Trusting Technology: Programmatic Advertising and Digital Locks

Do you trust a digital lock? Do you trust programmatic advertising? Did anybody ever believe anybody would write that sentence?

Sermon Of the Last Sunday (#SOLS) was introduced with on-target delivery: the 2017 Reading challenge and the first Japan retrospective. Then I got the calendar wrong – thought March had an extra Sunday – and now find myself writing March’s installment in April. But that’s a technicality and I’m not letting myself get too concerned with that level of detail. But what to write about?

Although I vowed not to write too much on this site about the technology of digital advertising, it seems that industry news in March is worth mentioning. If I was still writing those ‘Last Week in Digital Advertising‘ round-ups then I’d have plenty of material. What made this month’s headlines big was because the news involved Google. And they always make a good story (and then they’ll index it and let you find it again too).

Google may be known to most people as the search engine and YouTube-owner but it’s also one of the biggest advertising businesses in the UK. Last year eMarketer reported,

Google will net £3.80 billion … in ad revenues— accounting for almost 40% of all digital ad spending in the UK 1

So, you know, huge.

Today, advertising is much more complex than it used to be.  The basic premise of advertising hasn’t changed: an advertiser with a product or service to sell or promote wants to get a message in front of a lot of, hopefully, the right people.  Somebody with an audience (generically, a publisher) pays the bills by selling some space to the advertiser (be it in print, sound or vision).  In Britain, it’s been this way since the 18th Century.2

Digital Changed Advertising

But digital has changed everything else: advertising of all types is easier to buy for many more companies; there are thousands – if not millions – of smaller publishers where people spend time and the so-called ad-tech industry has developed hundreds of new technology ideas that sit between the advertiser and the publisher (so many, that the world they inhabit is known as the Lumascape, after the company who tries to plot them all). This Lumascape uses technology to make the process of buying and selling across so many different places both easier and more efficient by automating as much of the process as possible.  Increasingly, this automation means that the advertiser (who is the buyer) relies on a machine to decide where to buy.  Publishers, both old and new, connect their advertising business to these automatic buying machines in the hope the advertiser actually spends money with them. It’s a process that’s been termed ‘programmatic advertising’.

The problem for many advertisers and publishers is that the details of ‘programmatic advertising’ are something of a mystery: for the advertiser they can’t be 100% sure where their advertising will show up and for the publisher they can’t be 100% sure who is advertising on their sites.

Technology Trust

Do you have a connected digital lock on your front door? My guess is that for the odd person that reads this, the answer will be no. Technology has not gained sufficient trust.  The problem is, in the modern advertising world, the technology struggles to gain trust from all sides of the market but most people still have to use it.  Advertising can no-longer stick with the old-fashioned key; it relies on the digital lock.

And that strange metaphor brings us to the first big story in March’s digital advertising news:

The issue is easy to explain: there’s more and more Internet stuff that people are reading and watching and there’s almost no way for a human being at one of the big advertising companies to have vetted everything out there. And, because the machines have taken the job of deciding which advert goes where, we need to trust the machine to do the right thing. And sometimes, they mess-up.  And, occasionally, they mess up in a very big and public way like this.

The issue is complex for advertisers: companies need to be seen where their potential customers are but, in an increasingly fragmented media world, that means that they sometimes end-up down the wrong alley shouting that you should buy their stuff.

The issue is complex for publishers: they have lots of content produced around the globe and submitted by both professionals and the rest of us. And they need to earn money from as many advertisers in as many places as possible and that money isn’t a big enough pot to pay somebody to check every word or second of video. As the BBC’s technology correspondent said,

There are two difficult issues for Google here: spotting videos that are illegal and should be removed from YouTube; and determining which are legal but not suitable to carry advertising.3

The issue is incredibly hard to fix: I can’t imagine the world will go back to the Mad Men era where the buyer and seller not only both know each other and eat a lovely lunch together, but also play golf, go and get drunk in a downtown bar and take each other on expensive ‘days out of the office’.  One decision the machine never has to make is if it should be a green olive or a twist of lemon peel in the Martini. Those things will all continue as long as the humans are involved but it represents much less of the advertising that is bought and sold today.

Google hasn’t been singled out here but they are the top story for a couple of reasons. First, advertisers found their ads in the wrong places where they knew Google was responsible. This is reasonably important because, in some cases, the middle men of the Lumascape are so intertwined and wrapped up in a programmatic advertising mystery that the advertiser doesn’t always know which technology provider to shout at.  And, secondly, as I already noted, Google is big so it impacts a lot of advertisers and a lot of money. Thirdly, Google also makes headlines which means we all notice and people like me get to write 1383 words on the topic. But, as much as the industry might wish Google to take the heat; the issues raised apply to almost everybody involved in making machines buy & sell advertising.

It’s Really A Story About Machines

The advertisers that have taken a stand against Google and other forms of programmatic advertising will come back. Perhaps, their agencies will pay a little more attention to the technology and the controls that are available  today. The publishers will do a better job of classifying the content so that it’s a tiny bit easier to spot the places where they should not be running advertising.

But, in the end, it will continue to be about the machines.  The automation of traditional roles is increasingly common; the removal of some of the people in a process is not unique to advertising (this is just today’s biggest story). The machines will get trained a little better and become a little smarter in managing all this in the milliseconds they have to make a decision.  But in advertising, as in many areas, the machines are here to stay.

Perhaps it’s good news for real people. The machines have a lot to learn and, until they do, we’d all be wise to reconsider if we should be using a digital lock or just going for a drink with the local locksmith.

#SOLS

I didn’t even get to the other big digital advertising story of March.  Maybe that’s already material for another Sermon.

Sermon Of the Last Sunday is my attempt to ensure that there is something published on my site every month in 2017.  You can read about my attempts to force myself to write or review the full #sols collection through the handy site tag, sols.

Footnotes

1 UK Digital Ad Spend Will Continue Double-Digit Growth in 2016, eMarketer, 28 September 2016
2 History of Advertising in Britain, Wikipedia
3 Google’s crisis of confidence, BBC

Will The Internet Kill Television?

An article in The Economist prompted me to think about how television has changed in my lifetime and why it’s taken a little bit of time for it to be threatened by the internet.

In my lifetime being connected to an always on computer network, the internet, has changed almost everything: from what you for a living; how to file your tax return about that employment and how your order form your local takeaway when you get home. Some things seem to have radically changed very quickly. When I first started working on digital advertising with major UK publishers, editors held-back news stories for the printed edition (next month) rather than post in today’s online news. I guess, they’re now tweeting it for themselves first as there’s no printed edition of many of those publications any more.

But, will the Internet kill television in the UK?

BBC Test Card

Television has behaved a little differently. When I was born there were only 3 UK television channels and not everything was broadcast in colour. Fast forward to when I was 12 and the Whiteley-Vorderman duo hosted, effectively, the first programme (Countdown) on the fourth channel. It was a slow and highly regulated evolution.

As with everything, over then next 30 years the pace of change increased. The UK went through the dish wars with the Sky-BSB years (check-out these BSB promos promising five channel television: they feel very dated indeed now) and a fractured cable industry only really came to be a player with the merger of NTL and Telewest in early 2006.

I guess it was February 2005 when video on the truly internet arrived (YouTube launched) but I think you can be forgiven for looking at the media landscape back then and thinking the internet was primarily for the written word even if, within 2 years, Netflix was launching a DVD streaming service. But the internet develops video models for business very quickly. Just this week, YouTube announced it will stop supporting the 30-second unskippable advertising format that has been the backbone of broadcast TV for decades. Can television continue to hold on to that model?

A couple of weeks ago, The Economist ran an article that explains some of the economics of television and how they are changing.

The internet has already changed what viewers watch, what kind of video programming is produced for them and how they watch it, and it is beginning to disrupt the television schedules of hundreds of channels, too. But all this is happening in slow motion, because over the past few decades television has developed one of the most lucrative business models in entertainment history, and both distributors and networks have a deeply vested interest in retaining it.

Television’s $185bn advertising business is a hefty war-chest to fight the challenge of change. I wonder how it will look in five more years? Will it be radically different – in the way printed media is now so different – or, like its broadcast parents, will television for the internet continue a slower evolution?

I also wonder when my own habits will change. When will I consume more content delivered via the broadband connection than over the broadcast air? It can’t be that far away.

Bursting The Bubble of Doom

Digital advertising in 2017? You’d be forgiven for thinking that any light at the end of the tunnel is an unstoppable train that’s coming to mow us all down.

Today, right on the front page of this site, in the blurb I wrote about myself, it says, “I’ve spent over 15 years helping European publishers apply rapidly changing ad technology to help manage online advertising but, as it’s the day job, it’s not all I (occasionally) write about.”

I just looked and it seems that I have not written – at least, not written here – about digital advertising since 27th August 2014. I used to write a lot more: there’s a whole category that houses past ramblings but, in spite of (or, perhaps, because of ) the constant changes in the industry I haven’t hit a keyboard on the topic in a while.

I do have a FlipBoard Magazine on the topic, which I recently noticed you can read in a browser as well as through their apps (hint, you should subscribe). I use this to post articles on digital advertising that I find most interesting and it serves as a good reference book for me. After a quick scan over some of the industry headlines from the past year and I can see why I haven’t really written anything:

  • Everyone Disgusted With Ad Industry (adcontrarian)
  • Where did the money go? Guardian buys its own ad inventory (The Guardian)
  • What media companies don’t want you to know about ad blockers (Columbia Journalism Review)
  • Banner ads are dead because your phone killed them (Recode)
  • Internet Video Views Is A 100 Percent Bullshit Metric (Gawker)

You’d be forgiven for thinking that any light at the end of the tunnel is an unstoppable train that’s coming to mow us all down. When you add this bubble of doom to the wider political landscape (“London tech and media companies may bolt in the wake of Brexit“) then you’d be forgiven for scanning LinkedIn for a whole new industry to work in.

But, on my last working day of the year, I wanted to end the year with the thought that it’s not all as the headlines portray. There are good things to come.

Unlike previous years where I gazed in into the crystal ball for you (like here and here), I am leaving it to others to interpret the tea leaves for 2017. In summary, as Coull predicts, “2016 delivered transparency, in 2017 we’ll see action emerge from insight.”

  • AI will drive the majority of programmatic innovation (ExchangeWire)
  • Marketers will return to their heartland of strategic creativity (ExchangeWire)
  • Bringing sexy creative back (Adotas)
  • Header bidding will become more accessible (Ve Interactive)

What else might change in 2017? Well, this week an AdExchanger article noted, “One thing few people seem to want to discuss publicly is that the current suite of vendors benefit from the discrepancies that plague the market.” Are we at a tipping point where standardisation means more than just everybody showing the same 728×90 banner? Let’s hope so – it’s about time.

Then, of course, there’s new ad-tech. I think there’s a lot of innovation still to come in the space yet, look at Amazon:

We have been open, transparent and in constant communication with advertisers for 10 years, if you include the managed service. We’ve been iterating and bringing more value to those advertisers. Our focus hasn’t been on making noise but on listening to advertisers and doing what’s best for them. [Source: Adexchanger]

After all this, I’m still to be convinced that next year, “Programmatic TV will come of age“. I guess only the New Year will tell. I’m looking forward to finding out.

Merry Christmas.

Internet Ad Spend will Overtake TV Spend in …. Yawn.

A couple of months ago, the same data from the PWC Global Entertainment & Media Outlook popped-up a couple of times in my Twitter feed. I meant to write about it then but I’ve got around to it now as part of my BEWA plan.

The most re-tweeted factoid stated that, “By 2018, Internet advertising will be poised to overtake TV as the largest advertising segment” and concluded with the line “We are approaching a major tipping point in the advertising universe“.

I’ve made a career out of Internet advertising for more than 17 years. I delivered my first online ad a couple of years earlier as an online companion to a traditional radio spot. When we first started these kinds of comparisons were helpful, not only to reassure us that we’d made the right career choice, but also to convince our bosses that this really was a growing market and they might help us by employing another person to help us figure out what to do.

As an industry we were pleased when online ad-spend eclipsed various forms of print, billboards and even those radio ads I’d spent years working with.  I acknowledge it’s an interesting barometer and makes for some nice graphs for somebody’s next ‘speaking opportunity’.

But, today, comparing the vast opportunities of ‘Internet Advertising’ as a single place of ad-spend while breaking down ‘offline’ spend into it’s component segments doesn’t feel right to me. The IAB (using US-centric data) tells us that, in 2013, 43% of Internet advertising spend was search. Classifieds make-up 6% of the Internet spend. There seems very little point in comparing these numbers to television.

(Much more significant for TV is the kind of spend-shift outlined in a Bloomberg piece about Nike, but that’s for another day).

Surely, it’s connected vs non-connected advertising. The tipping point is coming but it’s not when Internet spend passes TV spend. It’s when spending on connected advertising surpasses non-connected advertising.

Footnotes

I don’t have access to the whole PWC Outlook which may very well put these numbers into a more subtle context that 140 characters can not convey.

My BEWA project resulted in a post about one of the stars of the the Australian television show Neighbours; an entry about writing the perfect technology RFP that allows companies to better work with you; a follow-up post about better user design and this about internet (or connected) advertising figures. Place your bets on if there will be a post next Wednesday,

 

Thank You aiMatch

aiMatch logoAlmost four years ago, on a blistering hot Sunday afternoon in North Hills, Raleigh, North Carolina, I sat listening to a group of passionate technologists outline a vision for ad-serving aimed at digital publishers that would – before the world had got so hung up on big data – show that there’s much more business insight in the ad-server data than just clicks and impressions.

Just over 18 months later that bootstrapped startup, aiMatch, was acquired by the world’s leading analytics company, SAS: validation that the publisher advertising technology space needed more than just delivery technology and that, in order to compete, publishers need quick insights into how advertising is performing and impacting their business. There’s so much more to come in that area.

Today, however, marks my last day with SAS Intelligent Advertising for Publishers; I’ve accepted a job with another company in the ad tech space but I wanted to do two things before I return my pass to HQ. In the coming weeks, to serve as my own aide memoir, I’ll write the 10 things about the publisher ad space, and its evolution, that I have learned over the past four years. I am not yet sure if the challenge will be to get to 10 unique points or restrict it to 10. We’ll see …

Right now, however, I want this to serve as a very public thank you to the entire aiMatch team, past and present, in the US and the UK who made the past four years possible. I joined the company before the first customer had served an ad and now, as I leave, billions & billions of decisions are made for customers across the globe and growing at a rate that, back then, we could only have dreamed about.

It may be a cliche to say, but it is true, that everybody in that team played their part in growing the business. I can’t call them all out individually but thanks must go to Jeff, Guy and Ryan for having the vision and the will to get aiMatch going. A self-funded technology start-up isn’t easy but they delivered for customers around the world and I will remain very proud of the whole team because of that. Of course, I’ve worked with Steve here in the UK, in a number of companies, for more of the last 15 years than I haven’t and he probably deserves some kind of award for that. It was his idea that we hire that cinema in Soho – the outcome of which was the first UK customer – in spite of my fear we wouldn’t be able to fill the space.

When we came into the SAS family we met many great people who helped take the product to the next level. There’s a whole world of them but I would be remiss if I didn’t thank the Australian team who’ve been entirely responsible for my jet lag, resulting grumpiness and bad eating habits over the last 18 months. They’re one of the best teams in the business.

I learnt many things along the way. It’s clear setting up something from scratch in a competitive space isn’t easy but it’s worth trying, it can work out well but you will never know if you don’t jump in. Executing a plan that’s constantly moving is a fun challenge even if it doesn’t seem like it at the time. Working closely with your customers is the best way to succeed. But parking the CEO’s car in the tiny remaining parking space in a concrete parking lot in Wilmington in 40-degree heat is the most nerve-wracking challenge of them all.

If you’re a publisher and you want something better from your ad-technology stack then I recommend SAS Intelligent Advertising for Publishers as a very good place to start looking. And, when you see it, remember that the killer feature you’re going to love was all my idea, don’t let anybody convince you otherwise!

Geo-targeting Dilemmas

Here’s a digital advertising dilemma. It’s about geo-targeting and first party data which, admittedly, isn’t a ‘thing’ for many people.

Anyway, here’s the scenario.

This week I have been working in Australia. It’s lovely to be here, even if it is one of those weeks when it’s warmer in the UK. I have been making use of the hotel’s over-priced wifi because I do have work to do during the UK day. As a result, I’ve spent sometime surfing the web.

As you would imagine, I am seeing lots of digital ads for Australian things, including a campaign for ING Direct featuring West Yorkshire’s very own magician, Dynamo. The magic’s quite clever and you can see it on YouTube . It’s this campaign that got me thinking.

This bank account isn’t much use to me. I don’t live here. I’m sure it’s a very fine account and they have noble aims to make Australians take a better lunch break. But I am not going to open one. Sorry.

Or there’s this video for the ‘Australia Works’ campaign. I think it’s a very well made video but it’s party political and I’m a visitor not a citizen.

Now, I’ve also seen a reasonable amount of this Nivea campaign. This may, or may not, be a local campaign (it’s certainly a local voice-over on the video and a local landing page) but at least most of the products, in some form, would be available to me at home. The sites in question probably used the data I provided them to tell them I am male so that I get the version of the product that tries to reassure me it’s very butch to moisturise.

If I’d seen all of these advertisements on a local Australian site that would be fine1 but I didn’t. I saw them all on sites where I am a known, registered and logged-in user. I’ve given all the sites in question some information – partly because they promise to better target ads to me – and they probably collect a lot more data about me. All of which would tell them I do not live in Melbourne; a fact from which they could infer I am probably visiting. Why show me advertisements that are lovely to look at but, ultimately, wasted on me?

It’s not just the sites at fault. Some advertisers specify that ads should be geo-locked within a specific county, which will limit the pool of available creative. That’s enormously short-sighted if you’re placing them on sites that understand I am probably travelling. And that explicitly know I am British.

I know the technology exists to solve this problem so why, in 2013, when we’re all talking about understanding users better to show only relevant advertising, are we getting this so horribly wrong?

Notes

1Actually it probably wouldn’t be fine; there are plenty of audience data sources that could work this out for them, but for the purposes of this argument we’ll let it go.

Digital Advertising Predictions 2012

To be clear, I’m not doing the Mystic Meg references this year. If she couldn’t see the demise of her paymaster then what hope does she have to see digital advertising’s future?

So, I shall also get all clairvoyance references out of the way right at the start as I look into my crystal ball to read the 2012 cards. Or something like that. Yet I still hear the voices from beyond telling me that, in the UK, digital advertising will continue to grow; by which I mean it will take a larger share of all advertising and generate more money for businesses supported by digital advertising (I’ll find some numbers to prove that in a year from now). Given the state of many European economies, I’d be foolish to try to predict where the money will come from but I’d wager it’ll mainly be a shuffling of existing advertising monies rather than new cash.

Perhaps my references should be topical and sporting this year, with the 2012 games happening right here in London in the summer. Even at the kick-off of the year (see what I did?), they’re calling them the first digital Olympics. While we’re going to see a lift in advertising revenues caused by the impact of the games, the powers-that-be guard any use of the Olympic logos closely and only authorised brands can use it in advertising messages, which, I think, will mean the lift will be smaller than some might expect.

I’d be interested to see how the brands not partnering with the games get their messages out in 2012.

I am surprised not to see any of the big European mobile telephone brands on the 2012 official partner list. While we’ve all long-since given up on calling this – or any year – the year of mobile advertising, it could be the year mobile payments come of age (that is, of course, if anybody can get their phone to work in London during the months of the games). Paying for things, using your phone as the debit card, certainly appeals to the gadget geek in me. And, I really think that the introduction of mobile payments will have a positive knock-on effect on mobile advertising.

I’m also pretty confident that we’re going to see more and more “buzz” around television-companion apps. These apps primarily run on mobile-type devices but enhance, in some way, your big-screen viewing. The “enhancement” currently appears to mainly allow you to interact with others who are watching the same programme via Twitter or Facebook, or play along with a version of the game-show you are watching. This additional screen provides both a whole new place for advertisers and the prospect of some interesting battles for control of ad-messages there. How anybody will determine which ad you saw, the one on the television or the one on the app, will be an interesting technical and data challenge this year.

And that segues nicely into a prediction that picks up on a tipping point I missed from last year’s list (but at least acknowledged in my Report Card). We know that non-broadcast video, the kind that doesn’t make it on to a television via a traditional broadcaster, commands a large viewership and I think more and more brands, who are getting increasingly comfortable in social media environments, will spend money there. There’s a chance the wall-to-wall sporting coverage this summer will drive people to YouTube and the like. Of course, that’s also a big opportunity for video-on-demand services with the rights to more traditional programming. A bumper year for those is also on the cards (sorry, I had to get one more reference in) with increased ad loads (that’s a term I learnt in 2011 to mean “more ads”) and possibly the wider adoption of ad-selection opportunities, where the user chooses which advertisement to watch, as demonstrated by the Hulu service in America. We’ll see more and more of that here.

Report Card 2011

Almost nobody fails with these “predictions” because – like the best clairvoyant – we can’t predict the big stuff & we’re all looking for the trends which will get a little bigger or smaller. So, even with our ears to the ground, we’re vauge and can hang our hat on almost anything to prove we were right. Let’s face it, if anybody could have predicted the rise of Facebook or – insert any shining tech starlet here – we wouldn’t be making lousy predictions on the web, would we?

For a couple of years I have written my predictions for the twelve months ahead in digital advertising. Everybody’s at it and, of course, nobody takes it too seriously. “I’ll predict they’re all wrong”, one of my colleagues amsuingly suggested last week but, of course, it’s him that’s wrong. Almost nobody fails with these “predictions” because – like the best clairvoyant – we can’t predict the big stuff & we’re all looking for the trends which will get a little bigger or smaller. So, even with our ears to the ground, we’re vauge and can hang our hat on almost anything to prove we were right. Let’s face it, if anybody could have predicted the rise of Facebook or – insert any shining tech starlet here – we wouldn’t be making lousy predictions on the web, would we?

While I readily admit to following the pack and, probably, highlighting the trends everybody else is seeing, I do always start by reviewing last year’s “predictions” so see how far off reality my senses were. So, albeit a few weeks into the new year, I’m starting with a review of my 2011 predictions.

I began with “increased data usage in advertising targeting”. Of course this is probably impossible to prove either way. Publishers are certainly more confident in their data conversations but who knows if it’s really being used? Given Amazon registered a patent suggesting an ability to understand more about you based on your choice of wrapping paper I think we can safely say we have not come to the end of this trend. As for anybody falling foul of the data comissioners, well Facebook seemed to do the opposite and get a good grade from Europe. Not a bad result on that one but nothing amazingly forseen.

Last year I called my second prediction “The Cloak Of Transparency” and I think this is one that didn’t (but should have) come true. Being more accessible with explanations of data usage can only be a good thing. I am, however, releived that we are not bombarded with opt-in/out boxes at every online interaction. My prediction about this was off but somebody will meet the need soon, I’m certain. My favourite article on the subject in 2011 was by Kevin Curtin who encouraged somebody (maybe, everbybody) to sell his data. As for my point about data validation services, did I miss any?

Did digital advertising grow in 2011? I think we really need to wait a while to get the numbers in, don’t you? But if Hearst Digital can report that their “U.S. digital media businesses were solidly profitable for the first time” [source] I think I am onto a winner with that one. Since 2000 digital advertising has “has leapfrogged every traditional advertising vehicle except television” suggested The Chicago Tribune, which must be a good sign. Back in October, the IAB reported UK internet advertising expenditure growing 13.5% to £2.256 billion in the first half of 2011. The cards are looking good for that one. And take a look at some of the excellent creative you may have missed in 2011. That one came true and, in an uncertain economy, I’ll happily take credit for being right on that.

Also back in October, an Econsultancy/Rubicon Project report suggested 44% of publishers were then selling their online display inventory via real-time bidding (handy if you’re in RTB, huh?). I’m using RTB as a proxy for the traded environment here, as I can’t find any stats talking more generally about trading. Without a doubt, there were even more ways to sell inventory on offer to publishers last year and, therefore, businesses need to understand the trading environment better. With 30 billion UK RTB-traded impressions seen during last year’s European RTB Insight Report, somebody ought to be making sure the money’s right. Of course, publisher’s might want to put analysts on managing their direct sold campaigns, which was a suggestion repeated a number of times in 2011.

But where was the exodus from the City to digital that I suggested might happen? Perhaps that prediction failed because the City bonus culture didn’t.

My final prediction last year was about advertising and social media. How could I fail with this one? Twitter claims 60 billion tweets in 2011 and the most re-tweeted was from a commercial organisation: the Wendy’s hambuger brand. There’s a long way to go here but Twitter did introduce an advertising play in 2011 and it will only grow in 2012. Groupon, the couponing site that IPO’d (can I say it like that?) last year, earned an average return of 6,352% for private investors and generated top line growth of 700% in the nine months ending Sept 30 2011 (year over year) [source]: impressive sounding numbers, if nothing else. So, I think my suggestions that coupon sites would still be strong came true. While new Daily Deal sites came – and some disappeared – in 2011, there is more to come from this sector I’d wager. Last year I didn’t say much about video; I think it’s a given that it’s now part of the online/digital mix. But online video continues to grow as a viable advertising medium, and not just with long form content. This year charlieissocoollike became the first UK channel to reach one million subscribers which suggests a continually growing audience for well-produced, non-broadcast video content. YouTube counts as social media, right? Oh good. Tick, then.

Of course you can never go wrong saying that there will be a “raft of technology announcements” in the coming year, I don’t think that was wrong. I may even use that again for my 2012 predictions which will be with you soon enough.

So, there we go. I think I idnetified the trends well enough and, while these predictions aren’t going to make anybody rich, they weren’t awful.

Let’s see what the crystal ball thinks we’ll do in 2012.

Elsewhere: Can Digital Advertising Ever Replace Traditional Advertising?

There is no such thing as traditional advertising; the method of consumption and delivery constantly changing. Glossy magazines evolved from newsprint and only the fact they have to be printed is similar their styles, reproduction and consumption habits wildly different. Colour was an evolution in print but also in television, as will be high definition and 3D. Why would be class a broadcast 3D television ad as ‘traditional’ and a image-based banner ad as ‘digital’?

An interesting questions was just posed on Quora: Can digital advertising ever replace traditional advertising? My initial answer started to say ‘yes’ until I realised the distinction is pointless. There is no such thing as traditional advertising; the method of consumption and delivery are constantly changing. Glossy magazines evolved from newsprint and only the fact they have to be printed is similar their styles: reproduction and consumption habits wildly different. Colour was an evolution in print but also in television, as will be high-definition and 3D. Why would we class a broadcast 3D television ad as ‘traditional’ and an image-based banner ad as ‘digital’?

The question assumes that there is an identifiable difference moving forward. Is a digital outdoor screen classed as a traditional billboard or a digital ad? Is a targeted commercial fed to your set top box a traditional television ad or a digital ad? Is an advertisement inserted into the audio stream of your favourite radio station a radio ad or a digital ad? They may be bought and sold in ways that are similar to their “traditional” counterparts but delivered to smaller, segmented audiences by technologies we class as digital. I agree with Chris, the distinction is not really relevant. If a there’s a large image across the railway tracks at the metro station does it matter if somebody’s had to get out there and stick up sheets of paper, if it’s projected and changed every few minutes or if it’s activated in some way by your presence & delivers something relevant to you? It’s still a large image across the tracks. I wonder if the distinction is helpful or a hindrance?

Thoughts? Add them the the Quora discussion.

2011 Digital Advertising Horoscope

Transparency will be the watch word in 2011 and we’ll all be bombarded with links to opt-out screens. I trust that we’ll get better at explaining how and what, if any, data is used. I also suspect we’ll see an emergence of more data validation services.

Let’s see what our Horoscope tells us for New Year’s Day. And I don’t mean that I foresee a murder and you shouldn’t be living in Midsomer at 9pm tonight. No, this is my attempt to better my score from last year and see what’s coming up in the year ahead for digital advertising. Really, there’s not much else to do until the fireworks have stopped rattling in my ears.

Aquarius: Your Campaigns Will Be Better Targeted

I’m still placing bets on increased data usage in advertising targeting. Although highly targeted advertising placements have been around since the first digital ad technologies appeared, such sophisticated targeting was not adopted universally. It will become increasingly important and advertisers will look to target across the data spectrum to incorporate behavioural and declared data alongside localisation and social metrics. Of course, somebody will release a(nother) study to say there’s an over reliance on audience data at the expense of creativity and engagement but you don’t need to read Mystic Meg to know there’ll be an increasing flow of data in 2011. This tidal wave of data is increasingly complex to manage and nobody seems to have developed a widely adopted trading platform for audience data yet. Who will fall foul of the data regulators in 2011? Somebody will. From a publisher’s perspective this will become an area in need of attention: selling media with data, selling standalone data, buying data and guarding against data theft. Somebody needs to keep an eye on all this to and, I imagine, it’ll need more than a board and wetsuit to ride the breaking data waves. Publishers need tools to mange their data and, properly, understand the value of that data.

Pisces: You Will Wear The Cloak Of Transparency

None of this, of course, will happen without full disclosure on data use. Transparency will be the watch word in 2011 and we’ll all be bombarded with links to opt-out screens. I trust that we’ll get better at explaining how and what, if any, data is used. I also suspect we’ll see an emergence of more data validation services. Advertisers, their agencies and publishers can increasingly partner with a wide range of data suppliers across the spectrum but who, if anybody, is validating it? Just as we’ve seen the rise of Better Advertising to combat the disclosure issue, I’m sure an increasing number of parties will offer to validate your data soon. Enough people aren’t asking if the data they are using is actually accurate and, therefore, valuable.

Gemini: The Moon Is In A Customising Orbit

Last year I didn’t need to be Russell Grant to suggest that digital advertising markets will start to grow again. That growth provided confidence to publishers and media owners who will now start to look for an increasing number of ways to differentiate themselves from their competitors. In a growing market, and for large pools of display advertising inventory, standardisation is a good thing but this will be the year more-and-more publishers add something bespoke to their media kits. Unique ad-units, integrated creative and an increasing number of sponsorship opportunities will appear to combat a continued rise of bidding and trading across more standard ad placements. And that approach will cross channels with iAd leading the way with more customised, non standard deliveries to iOS users. There has been a lot of talk about Apple’s iAd platform being either game changing or not but I don’t believe we’ve even scratched the surface. Increased interaction (yes, engagement) facilitated by this platform will pave the way for a change in the way brand-building ads are developed (will we even see them or call them ads anymore? They’ll be far removed from anything we have today). This will apply cross-platform as publishers will start to offer deeper experiences on mobile and on bigger screens. In the UK, Absolute Radio have already started to show what’s possible.

Cancer: A Job In The Financial Sector Awaits

Publishers will continue to embrace trading for part of their media. We’ll see exiles from banks and energy companies, who understand the deepest complexities of traded marketplaces, take roles at both ends of the trading floor. I wonder if Lori Reid can tell us if that will lead to a bonus culture to rival the big financial institutions? Customised ad placements and a growing marketplace will put pressure on the industry to deliver another type of data: the business insight. For publishers this will be about understanding advertising performance on their properties and tying that to financial and sales data. The buy-side of the industry will continue to pursue ad performance metrics but, I imagine, will also, increasingly, analyse the return on those other ads where awareness and interaction are the measurement metrics. We’ll see ourselves learning to better mine our financial data to understand what is, and what is not, working well. And from this insight publishers will start to channel investment into both content that is proven to be working from their, and their advertising partners, perspectives and into technology, an area where they have – recently – been out gunned by network and buy-side companies.

Virgo: Your Digital Ads Will Be Everywhere

Social media will continue its rise and, maybe, Twitter will have another advertising proposition by this time next year. Coupons will remain popular, no doubt leading to big name digital businesses going on a buying spree (without the 20% off offers) pretty soon and money will be spent on crowbaring coupon offerings into the mobile world. There’ll be new places to put all these ads too. I’m sure we’re about to have a raft of technology announcements with ever more tablets, smartphones and even apps on your laptops and desktops, but the one to watch will be YouView, the internet connected digital TV platform, which will enable “if somebody gets round to it” an interactive, engaging, social television experience with a data-driven display advertising marketplace on your telly-box.

Gee, even Jonathan Cainer couldn’t have foreseen that many buzzwords in a single sentence. Of course, as with all horoscopes, these are the easier predictions. It’s the unknown that I’m most excited about. As with last year, follow @curns on Twitter to see if this is all stuff-and nonsense or if it will happen. That, or just see if I can crowbar Claire Petulengro’s name into a tweet (she’s the astrologer in The Sunday People, you know).

Report Card

At the start of the year I wrote a couple of predictions for 2010 in digital advertising (it was either that or try and pen a New Year’s hit record and my wordsmith-ing just isn’t up to that). I could, of course, forget about them, pretend I’d never dealt those cards and move on with this year’s predictions but you know I’ve never been one to resist pointing out my personal failings. So, did anything actually come true or should you be relying on fortune telling talents of somebody on the end of Blackpool pier in a wooden caravan for your 2011 bets?

At the start of the year I wrote a couple of predictions for 2010 in digital advertising (it was either that or try and pen a New Year’s hit record and my wordsmith-ing just isn’t up to that). I could, of course, forget about them, pretend I’d never dealt those cards and move on with this year’s predictions but ‘you know’ I’ve never been one to resist pointing out my personal failings. So, did anything actually come true or should you be relying on fortune telling talents of somebody on the end of Blackpool pier in a wooden caravan for your 2011 bets?

I think you’ll be saved the seaside trip with the first one. I don’t think I was wrong about the cookie storm, although it was more catering sized than a storm in a teacup and, unexpectedly, it was the US and not Europe that appeared to be looking closely at issues related to online tracking. The Wall Street Journal really started dunking that cookie in July with a series of articles entitled ‘The Web’s New Gold Mine: Your Secrets‘ which ran with a sub-header that spoke of ‘spying on consumers’ which is great journalist-speak but does nothing to reflect the nuances of the debate. I’ll award myself a B+ for that one.

Staring into my crystal ball I said that money will come back into digital advertising (check) and the switch to digital will continue (check).  The Rubicon Project declared ‘Digital Ad Spend Grows 47% in First Half of Year‘ in August while only this month eMarketer declared, ‘The Web Passes Newspapers in Ad Spending For First Time‘. I will only award myself a B+ for those predictions too as, really, it was a little too obvious and even faulty crystals would have come close.

I wrote several times in the year about Paywalls and I am going to say the jury is still out on them. They did rise, but that had been announced, and I think it’s too early to talk about their impact on newspapers and on advertising. Although in August, WPP’s Martin Sorrell said, ‘online paywalls are an essential part of the armoury for newspaper and magazine publishers in the digital age’ (as reported by Brand Republic).

I am going to give myself an A for references to mobile coupons in my 2010 predictions. This is one place where the tea leaves more-or-less worked well.  Admittedly, the mobile part is vague but the rise of GrouponLiving Social et al. means that couponing made a big come-back in a deal-obsessed year. We all like another 30% off, don’t we?

I am fairly certain that ‘monetizing social media’ will become a buzz (if it’s not already) but I don’t think Twitter really did come good with an advertising model (promoted Tweets anyone?). However, Facebook seems to be doing fine, thank you. Back in March,  Inside Facebook predicted 2010 revenues at $1.1 billion, All Facebook suggested $1.2 billion in March and, just as Mark Zuckerberg was announced as Time’s Person of the Year, Facebook was reported as being on track to collect $2 billion in revenues in 2010, according to Bloomberg (and reported in MediaPost). Another B+ there because, I think it was another more-or-less obvious prediction.

And so to the one I really don’t know how to read. What can I say happened to mobile advertising this year? The definition of mobile changed at the start of the year when Apple officially announced the iPad. Is it a mobile device or not? What does it mean for advertising? We tried, and subsequently failed, to answer these questions in 2010.

Clearly, I was right about location based advertising becoming more prominent but only if, through use of smoke and some mirrors, I claim I was talking about the media buzz. I did see some good Foursquare location advertising on a trip to the US earlier in the year but I’m yet to see anything really take-off. Perhaps Facebook is the one to watch on this front (but, predictions are for another post). As for mobile, well Google closed their acquisition of AdMob, Apple acquired Quattro and subsequently launched iAd but have we really seen the innovation on that front yet?   One publication, telecomtv.com, announced ‘Mobile advertising at last coming of age. In the UK at least‘ at the start of December so let’s go with that as an A- shall we?

I ended last year’s predictions with some comments about data. The aforementioned Wall Street Journal series certainly brought that to the fore. Just a few days ago AFP reported Mozilla chief executive Gary Kovacs as saying,

“You can’t tell me the delivery of a piece of content is going to be that much better if you know everything about my life; it’s all about moderation.”

and with that we’ll probably end 2010 in no better place in our understanding of data use than we ended 2009. At least the debate has started on the use of declared, inferred and tracked data and behaviours and I think that debate is a good thing. I, for one, believe a properly informed debate will be a good thing for the digital ad business.

Now to make a pot of tea and see what the leaves might suggest for next year. I think, overall, I am awarding myself a B+ for my 2010 predictions. Probably, we should be thankful we came through the year unscathed which, when you think about it, isn’t a bad place to end up.

There’s an interesting year ahead for 2011 as we might finally start to see on-demand television hit the big (bigger) time in the UK, there’s a data conversation still to be had and I have to ask if the march of social can be halted (and would you want that?).  All-in, those could make for some interesting digital advertising times ahead and I’m hoping on the tram to Blackpool to see if Gypsy Jane-Anne is in and willing to look at my palm.

In the meantime, New Year will be celebrated Twitter style @curns.

Last Week in Digital Advertising #8

I am hoping that 2011 is the year television ads get more relevant and interactive In a time when the amount of time U.S. households spent watching TV and using the Internet is equal at 13 hours per week surely we are at the convergence point we all talked about so much in recent years.

Ho Ho Ho. I come with festive cheer and another Last Week in Digital Advertising. What’s that? You’d forgotten that I do this occasionally? Well, you and me both, but Santa & I got a little tipsy yesterday (you did know he comes round every Boxing Day for a sherry, didn’t you?) and he hinted I ought to remind myself how to type. So. here goes.

We started last week in digital advertising with the news that AOL had been buying again, this time it’s Pictela, who turn out ‘high definition ads’ and, apparently,  strengthens AOL’s ad picth. Ads have to get more engaging and interactive so this could be a good move for AOL but I am not convinced by some of the examples yet and, really, they need to leap out of the standard sizes (expanding doesn’t cut it in my humble!).

A Digital Advertising Tipping Point (or Two)

Now the phrase “tipping point” has been over-used a little bit this week. eMarketer gained a reasonable amount of coverage for their ‘US online advertising overtakes print‘ research. All advertising in the US is up 3% while online spending up over 10%. Good news for the digital advertising industry but, the future of advertising (like almost all media) is cross-platform and I am not sure it’s that sensible to compare. When brands are available in many places and media owners will be selling cross-media, it just doesn’t really matter. Still, I pulled a cracker in celebration.

And talking of cross-platform I am hoping that 2011 is the year television ads get more relevant and interactive. In an age when the amount of time U.S. households spent watching TV and using the Internet is equal at 13 hours per week (according to a recent survey from Forrester Research) surely we are at the convergence point we all talked about so much in recent years.  In the UK, I am banking on the YouView platform to launch with the hope that we can start to see some innovations in advertising on that large screen.  In the US The Wall Street Journal reported that DirecTV will be rolling out ‘addressable ads’ in the autumn of next year. A spokesperson for Starcom Media Vest (SMG) called it ‘A Tipping Point’. Oh, that phrase again.

Meanwhile, a spokesman for DirectTV said,

This partnership with SMG will create a whole new revenue stream for DIRECTV and ensure that our viewers are being served up with ads that are relevant to their lifestyles.

The elephant (or, at this time of year, is it reindeer?) in the articles is that ‘more relevant’ advertising means better targeted using consumer information of some sort (declared or inferred, I don’t care) and the hope has to be that all the firms working in this space have worked out their privacy policies, have learnt how to communicate them and provide easy access to options for viewers.

Cloak Your Online Activities

And, as with almost every week, privacy was (still) in the industry news (I feel I could write about that each week alone). This week, Mozilla’s chief executive Gary Kovacs was also at a tipping point, ‘I fundamentally believe that the balance is tipped too far’ he said, in relation to online user tracking as he announced that Firefox will help you cloak your online activities. Honestly, don’t you think that headline sounds almost as sinister as the trackers are being portrayed to be?

I can’t knock Firefox for attempting to provide tools for users to manage their online preferences but I do hope that they also make a play to explain the fact that most tracking is anonymous; doesn’t know who or where you are; isn’t going to result in somebody knocking on your door and is ‘trying’ to help advertisers serve relevant ads to you. I am not sure it’s likely, the sentence,

“You can’t tell me the delivery of a piece of content is going to be that much better if you know everything about my life; it’s all about moderation.” [source]

suggested that nuances of the argument aren’t going to be made. It’s the ‘everything about my life’ phrase that, I think, is an exaggeration too far. Shame really.

And it is those little details that are often omitted in the discussion; little details that could impact a lot of publishers (in the most general sense of that word). Reuters have a great piece noting that today’s ‘free’ Internet is powered by ‘data collection and advertising’.   Bloomberg Businessweek told us that if the US ‘Do Not Track’ ideas are adopted then ads would get dumber (but they won’t disappear) and $8 billion could be removed from publisher’s coffers. That’s $8 billion not to spend on original and creative content. AdExcahnger has an interesting look at the US policy (‘Coming to a Website Near You: More Irrelevant Advertisements‘) and points out that the industry has spent two years refining policies and creating opt-outs and the like. There is much work to do but I hope that in 2011 we can actually have a sensible discussion that isn’t based around expose articles and sinister headlines. Am I living in a Christmas fairytale land to think that might happen? I’ll ask the elves.

Pay Attention

Of course the industry needs to get its act together. Another Wall Street Journal story reported how smartphones are regularly transmitting data to third-parties for advertising and some of this seems to be without the proper notifications to users. I think some of the most sensible advice on this topic was this sentence: ‘The most important thing a user can do is pay attention to the information each app is requesting’ and we should all learn to make such information clearer to people using our products.

The mobile apps guys had better get their privacy information in order if they are to benefit from the growing mobile market for advertising. Berg Insight reported that ‘mobile advertising expenditure will correspond to 15.7% of the total digital advertising market or 3.4% of the total global ad spend for all media’ in 2015. It’s a growing mince-pie indeed.

If mobile has a growing future for advertising, it appears in-game doesn’t. At least EA Games noted this week that ‘in-game advertising in decline, microtransactions the way forward’. That will be a space to watch. I have always maintained that advertising can’t pay for everything in this world and, sometimes, people (users, our customers) are prepared to pay up-front for things. Perhaps this is an example of a market where advertising won’t be seen as so important moving forward. Is it a tipping point too?

Of course, games, TV and mobile are all be valid places for display advertising. But, the rest of the browser-based web shouldn’t be forgotten. ClickZ ran a headline this week saying, ‘The Future Belongs to Google’ and looks how well placed they are in the display advertising space. That’ll be one to watch, huh?

Now, I’m off to enjoy the rest of the bank holiday. I don’t imagine there’ll be much news this week but on Friday I am going to try and look back at my digital advertising predictions for 2010 and see how I got on. Although they were pretty safe, they might not have been too far off the mark!

Does The Pay Wall Emphasize The Role Advertising Plays In Supporting Content?

Does the rise of the pay wall re-emphasize the role advertising plays in supporting content? In turn, will that make us more likely to share data with publishers in a more explicit deal: data supported advertising for free access to content. And not just unobtrusive advertising but premium, targeted advertising that’s sold at a value publisher’s can use to invest in content.

I didn’t see the whole Peter & Kerry thing coming. My predictions were clearly off, my tea leaves were not telling truths and my crystal ball was cloudy. Still, some things from my 2010 futureology (is that even a word?) moment are true. Digital advertising revenues are up and a few people seem happy about that. But I am not going to tick-off my successes because it only makes you highlight the nonsense I talk at other times. So we continue as if nothing happened. Deal?

Rupert (Murdoch, not The Bear) is pushing ahead with his pay wall idea. I’ve written before about how I see pay walls are good (and not necessarily in the way that you think) and I have discussed why they;re good for advertising. But, thinking today, I realise there’s a key advantage I missed in my previous musings on this matter (my use of the word musings makes my previous posts seem more considered, don’t you think?)

To summarise, I suggested that pay walls will rise and fall for most mainstream publications within a twelve month period. Sites that put up pay walls have an opportunity to understand their users a little more – market research if you will – through the subscriber data they are collecting. Advertisers will like pay walls because the users behind them both value the content they are reading and will be generally more engaged with it.

But I didn’t really talk about us users who sit on the wrong side of the pay wall. Of course, we have options and can go somewhere else for some of the news; and we probably will. But, and this is the key advantage I’m interested in exploring, does the rise of the pay wall re-emphasize the role advertising plays in supporting content? In turn, will that make us more likely to share data with publishers (given proper controls, transparency and disclosure) in a more explicit deal: data supported advertising for free access to content. And not just unobtrusive advertising but premium, targeted advertising that’s sold at a value publisher’s can use to invest in content (and, yes, make their profit margins).

Controlling my identity – and the data (preferences & behaviours) associated with it – is a key stage in delivering the above. Targeted advertising should carry a premium as it’s more likely to be put in front of people interested and responsive. Targeting can take many forms, and is probably the subject of another piece of writing, but targeting based on what I tell you as a publisher and/or advertiser (by allowing you to track my behaviour or by telling you directly) should be the most valuable and I would consider trading it for valuable content (again, as long as you had proper controls and were transparent in your use of it). But who do I trust?

Truthfully, I am not wholly convinced by my previous paragraphs. By which I mean I’m not clear if pay walls will re-emphasise the value of advertising in supporting content nor if that will make us more likely to trade data for content. I am not sure if I would trade (but I might). But I do wonder if it will happen and if the so-called advertising eco-system will become so complex that the value is lost.

We have many twists and turns on this road ahead. Publishers (and I mean all content producers here) need to scale their businesses for the new market which for many once large organisations means shrinking. You can;t even begin to talk about profit margins until that point. I’m not sure what that might mean for on-going coverage of Peter & Kerry but I’m sure somebody will have a cheque book for the wedding pictures. I’m hoping for an invite.

Specials On The Streets Of San Francisco

It may be jetlag or hallucinations brought on by an overdose of blue cheese dressing but my visit to San Francisco during the last week has convinced me of two things: there are some very smart people in the online ad business and they’d better have a location-aware ad play by the time you’ve finished reading this. If they haven’t got one soon then my first point was wrong.

It may be jetlag or hallucinations brought on by an overdose of blue cheese dressing but my visit to San Francisco during the last week has convinced me of two things: there are some very smart people in the online ad business and they’d better have a location-aware ad play by the time you’ve finished reading this. If they haven’t got one soon then my first point was wrong.

My predications landed on your screen on 1st January, didn’t they? Well 109,440 minutes later (or 17th March as some know it), I’ve seen my three key thoughts in action. If they can get mass market penetration then there’ll be substantial new advertising revenues around. Having seen the pieces come together now I can really forsee huge opportunities for companies that can get scale and reach on mobile devices. And although I am in the spiritual home of internet start-ups, the tool that proved my point was created in New York and I’ve been using it in London for some time believing there was something in it. It;s the tool that made me unelected mayor of two coffee shops (who should read what I have to say and get me a fee coffee): Foursquare.

Foursquare is a location-aware social network mobile game (just count those buzz words and cash your VC cheque now). In a nutshell, tell your friends where you are, collect points and leave tips about great things to do. Check-in (identify your current location) on your mobile phone wherever you are (my check-in stats are here). The game element; points, value and status adds to the fun. Wikipedia says there are 450,000 members/players as I write this.

As I wandered San Francisco I’d check in occasionally. You get more points the first time you check-in so, as I hadn’t been in town for 10 years, every check-in was a stack of points in my own personal game. But here I saw something new. A little “Special Nearby” flag would appear. Check the special and you’ll discover offers on places nearby: $1 drinks, a frozen yogurt discount or something for the mayor. Visit the location; check-in and show your mobile phone to the retailer to claim your discount or freebie. Simple, elegant and it really works. There should be no reason why London is not offering as many specials right now but, if it is, I’m going to the wrong places. In Frisco I just kept coming across them in the central area.

This all ticks at least three of my prediction boxes just 10 weeks after I wrote them down (I’m not claiming to be Mystic Meg just that the collision of these ideas proved themselves to me a little sooner that I thought they would)! Tick one: it is location based and the specials are near where you are now. Tick two: most specials are, effectively, coupons which you show to redeem. Tick three: it’s real time (by which I mean the offers are available near you now: I haven’t determined if the venues offering the reward are always open when you see the “Special”). Tick, tick, tick.

I have no idea if it will be Foursquare that’ll go big with this (they need more people in more places to be playing) but it is showing what a world of location-aware advertising could be like and that’ll be a very appealing world to a lot of retailers. As the number of advertisers grows a little user targeting (to ensure, of all the offers here, it’s the right one for me) will be needed but generally the people who will see your advertisement will be in the right place at the right time. It’s an ad proposition with less wastage and great measurability and that’s the special most business would like.

Now, I’m checking-in at the airport to head home to try a check in at Paul A Young Fine Chocolates who are, apparently offering get free award winning chocolate truffles if you prove you’ve checked-in.

Pay Walls Will Save Newspapers

Every man and his dog, if he works in digital media, has an opinion on this one. Pay walls will, or will not, save newspapers, magazines, books and any other form of printed word. E-readers, iPads and digital paper is, or is not, the saviour of the free press. So, why shouldn’t I wade in here? I may as well be shouted down by those who think that paper has, or hasn’t, got a future.

Every man and his dog, if he works in digital media, has an opinion on this one. Pay walls will, or will not, save newspapers, magazines, books and any other form of printed word. E-readers, iPads and digital paper is, or is not, the saviour of the free press. So, why shouldn’t I wade in here? I may as well be shouted down by those who think that paper has, or hasn’t, got a future.

And so as not to be sidetracked, I’ll repeat my first prediction that pay walls will lead newspapers and magazines into a better digital world (which may, or may not, save their business models in the long run).

My second prediction is that pay walls will be removed after – for arguments sake – twelve months.

In my end of year predictions I suggested pay walls would be good for advertising because an engaged, paying audience is, generally, attractive to advertisers. And it’s far too early in the year to be retracting such suggestions so I’ll be sticking with it. But, upon further reflection, I think there will be a second advantage to short term pay walls and it’s not the pay bit that’s useful but the wall itself; the act of registration and identification that will aid newspapers’ business models.

The subscription money may – or may not – be insignificant. But in a world where advertising is highly targeted to us as people, be that by our tracked behaviours or the things we write – or the games we play -in social media, knowing more about audiences is becoming a necessity to deliver advertising online. But most media organisations don’t know much about me as a user at all. I read anonymously with only an ip-address acting as a proxy for who I am.

But look at the market they are playing in. According to Hitwise, getting on for 6% of all UK web visits are to Facebook. And Facebook knows lots about me because I tell them in all my interactions on a daily basis. Google accounts for nearly 9% of all visits which, while admittedly being search-based (i.e en route to somewhere else) is still giving them tremendous insight into my behaviours.

Pay walls will start to give newspapers a better insight into their audiences and with that data they’ll start to be able to attract much more highly targeted media. Once that data is put to use newspaper will realise they need to tear down the walls to grab a big audience but those people will start to be given reason to identify themselves so that advertising can be targeted properly. And then another of my predictions will come true: it’ll be all about the data.

It is for that reason that I think pay walls may save newspapers and magazines.

I also predict personal jet packs are the future of transportation by 2011.