Ever since the IAB conference a few months ago, it has struck me how the key topics discussed and debated – sometimes intensely – by attendees have come to dominate the digital media, advertising and publishing landscape to an even greater extent. The focus of the most interesting and thought-provoking discussions was on the fragmented landscape and shifting content consumption habits. The subtext for most of these conversations was the need for more efficiency and accuracy in key processes, more visibility into performance, more integration of adtech and different data streams, and longstanding issues of brand safety.
1. Is it really that hard to sell OTT?
The long (and slow) journey to convergence of channels continues. At IAB, I participated in a very passionate discussion of the current situation regarding over-the-top sales. The room was full of representatives from across the industry, including agencies, advertisers and publishers. Everyone agrees that integrating disparate OTT data is a worthy goal, but until that happens, agencies are reluctant to fully embrace OTT.
On the other hand, Hulu, for example, is generating significant sales growth. Even as audiences flock to OTT, agencies are not currently structured to support that shift. Thus, it’s another area where agreements and operating models must be revisited to reflect the new media consumption reality. It is work that must be done, and soon, given that the shift to OTT shows no signs of abating.
2. Signs of life after the duopoly
Facebook has been all over the headlines since IAB and finally there is some sense that the balance of power may soon be shifting. It’s also worth remembering that not so long ago the “triopoly” of MSN, AOL and Yahoo! seemed just as unbeatable as Google and Facebook do today. That era of dominance was over quickly, as we all know.
What does that particular history lesson tell us about the duopoly today? Fake news, shifting media preferences across demographics and increased consolidation may reorder the landscape to a degree that seems impossible at the moment. The bad press about Facebook’s news feed algorithms (which punish brands and publishers) and data privacy policies are not the company’s only threats. Tween apathy, which could consign “likes” and “shares” to the fate of “You’ve got mail” may prove just as disruptive in the long term.
Intensifying competition from existing and emerging players may also reorder the landscape. Amazon seems most likely to disrupt. The premium content it is giving away through Prime represents an enormous foundation for ad revenue. Even as Alexa’s threat to AdWords remains uncertain, Amazon is taking search share from Google, as as well ad revenues from both Google and Facebook. Layer in Amazon’s rich data on shopper behavior and the notion of a triopoly seems not just plausible but likely. As with all other previous eras of digital media, it will be interesting to watch developments unfold.
3. The future of TV and video content
As a thought experiment, imagine Disney relying on its strength in video content (and financial firepower) to take market share away from the duopoly (thereby creating the competition advertisers and agencies would love to see). Disney’s huge catalog of high-quality, long-form video and huge scale could also be a significant threat to YouTube, which specializes in low-quality, short-form video.
Another thought experiment: envision Amazon and Disney figuring out how to create a “clean well-lighted place” that offers considerably more control and safety for premium brands. That would solve one of the industry’s biggest challenges at enormous scale.
Again, Amazon’s platform power could be daunting if it decides to go all-in on digital advertising or voice does to search advertising what ecommerce did to traditional retail. Microsoft and hardware providers to data centers probably felt safe from Amazon until they entered the cloud computing game.
4. Sales needs to start using big data (or at least stop using spreadsheets)
Though less sexy or exciting than the headline-grabbing competitive moves, the operational side of the business remains a big issue. At most publishers, sales organizations remain the least tech-savvy and automated part of the business. Sales people usually claim they should be out on the street, calling on prospects, not entering data into Salesforce. But that common refrain is no excuse for under-utilizing the power of the platforms already in place at most publishers. The bottom line is that CRM should be a carrot not a stick.
CRM systems can certainly be designed to make sales teams more productive in terms of understanding (and prioritizing leads) and clarifying the state of the pipeline. For instance, simple automated prompts can make sure sales people call on seasonal advertisers at the right time and capture data. They can also capture data on previous campaigns and deals so sales people know how to package upsells or start negotiations. These relatively simple, but powerful, capabilities require that CRM systems have accurate and consistent data. Like I said, not sexy, but data quality can produce exciting results.
It’s a big problem that seems to be getting worse. Premium publishers that tout high-value audiences hurt their own brands when invoices are wrong or they can’t answer basic questions about how much advertisers spent in the last year or whether upfront commitments were met. Such a deficit of data and insights puts pubs at a disadvantage when negotiating with agencies. Doing a better job on data quality (especially in terms of customer records) is a great place to start. Integrating CRM systems with other tools and data sources is another valuable step. It really is time for sales groups to move forward in terms of doing business digitally – they are selling digital ads, after all.
5. Blockchain as the ultimate adtech
While many in media and publishing have adtech fatigue and shudder at the thought of adding yet another tool to the stack, blockchain offers real promise in addressing a number of critical issues. Those issues include viewability, bot traffic, the tech tax and overall transparency about which ads ran where and when. Blockchain may seem scary to publishers (who may fear being held falsely accountable on ads purchased through networks). However, the opportunity to be liberated from the tech tax is hugely appealing.
Though few publishers are ready to roll out blockchain-based tools on a widespread basis, it’s certainly not too soon to do in-depth research, conduct due diligence on potential partners and perhaps even design a pilot or two. Blockchain is coming – there is no doubt about that.
As ever, the Infinitive team is working to help our clients find the best path forward through this fragmented landscape, whether through a strategic rethink of core sales processes or via targeted, tactical improvements via technology deployments, upgrades and integrations.