DIGITAL AND CONTENT IN 2018
The media landscape continues to be in a state of flux, with changes to digital publishing and advertising and across social platforms. VIDA's Mark Maddox and Peter Cowley talk digital media and content in 2018.
Given the turmoil in media tech, how do you think the digital startup eco-system VIDA supports is going to change in 2018?
The most important thing is that there are now established businesses, new ventures and startups all looking at how the content eco-system can survive and flourish. Whether it’s ad-funded, niche, crypto-based, blockchain ads or networks, it’s all good. It’s a sign that people believe in content. There has to be an honest, transparent content eco-system – you could say that last year it got very polluted.
Ultimately, recent activity reinforces our model, which is around niche content: content with impact that’s really relevant. We’re not going for scale; we’re going for relevance and validity.
Yes, our vision for VIDA is that premium niche businesses will become more important to the eco-system because they’ve got a more targeted audience. The general move into branded content plays to our strengths, as that’s more of a bespoke rather than a mass-market deal.
So the market is moving in the direction of the super-targeted premium niche businesses that VIDA believes in. We can really support these businesses, help them generate revenue and build audiences.
Following so many changes across the entire media landscape, do you think digital will ‘settle’ in 2018 or is there more change coming?
It will always be in a state of flux, becoming faster and more fragmented. Many big digital publishers, originally valued like tech companies, have been in the scale game, but we’re now seeing a levelling of the playing field.
Meanwhile, the tech platforms continue to categorise themselves as tech businesses but can be defined as a media owners. There may be bigger questions around their function: how they work with brands, consumers and regulatory bodies, because improving trust and transparency will be another key issue. We may have seen peak Facebook!
Yes, there is more change coming, with cracks forming in some of the big digital publishers such as VICE and Buzzfeed. We’ll be looking to see if they can mature into what we imagine they could be, or if traditional publishers catch up. But it’s mainly going to be about whether digital publishers can maintain audiences following the impact of having to support video and platform algorithmic changes.
How do you see continued advances in technology having an impact on digital media?
Crypto-currencies and the blockchain will obviously continue to develop and grow but who knows where it will end up? There are already disruptive organisations using this technology to create new online content business models. Civil is a blockchain platform allowing content creators to get paid using crypto-currency.
Brave has its own high-speed browser which strips out and blocks certain ads, cookies and trackers. It’s also experimenting with a ‘basic attention token’, promoting true accountability and allowing people to pay for content they want – really exciting stuff.
Similarly, with the use of artificial intelligence in programmatic advertising, there has been a lot of activity about harnessing data for advertising. But we’re now seeing many broadcasters, particularly on Over The Top (OTT) platforms, using dynamic ad insertion, replacing normal broadcast ads with ads more targeted to digital audiences.
In relation to smart-phones, video remains all-pervasive and we now see companies focused on ‘mobile first’ content. Longer-term, the continued growth of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and its effects on how content is pushed out and consumed is probably the next phase. Smart-phones themselves will become more sophisticated in terms of understanding users and preferences.
With continued upheavals and controversy around the actions of tech giants, what do you think we’ll see them doing in 2018?
There have been several challenges for Facebook in particular but it has responded and made changes on its own initiative. There could be similar further change across the board: a mix of the advertising business reconfiguring while brands will be looking to spend money more responsibly and effectively. The duopoly of Facebook and Google will also have new and continued challenges including from the advertising piece that Amazon will continue to grow.
With YouTube hiring 10,000 people to manually look at whether the content on their platform is suitable for premium advertising as an example, one priority for the giants is to keep advertisers and brands happy, and ensure that the advertising platform isn’t going against hateful or horrible content. There is pressure on these businesses to change their practices, and if you include the wider social media platforms, I think governments and regulators will increase that pressure, and we’ll also continue to see them self-regulate.
In highlighting meaningful content, Facebook has been responsive to its audience. Do you think that the audience will now gain more control?
Most consumers have now had ten to fifteen years of social media. Similarly the I-phone is now over ten years old. We’re only just beginning to understand the impact of digital channels and devices, including the addiction to content on phones. We’re now getting our heads round how social has affected society and how each of us can deal with it. With content predominantly being served by Google or Facebook, we may see people starting to look for something different.
Media and social companies also want to collect data so that they can target content and advertising that’s appropriate and contextual to customers. In theory that gives the audience more control over what they see. We’ve already seen a shift from people watching television to watching OTT and the benefit this brings. I think we’re going to see this broadening to other platforms. It sounds like a good thing but it can also be argued that it might restrict the discoverability of new content.
One content trend identified in 2017 is that customers have come to prefer ephemeral, ‘snackable’ content. Do you see this continuing in 2018?
People are consuming content faster and more quickly. They’re still streaming long-form content via films and television, but on social platforms, and as a mobile-led activity, they’re snacking, sometimes while watching long-form. Visual and video content really works online as a different type of storytelling. If brands want to connect with audiences consuming content in that way, they need to fit into that environment.
‘Snackable’ is where we are today, but only part of the mix for 2018. One area of growth for publishers’ videos has been the Facebook newsfeed but, with the recent algorithmic changes, that will be challenging to sustain. We’ll likely see a combination of viral type content, perhaps funded by pre-roll or mid-roll ads, along with an increase in branded or native content.
Facebook have already been experimenting and it looks like they want to promote longer-form content on their ‘Watch’ tab. We’re also seeing digital publishers using social video to move people onto their own web platforms. One of the biggest challenges for publishers is how to create and monetise video. We may see a mixed economy for video content: short form for viral marketing and longer form for storytelling. This also applies to broadcasting through OTT platforms – the outlets for it are enormous.
Following negative responses to digital advertising do you think there will be more of a place for native advertising?
I think we’ll see more native advertising. Brands need to create content for their digital and social channels and if they can do that via native advertising partnerships it makes economic sense. It’s also a secure and safe way of creating content with partners that they can trust. There also needs to be more signposting for consumers about what is native advertising and what is pure editorial. But if there’s a spirit of giving something to the consumer with some authenticity then it will work.
We’re in the age of ad blockers with less attention on advertising and more on content. That gives rise to good quality native advertising formats or branded content. Further, the mixture of content we’ll likely be seeing on the Facebook newsfeed and its Watch tab, is set to be branded or native content funded. In recent years we’ve already seeing the growth of that on YouTube and other platforms.
With digital advertising in flux there also seems to be a move away from reach to tailored content and niche audiences. How do you think this will develop?
Digital advertising hasn’t worked the way it was meant to. The promise was ‘the right message, to the right person, at the right time, with the right offer.’ But instead, bad advertising now follows us around the Internet like a stalker. And nobody asked consumers if that’s what they wanted, which they don’t. So one key outcome we’ll likely see is the related trust and transparency piece being addressed by the General Data Protection Regulation. It’s going to be bad news for ad tech, but good news for publishers.
Reach will always be important to brands and broadcasters, but within digital it’s more about targeted content and premium niche. The quality of the content and the target audience match is becoming more relevant if you’re an advertiser. And the audience becomes easier to get to with the growth of proper programmatic advertising, more data, more profiling, and more niche digital publishers.