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.