over.

VidCon provides a snap shot into the future.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Content Was Never King

Content was never king, and it is certainly isn't today.  Distribution was and is the most important ingredient for a content based media company to succeed.   Cable networks programmed epically awful content in their early days, but were allowed years to find their voice and audience on the back of TV distribution oligopolies.  The content eventually got good (great in some instances) and many cable nets became multi-billion dollar global media brands.  But it was all about the distribution.  It always was and always will be.  Ben Franklin demonstrated as much when he launched the country's first magazine and used his role as postmaster general to ensure it ended up in everyone's home.

Today's media distribution currency isn't channels controlled by cable companies, but streams controlled by social media companies.  Danny Sullivan in a recent Marketing Land Post, describes an emerging "Stream Revolution" empowering media brands like BuzzFeed to insert themselves into a "constant parade of content that is pushed at viewers" on platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube.

And last week a senior ad sales exec at Google penned a piece in the Wall Street Journal describing "micro moments" - new opportunities for advertisers to "micro-target" in the stream.
Our research has uncovered a fundamental change in the way people consume media: the old days of predictable, periodic media sessions have been replaced by numerous short bursts of digital activity throughout the day. The old model was a four-course meal in the same restaurant. Today’s is a series of constant bite sized snacks all over town.

This is a pretty seismic change for advertisers. There are no longer just a few sporadic “a-ha!” moments of truth; now there are countless moments that matter.
The challenge for content companies, new and old, and the advertisers who are the real King in all this, is that the stream is flowing faster and faster, and playing in it requires enormous effort and time.