Twitter Opens Advertising Analytics to Third Parties (Apr 10, 2017)
As per the Marc Pritchard interview I covered earlier today, many advertisers are still concerned that they’re essentially being defrauded when placing ads online, because they don’t know which ads are really being seen by human beings as opposed to bots. One of the big requests these brands have had for ad platforms is increased outside auditing by independent firms which have standardized measures for things like viewability and can compare metrics across multiple platforms. We’ve already seen Facebook and Google open up both for outside auditing and for measurement by third parties, and Twitter is now joining them. Twitter’s analytics around advertising have been an area of weakness, so even nothing here directly improves Twitter’s own tools, open up to third parties should at least help some advertisers feel better about the data they’ll get back when advertising on Twitter.
Roku Offers Guarantees to TV Advertisers – Multichannel (Apr 3, 2017)
Roku is going to start selling the ability to target specific demographics with advertising, and therefore claims to be replicating the traditional TV ad buying model more closely than most other online platforms. Roku already sells some ads for certain channels on its devices, and this is part of an effort to beef up that part of its business. It appears that part of what will enable Roku to do this is a two-year-old partnership with Nielsen to measure demographics and match them with Nielsen’s own. A big barrier to content owners putting more content onto online platforms has been the inability to measure and monetize audiences, so if this new offering is successful, it should help alleviate those fears, on Roku devices at least. But of course this also raises issues around privacy and tracking, and it will be very interesting to see how Apple and Amazon play in this space, especially given that Apple is generally data- and tracking-averse when it comes to user behavior, especially at a granular level.
It’s interesting to see Google working with the MRC around auditing now too – Facebook just announced MRC auditing a couple of weeks ago, but it had of course had an embarrassing series of screwups relating to metrics for advertisers and content providers, whereas YouTube didn’t. However, this is reflective of a broader mistrust of online advertising by big brands and marketers, and an inconsistency in the use of major metrics like viewability. From what I’ve read, the MRC standards are pretty minimal as far as what counts as a view, but at least there’s consistency there, which is a start.
This is yet another bit of damage control by Facebook in the wake of its metrics problems in late 2016, and the MRC partnership has been in the works for some time (see the full timeline on the “Facebook’s Bad Metrics” narrative page). It sounds like marketers are reassured by some of these moves, which combine better third party auditing with some new video ad buying options.
The other bit of news from Facebook today addresses the recent problems it’s had with unreliable metrics for advertisers and publishers. Some of this is just about providing more metrics for measuring performance on Facebook across various channels (Facebook, Instagram, and Audience Network within its own products can be compared with TV and/or print data from wider campaigns), but there’s also news on the third party verification front, which advertisers have been asking for. It now has deeper partnerships with Nielsen and ComScore, and is deepening its viewability measurement tools, as well as adding some additional partnerships. There’s lots here, the detail of which won’t be all that interesting unless you’re directly involved in this stuff, but Facebook is showing some promising willingness to open up more to outside measurement platforms its partners trust as a way of offsetting the embarrassing errors which turned up late last year.
Tidal has been one of the second tier music streaming services that often gets rolled up into the “Other” slice of streaming music subscriber number pie charts, but its reported numbers have been big enough in their own right to be broken out in some cases. There are only a handful or so of major music services around the world with more than a million paid subs, and Tidal is one of them, along with giants Spotify and Apple and fellow medium sized players Rhapsody/Napster and Deezer. But this report suggests Tidal has been exaggerating its actual subscriber numbers, which have always seemed surprisingly high, and that its real numbers are much closer to one million than the three million it has reported publicly. The reality is that Spotify and Apple between them dominate this market, with Spotify quite far ahead, and everyone else well behind Apple, which has also been growing rapidly. The other players have all struggled to find meaningful growth here, though the ad-supported streaming business is far more popular (though it also delivers far lower revenues to the industry). I wouldn’t be surprised if Tidal exits the market in the near future if this is the true state of its business.
Snapchat Is Justifying Its $20 Billion Valuation by Emphasizing User Engagement – Bloomberg (Jan 20, 2017)
This is in some ways part of the same story we heard a while back about Snap positioning itself as another Facebook rather than another Twitter. Facebook is all about engagement, providing numbers on not just monthly but daily active users, and talking up time spent as well. Though Twitter briefly dabbled with metrics like timeline views as an indicator of engagement, it quickly abandoned that metric and has steadfastly refused to provide daily active user numbers, focusing instead on MAUs and directional rather than absolute measures of engagement. Snap clearly wants to avoid those associations with Twitter and so has provided to investors data on engagement across several dimensions, which will hopefully be made available in its S-1 filing when that’s made public too. A key part of the Snapchat value proposition is that its users spend a lot of time on the service, so proving that to investors will be critical.
Errors in Facebook ad metrics could lead to more independent audits – Silicon Valley Business Journal (Jan 19, 2017)
This is the fallout from Facebook’s series of admissions towards the end of 2016 about its metrics relating to both content and ad performance: major advertisers are now going to be calling for more third party auditing of ad performance on Facebook. To the extent that Facebook is already said to be working with some outside groups on this, that effort needs to accelerate and come to a rapid conclusion to satisfy advertisers. On the other hand, it’s also clear from the same survey that Facebook is far from the only company whose ad metrics are mistrusted by advertisers – only Google has the confidence of over 50% of buyers, while AOL has the confidence of just 26%. But having said all that, advertisers don’t seem to feel they have alternatives to the big two, on which they plan to continue spending more money this year than last.
Facebook said all the way back in November that it intended to form a measurement council to improve external oversight of its metrics and reporting. This is one of the first concrete signs that it’s moving towards better outside auditing, though it’s not an announced deal yet.
Facebook and not Twitter has mostly been in the news for misstating its metrics, but it’s clear that the latter isn’t immune. Although Facebook’s confessions have been embarrassing, it hasn’t had to refund advertisers, but it appears Twitter has, though only over a brief period due to a technical glitch.
The latest incident from Facebook relates to Comscore tracking of iPhone usage, and comes a week after Facebook’s last disclosure of errors. All this continues to pile pressure on Facebook to engage more outside auditors in order to regain confidence in its metrics.
This was the third time Facebook had to confess to misstating certain engagement metrics, with at least one bug still unresolved at the time of the announcement, and fixes for the rest coming a week or so later. In November, Facebook announced that it planned to create a measurement council to offer more third-party verification, but those plans aren’t concrete yet.
All of Facebook’s metrics-tracking mishaps have unsurprisingly made marketers and publishers increasingly wary of trusting its reporting, and in some cases those marketers are reconsidering the money they spend on Facebook. Until now, this just looked like a PR black eye for Facebook, but the potential financial impact is now becoming clearer. This is something Facebook will need to address in its next earnings report.
Facebook finds more exaggerated ad data – Engadget (Nov 16, 2016)
This was the second time Facebook had to confess to screwing up metrics, this time as a result of an internal review following the first incident. Kudos to the company for conducting the audit, though it won’t have reassured advertisers or publishers to hear that additional metrics were inaccurate. Here’s Facebook’s own post about the errors, which covered several areas across Instant Articles, videos, and clicks and views across other content.
Following Facebook’s first metrics mishap in September, the Association of National Advertisers issued the first call in what’s since become a steady drumbeat of requests for Facebook to open itself up to outside auditing of its metrics for advertisers and publishers.
Facebook Overestimated Key Video Metric for Two Years – WSJ (Sep 22, 2016)
This was the first of a number of stories in late 2016 relating to Facebook’s metrics for advertisers and publishers. At the time, it looked like an isolated incident, but it was bad enough to attract attention even so – Facebook vastly overestimated average viewing time for videos for two full years, and only disclosed this fact through an article on its Advertiser Help Center. Once the story broke, Facebook publicly apologized.