Welcome to the Ad Duopoly: Google and Facebook

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, it’s pretty obvious that the advertising marketplace in America has changed radically in the past few years.

In short order, we’ve seen the largest concentration of digital advertising converge on just two players:  Google and Facebook.  In fact, according to digital advertising research firm eMarketer, those two firms alone are attracting two-thirds of all digital ad dollars in the United States.

But this development isn’t all that surprising.  The vast bulk of Google’s ad market share results from its search engine marketing platform (paid search). As for Facebook, it dominates digital display advertising not just in America, but in many other countries all over the world as well.

And both companies are the “big kahuna” players in the mobile advertising sector, too.

What’s interesting is that, despite the shortcomings that many people recognize in both types of digital advertising – banner blindness and often ill-targeted paid search results — healthy growth in both forms of advertising continues apace.

Google’s ad revenue growth has average around 20% for more than 30 straight quarters. Its growth in the third quarter of 2017 is right on pace at 22%.

For Facebook, the growth dynamics are particularly lucrative; its year-over-year ad revenue growth is pushing 50%.

Mobile ad revenues are growing even faster; they accounted for “only” $9 billion in revenues for Facebook in just the third quarter.  And just as paid search advertising revenues represent more than 90% of Google’s total company revenues, mobile advertising accounts for nearly 90% of Facebook’s overall revenues.

With so much advertising activity, one might wonder from where it’s emanating.

One answer to that question is that the “universe” of advertisers is exponentially higher than we’ve ever encountered before. With low barriers to entry and “anyone can do it” ad development tools, “Jane and John Doe” are far more likely to be advertisers in today’s world of digital marketing than was ever contemplated just a few decades ago.

To wit: Facebook estimates that its social platform has more than 6 million active advertisers participating on it at any given moment in time.  That’s the equivalent of 2% of the entire population of America.

It’s kinda true:  “We’re all advertisers now.”

Facebook attempts to shake the “Fakebook” mantle.

There are a growing number of reasons why more marketers these days are referring to the largest social media platform as “Fakebook.”

Back last year, it came to light that Facebook’s video view volumes were being significantly overstated – and the outcry was big enough that the famously tightly controlled social platform finally agreed to submit its metrics reporting to outside oversight.

To be sure, that decision was “helped along” by certain big brands threatening to significantly cut back their Facebook advertising or cease it altogether.

Now comes another interesting wrinkle. According to Facebook’s statistics, the social network claims it can reach millions of Americans across several important age demographics, as follows:

  • 18-24 year-olds: ~41 million people
  • 25-34 year-olds: ~60 million people
  • 35-49 year-olds: ~61 million people

There’s one slight problem with these stats:  U.S. Census Bureau data indicates that the total number of people living in the United States falling in the 18-49 age grouping is 137 million.

That’s a substantially lower figure than the 162 million people counted by Facebook – 25 million (18%) smaller, to be precise.

What could be the reason(s) for the overcount? As reported by Business Insider journalist Alex Heath, a Facebook spokesperson has attributed the “over-counting” to foreign tourists engaging with Facebook’s platform while they’re in the United States.

That seems like a pretty lame explanation – particularly since U.S. tourism outside the country is a reciprocal activity that likely cancels out foreign tourism.

There’s also the fact that there are multiple Facebook accounts maintained by some people. But it stretches credulity to think that multiple accounts explain more than a small portion of the differential.

Facebook rightly points out that its audience reach stats are designed to estimate how many people in a given geographic area are eligible to see an ad that a business might choose to run, and that this projected reach has no bearing on the actual delivery and billing of ads in a campaign.

In other words, the advertising would be reaching “real” people in any case.

Still, such discrepancies aren’t good to have in an environment where many marketers already believe that social media advertising promises more than it actually delivers.  After all, “reality check” information like this is just a click away in cyberspace …

Is the Phenomenon of “Fake News” Overhyped?

fnIn the wake of recent election campaigns and referenda in places like the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Austria and the Philippines, it seems that everyone’s talking about “fake news” these days.

People all across the political and socio-economic spectrum are questioning whether the publishing and sharing of “faux” news items is having a deleterious impact on public opinion and actually changing the outcome of consequential events.

The exact definition of the term is difficult to discern, as some people are inclined to level the “fake news” charge against anyone with whom they disagree.

Beyond this, I’ve noticed that some people assign nefarious motives – political or otherwise – to the dissemination of all such news stories.  Often the motive is different, however, as over-hyped headlines – many of them having nothing to do with politics or public policy but instead focusing on celebrities or “freak” news events – serve as catnip-like clickbait for viewers who can’t resist their curiosity to find out more.

From the news consumer’s perspective, the vast majority of people think they can spot “fake” news stories when they encounter them. A recent Pew survey found that ~40% of respondents felt “very confident” knowing whether a news story is authentic, and another ~45% felt “somewhat confident” of that fact.

But how accurate are those perceptions really? A recent survey from BuzzFeed and Ipsos Public Affairs found that people who use Facebook as their primary source of news believed fake news headlines more than eight out of ten times.

That’s hardly reassuring.

And to underscore how many people are using Facebook versus more traditional news outlets as a “major” source for their news, this BuzzFeed chart showing the Top 15 information sources says it all:

  • CNN: ~27% of respondents use as a “major source” of news
  • Fox News: ~27%
  • Facebook: ~23%
  • New York Times: ~18%
  • Google News: ~17%
  • Yahoo News: ~16%
  • Washington Post: ~12%
  • Huffington Post: ~11%
  • Twitter: ~10%
  • BuzzFeed News: ~8%
  • Business Insider: ~7%
  • Snapchat: ~6%
  • Drudge Report: ~5%
  • Vice: ~5%
  • Vox: ~4%

Facebook’s algorithm change in 2016 to emphasize friends’ posts over publishers’ has turned that social platform into a pretty big hotbed of fake news activity, as people can’t resist sharing even the most outlandish stories to their network of friends.

Never mind Facebook’s recent steps to change the dynamics by sponsoring fact-checking initiatives and banning fraudulent websites from its ad network; by the accounts I’ve read, it hasn’t done all that much to curb the orgy of misinformation.

Automated ad buying isn’t helping at all either, as it’s enabling the fake news “ecosystem” big-time. As Digiday senior editor Lucia Moses explains it:

“One popular method … is tapping the competitive market for native ad widgets. Taboola, Revcontent, Adblade and Content.ad are prominently displayed on sites identified with fake news, while there are a few retargeted and programmatic ads sprinkled in. Publishers install these native ad widgets with a simple snippet of code — typically after an approval process — and when readers click on paid links in the widget, the host publisher makes money.  The ads are made to appear like related-content suggestions and often promote sensational headlines and direct-marketing offers.”

So attempting to solve the “fake news” problem is a lot more complicated than some people might realize – and it certainly isn’t going to improve because of any sort of “political” change of heart. Forrester market analyst Susan Bidel sums it up thus:

“While steps taken by … entities to curb fake news are admirable, as long as fake news generators can make money from their efforts, the problem won’t go away.”

So there we are. Bottom-line, fake news is going to be with us for the duration – whether people like it or not.

What about you? Do you think you can spot every fake news story?  Or do you think at least of few of them come in below radar?

For many people, what’s “breaking news” isn’t breaking on traditional news media outlets.

First it was Jon Stewart. Now it’s social media. 

(AP)
(AP)

If you suspect that Americans are increasingly getting their news from someplace other than the standard TV/cable, print and online news outlets, you’re right on the money.

In fact, research conducted by the Pew Center in association with the Knight Foundation during 2015 reveals that the share of people for whom Facebook and Twitter serve as a source of news is continuing to rise.

More specifically, nearly two thirds of the 2,000+ Americans age 18 and older surveyed by Pew (~63%) reported that they’re getting news reporting from Facebook.

A similar percentage reported receiving news from Twitter as well.

That compares with ~52% reporting that they received news from Twitter back in 2013 … and ~47% from Facebook.

Although both of these social networks now have the same portion of people getting news from these two sources, the Pew research discovered some nuanced differences as to their strengths.

smnA far bigger portion of people follow “breaking news” on Twitter compared to Facebook (~59% versus ~31%), which underscores Twitter’s strength in providing immediate “as-it-happens” coverage and commentary on live events.

Seeing such behaviors, it shouldn’t come as any surprise that both social networks have been implementing more initiatives that strengthen their positions as news sources even more:

  • Facebook has launched Instant Articles, a functionality that allows media companies to publish stories directly to the Facebook platform instead of linking to outside websites.
  • Facebook has also introduced a new Trending sidebar that allows users to filter news by major topic categories such as sports, entertainment, politics, technology and science.
  • Twitter has introduced live events to its roster, thanks to its purchase of the live video-streaming app Periscope.
  • A related Twitter initiative, dubbed Moments (aka: Project Lightning), allows anyone – even a person without a Twitter account – to view ongoing feeds of tweets, images and videos pertaining to live events.

According to Pew, news exposure is on social media roughly equal among all demographic factors including gender, ethnicity and income. The one exception, of course, is age.

All of these developments underscore the fact that the “traditional” TV, print and online outlets are no longer dominant when it comes to news consumption. And it’s highly unlikely that the trend will ever be reversed, either.

Facebook reigns supreme among smartphone apps — at least in the United States.

faWhich was the most popular smartphone app in the United States during 2015? If you guessed Facebook, you’d be correct.

According to Nielsen estimates, the Facebook app notched more than 125 million average unique users per month during 2015. It was an ~8% increase in the app’s user volume over the previous year.

The second most popular smartphone app was YouTube, but at fewer than 100 million, its average unique user volume was substantially lower than Facebook’s.

The Nielsen estimates are calculated based on a monthly survey of 30,000+ mobile subscribers age 13 and older in the United States, as well as a panel of ~9,000 English-speaking adults (age 18+).

Here is Nielsen’s “Top Ten” chart for the most popular smartphone apps in 2015:

  • Facebook app: ~127 million average unique monthly users
  • YouTube: ~98 million
  • Facebook Messenger: ~96 million
  • Google Search: ~95 million
  • Google Play: ~90 million
  • Google Maps: ~88 million
  • Gmail: ~75 million
  • Instagram: ~56 million
  • Apple Music: ~55 million
  • Apple Maps: ~47 million

Within the top ten list, the two apps with the highest user growth in 2015 were Facebook Messenger, which charted an increase in average monthly users of ~31%, and Apple Music, with ~26% growth.

Also noted by Nielsen, the level of smartphone penetration ticked up yet again in 2015, so that today four out of five mobile subscribers are using a smartphone rather than a feature phone.

fa anAs for the ongoing competition between Apple and Android for smartphone hegemony, it remains a real donnybrook but with Android ahead.

As of Q3 2015, Android devices represented ~52.5% of the subscriber base whereas ~42.5% of Americans used Apple iOS devices to access their apps.  (The remainder is made up of Blackberry users and phones operating on Windows.)

Additional information about the Nielsen evaluation and analysis can be viewed here.  It will be interesting to see how these trends might change in 2016.  Would anyone care to make any predictions?

The “100% ad viewability” gambit: Gimmick or game-changer?

Say hello to the ad industry’s newest acronym: vCPM (viewable cost-per-thousand).

viewabilityA few weeks back, Google announced that it will be introducing 100% viewable ads in the coming months, bringing all online ad campaigns bought on a CPM basis into view across its Google Display Network.

The news comes as a relief to advertisers, who have long complained about the high percentage of ads that never have a chance to be viewed by “real people.”

The statistic that Google likes to reference is that approximately 55% of all display ads are never viewed due to a myriad of factors — such as appearing being below the fold, being scrolled out of view, or showing up in a background tab.

And the problem is only growing larger with the increased adoption of ad blocker software tools.

Google isn’t the only that’s one coming up with in-view advertising guarantees. Facebook recently announced that it will begin selling 100% viewable ads in its News Feed area.

But some are questioning how much of a better benefit 100% viewability will be in actuality. For one thing, ad rates for these program are sure to be higher than for conventional ad buying contracts.

For another, neither Facebook nor Google have stated how long an ad would need to remain in view before an advertiser gets charged. Whether it’s 1 second, 2 seconds or 5 seconds makes a huge difference in the real worth of that exposure to the consumer.

Then there’s the realm of mobile advertising. In a startling analysis conducted and reported on by The New York Times, a mix of advertising and editorial on the mobile home pages of the top 50 news sites was measured.  What the analysis found was that mobile airtime is being chewed up by advertising content far more than by the editorial content people are tuning in to view.

Boston.com mobile readers are a case in point. The analysis found that its readers spend an average of ~31 seconds waiting for ads to load versus ~8 seconds waiting for the editorial content to load.  That translates into a home page visitor paying $9.50 per month — just to view the ads.

ad blockerWhen there’s suddenly a cost implication in addition to the basic “irritation factor,” expect more smartphone and tablet users to avail themselves of ad blockers even more than they do today.

As if on cud, Apple is now allowing ad blockers on the iPhone, giving consumers the ability to conserve data, make websites load faster, and save on usage charges all in one fell swoop.

Sounds like a pretty sweet deal all-around.

… And then there were two: Facebook is nipping at YouTube’s heels.

Facebook “grows up great” to challenge YouTube for video supremacy online.

FB vs YTOnly few years ago, YouTube was pretty much the only game in town when it came to online video.  And Facebook wasn’t even in the picture.

Today, the online video landscape looks far different.

In fact, Facebook is on track to deliver more than two-thirds as many video views as YouTube this year.  And both services have a comparable number of monthly users overall.

Recently, market forecasting firm Ampere Analysis surveyed ~10,000 consumers in North America and Europe.  Approximately 15% of them had watched at least one video clip on Facebook within the past month.

While Facebook hasn’t exactly caught up with YouTube, its rise has been pretty stunning — especially when you consider the massive head-start YouTube had.  More than five years, in fact, which is a lifetime in the cyberworld.

Undoubtedly, one reason for Facebook’s success in video is its “autoplay” feature which snags viewers who might otherwise scroll by video postings.  Facebook reports that it has experienced a ~10% increase in engagement as a result of adding this functionality.

And there’s another big advantage for advertisers that Facebook possesses.  Since its viewers are always logged in, Facebook has the potential to collect far more demographic and behavioral data on its viewers that advertisers can tap into to target specific demographics.

For now at least, Facebook doesn’t offer the option for ads to run before video clips begin playing (the ads appear after the content).  Also, Facebook’s ad charges kick in after just three seconds of the ad being shown, compared to YouTube which sets the bar higher for ad charges to take effect.

[Incidentally, Twitter has the same 3-second policy as Facebook, whereas Hulu charges only for ads viewed all the way through.]

Another difference is that Facebook charges for every ad view, so if a viewer watches a video twice — even if it’s the same video in the same viewer session — Facebook counts it as two views.  On YouTube, that would be considered one view, regardless of how many times the video is watched.

Of course, these kinds of differences can be adjusted — and there’s no reason to think that Facebook won’t do just that if it determines that making those changes are in their best business interest.

Besides, advertising rates are already similar between the two platforms, which suggests that advertisers have come to place a high value on Facebook’s robust audience targeting.

Autoplay features have raised some questions as to what constitutes a true video “view.”  If video ads are being autoplayed, views are easier to get, but are they worthwhile?  Also, the fact that autoplay videos are running without sound until such time as the viewer chooses to engage is causing some advertisers to create content that “make sense” even on mute.

But the bottom line on Facebook’s foray into video seems to be that the demographic and psychographic audience targeting Facebook can deliver is of important value to advertisers.

Add the fact that YouTube is no longer the only major online video platform, and it’s easy to see how significant competition from Facebook risks the loss of advertising dollars for YouTube, along with damaging YouTube’s growth prospects over time.

This is getting interesting …