Narrative: Advertising Sustainability
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Narrative: Advertising Sustainability (Jan 9, 2017)
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Some YouTube Advertisers Still Staying Away (Jun 21, 2017)
Any service which becomes central enough to its users’ lives eventually has aspects which become essentially intimate to the user: what feel like private places where the user feels extremely comfortable, and where intrusions of content, ads, or other unwanted outside elements feel like a violation. I suspect users’ own playlists on Spotify feel like just such a place to its loyal users, and so the news that Spotify is testing a “Sponsored Song” ad unit in which songs are literally placed into users’ playlists should be concerning. Almost every ad-based business model eventually engages in such violations, either temporarily or permanently, because the drive is always to push the boundaries of ad load and the places where ads can show – the most valuable real estate is also often the most invasive, and each ad platform has to draw its own line between what is and isn’t acceptable in the pursuit of ad dollars. Spotify’s recently leaked full results for 2016 show that its ad-based business is loss-making even on a gross margin basis, while its subscription business is profitable on that same basis, so there’s always going to be a push to squeeze more ad revenue out of each user. I’ve recently finished a piece for Variety which will publish in the next couple of weeks in which I argue that Spotify should in fact ditch its free tier and go subscription-only, because of all the tradeoffs the ad-based business forces, especially in its relationships with labels. But these types of encroachments into what should be sacrosanct aspects of the user experience are another example of the risks of the free tier, especially relative to the small rewards – just 10% of Spotify’s revenue in 2016.
Snap Acquires Offline Attribution Company Placed (Jun 5, 2017)
There were reports a while back that Google was planning to incorporate some limited ad blocking features into its Chrome browser, and Google has now confirmed those reports and explained exactly what it’s planning. As the reports suggested, Google isn’t planning to implement a broad ad blocker but rather will block just those ads deemed annoying by the Coalition for Better Ads, of which Google is a member. It sounds like Google has started reaching out to publishers to explain the forthcoming change and will be providing detailed guidance on how they can ensure their sites are in compliance. As I said when the earlier reports surfaced, it’s smart for Google to be part of the push for limited ad blockers even if that may seem counterintuitive, because if it can focus that activity on egregious ads rather than all ads indiscriminately, it has a much better shot at protecting its own massive ad revenue than if others take more of a blanket approach. We can be certain that none of Google’s own sites or ad formats will be affected by this filter, but we can also guess that there will be something of an outcry from publishers feeling that Google is favoring itself while disadvantaging others. It’s going to be fascinating to watch this play out over the next few months.
Though the original headline on this piece focuses on the e-commerce aspect, the actual content of the article makes clear that Google has every intention of serving up ads too. Google launched Shopping on Home a while back, so hearing that Google intends to monetize through e-commerce isn’t a huge surprise, but it’s interesting to hear confirmation from Google that this is its main focus, because though this is obviously a strength and a motivator for Amazon in this space, it clearly isn’t Google’s main focus. However, as I said, advertising is clearly a big part of that picture too, and it sounds like ads will mostly be served up as they are in other Google search products: alongside organic results when people are looking for something specific. The big question, then, is how that’s done – the first screen of classic Google search results has now been taken over by ads, something that only takes a scroll to get past, but that same experience on a voice device that majors on providing a single answer won’t fly. Linear interfaces like voice assistants can’t take up users’ time with ads before they get to the organic results. So despite these comments, there’s still lots we don’t know about how Google is going to make additional money from Home. And then there’s the point I made previously about the fact that charging real money for a device like this breaks the usual implied contract of free services coming with ads – users won’t have the same expectation of an ad-supported business model on a device like Home that they do with a free online service.