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.

Crystal Ball Or Tea Leaves?

I do think one key element ties location-based, real-time and social media advertising together and that is data. Advertising, especially digital advertising, has always had a great deal of data with which to work.

And so, with the bells of Big Ben still ringing in my ears (via the television, do you think I am mad enough to have ventured into central London?) I’m back to follow up on yesterday’s predictions for digital advertising in 2010. Yesterday, I suggested money will come back in a fragmented way to digital media. Thus, there’s not enough money to pay for anything and as a result paywalls rise and, I suggested, that paywalls might actually lead to a rise in CPM rates for some publishers. Is it a crystal ball or in the tea leaves? I don’t know but here’s another vision ‘or two’ for the coming year.

And I don’t see why we should change the habit of a decade and so I may as well announce that 2010 will be the year that mobile advertising will become mainstream. You know, like it did last year. And the year before. I guess you could argue that 2009 was the year mobile Apps pointed us in a direction. My humble opinion is that mobile advertising will transform its brand into ‘location based advertising’ and the world will think it’s all new. Rather like a Marathon became Snickers. All new and yet reassuringly the same.

I think you can see this mobile re-brand trend already. But location based advertising should be big sometime. The company that gets mass adoption alongside location based mobile coupons (to come good on the “I’m passing the coffee shop give me 50p of a latte” idea) will be very successful. I’ve mentioned mobile coupons a few times in 2009 and I think the value of them is yet to be properly exploited.

Look, here’s a passing bandwagon. Let’s jump on. I think real-time is an interesting trend but digital advertising has always managed to exploit the more immediate nature of its existence (in comparison to offline media) so, apart from the introduction of some new trading methods and “perhaps” some new formats, real-time won’t impact advertising. Of course, if Twitter comes up with an advertising business model I may regret that statement but I don’t think it will be the real-time nature of Twitter that will form the basis of the ad model; it will be the Twitter communication platform itself.

However, Twitter & Facebook will transform digital advertising in 2010 even more than they did in 2009. New formats and new ways of engagement will be mean the both the banner/display and the text/search models will have something new to compete against. And if I knew what that “new” thing was, I would be busy reaping my rewards from that and not writing this.

Location-based advertising alongside social media engagement (Local Social, if you will) is really an emerging feature of the media landscape. I predict growth and innovation in that space this year. I’m not convinced we’re at the point Local Social will be mainstream but I am prepared for my friends from Local Social Lab to convince me otherwise (hopefully, over a tasty brew).

I do think one key element ties location-based, real-time and social media advertising together and that is data. Advertising, especially digital advertising, has always had a great deal of data with which to work. Audience measurement, action/reaction-based metrics, opinion and behavioural data often come into play. But I think we will see the rise of user-powered data in advertising by which I mean I, as a user of digital content, will actively share information with advertisers in a more open transaction in order to receive a service. I predict we will all take more control over what data we allow to be exploited and we will be more aware of who is benefiting. We will insist on greater transparency over data sharing but also will be more aware of what data sharing is allowing us to do. The trade off between sharing and getting something in return will become clear in the next twelve months.

There are challenges with using data. The online advertising industry has surrounded itself with data (click rates, acquisition rates, impressions, views, behavioural segmentation, hits, users, sessions etc. etc.) which did not align to “old” media. As a result, the industry spends more time explaining what it is talking about than anything else. That issue need to be addressed. Then I wonder if it’s possible to have too much data? As an industry we sold ourselves on that data as “the ultimate measurable medium” but perhaps we lost our creativity, our gut instinct and a lot of money while drowning in data. And then, of course, there’s security. If I am to share data I have to trust you with it and I am not convinced anybody trusts anybody else with their personal information which, I think, is the second digital dilemma I’ve presented to you in two days.

I am going to write my story of 2009 in personal data terms in the next few days but how the system to trade data will manifest itself will, to me, be one of the interesting stories of this year.

I’ve not written about the dramatic change to television viewing because of on-demand digital viewing (you’d have to be asleep to miss that change) and I haven’t talked about how the radio industry is imploding because it can’t agree on what a sensible route to digital actually is, but regardless, I think there is another interesting year ahead.

But until I tell you how many minutes I spent in a cinema in 2009 – or something similarly riveting with data – may I wish you a very happy and prosperous new year. Don’t forget to follow me on Twitter in the year as I track if any of these predictions have any validity at all.

It’s Time To Gaze Into The Future

Money will start to come back into advertising and that’ll make a lot of people feel better. However, the switch to digital advertising will continue, traditional media will remain at sea wondering what to do and how it’s all going to be paid for.

The world is awash with Christmas songs. But very few ever get around to singing about the New Year. Abba did it. And then there was that song from that Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, I’m sure it has something about it being a new year in the lyrics. I was wondering why there are so few new year songs and it occurred to me that between Christmas and the New Year everybody is busy predicting things and hasn’t the time to pen a song about how we’re all going to keep our resolutions until Tuesday.

And it is in that spirit that I am not writing a New Year’s tune but instead looking ahead to 2010 in Digital Advertising. I could, of course, have picked any topic but I thought one that I worked in might give me some credibility and, more importantly, means I can return to work on Monday morning with a plan for the year.

Let’s start with the predictable. There will be a storm in a teacup over use of cookies in Europe. And, of course, by the time everybody has agreed the technology will have moved on. Still, the industry will talk about it a lot and there’ll be pictures of biscuits (the chocolate chip variety) as the industry news sites run out of new ways to spin an old tale. Possibly a good excuse to hit the gym in January.

Almost as predictable is the second statement. Money will start to come back into advertising and that’ll make a lot of people feel better. However, the switch to digital advertising will continue, traditional media will remain at sea wondering what to do and how it’s all going to be paid for. And so-called paywalls will rise. I don’t think I need a crystal ball for this. I can smugly say that I previously said we had to stop thinking that advertising can pay for every thing; but smug is not a good way to enter into a new year so I’ll move on. A fragmented media market may be good for choice but diffused ad spending means nobody has any money to create anything. So, we as the consumer of content are going to have to start paying upfront for things.

It’s the last sentence that brings me to a digital age dilemma. If we’re going to have to start paying for content will we remain happy to consume advertising alongside it? Historically, we did in newspapers and in the cinema, for example. But we didn’t with books and don’t have our movie’s interrupted with advertising on the premium movie channels. I suspect newspapers in particular will hear a lot from users who won’t pay and download a banner style advertisement at the same time. There will be a fascinating follow-on impact for the advertising industry but I can’t read that from the cards.

As a quick aside I think there could be an interesting side story to the rise of required payments. For too long advertising rates, CPMs if you will, have been dropping and you have to believe it will come to a point where they can’t get any lower. I suspect the rise of paywalls for publishers which, if even vaguely successfully, will also force a rise in CPM rates (if the dilemma of the previous paragraph can be solved). The act of a customer paying for content proves the value of that content and suggests an engaged audience (and an audience with money). That must be an attractive place for advertisers to be.

And I think that’s enough crystal-ball gazing for today. Leave a comment if you think I’m right or wrong. Perhaps I will pen a ‘Happy New Year’ ditty while celebrating this evening or, more likely, I’ll have a glass of something sparkling and try to be in a state to finish my predictions tomorrow. One thing I can say with certainty, if I do write more tomorrow it will feature the word Twitter.

So look out for my Happy New Year tweet around midnight. So long 2009!

Looking For Innovation

The iPlayer was really the platform that pushed on-demand viewing across the internet in the UK. You wouldn’t expect anything less from an organisation with the resources (in monetary terms, in talent and engineering terms and in marketing and reach terms) that the BBC can bring.

Christmas 2009

The iPlayer was really the platform that pushed on-demand viewing across the internet in the UK. You wouldn’t expect anything less from an organisation with the resources (in monetary terms, in talent and engineering terms and in marketing and reach terms) that the BBC can bring. It’s still the iPlayer that comes to mind when most people think of watching TV via the web and the iPlayer was certainly the talk of other European broadcasters (at least it was when I was regularly speaking to them). It’s a shame as other on-demand services are equally as good, ITV in particular have made great leaps. The Sky Player has been made to work with their proven business model which can only be a good thing for the space.

Because the iPlayer is not commercially driven, however, there has been little discussion of advertising in on-demand platforms. For the commercial providers it has always been the advertising that pays for the content. ITV has always been great at ensuring you get similar experience online as you would watching the show on television: why would they show programming without advertisements and commercial breaks? At last, most organisations have reached the point of being able to replicate the linear television commercial break experience. Sadly, however, we’re not seeing a great deal of innovation in this space which intrigues me even more now I’m less directly involved in the technologies that power this advertising. It’s an area ripe for new ideas. I know people in organisations I worked for have ideas by the truck-load but, for some reason, they’re not sharing them right now.

The economic climate and resulting downturn in advertising spend can be used as an excuse for the lack of in-production experimentation and, for commercial television companies struggling with smaller audiences and reduced ad revenues, this may be valid. But where are the innovative tech companies pioneering new ways of advertising around on-demand television? They must be there somewhere.

So, my Christmas/Birthday wish, point me to the innovators. I’m @curns on Twitter and I’d be interested to read about something genuinely innovative in the way in which advertising content is presented to consumers of on-demand content.

When Will The Water Run Out?

We’re are moving into a world where there is a proliferation of ‘stuff’ that we all enjoy that we don’t dierctly, pay for. We pay by allowing the product/service to take a fraction of our time in viewing the ad. This proliferation of ‘stuff’ however, means the marketers/advertisers have to spread their limied budgets in an ever-growing number of places.

I wrote sometime ago about the amount of advertising in the world and how we should not fool ourselves into thinking that advertising will pay for all the products and services we would like to use; be they a TV programme, a daily newspaper or a website. Advertising won’t pay for it all because there’s not enough money to go around. Basically, the well isn’t that deep. The pot isn’t that large. There are too many hands in the till. Those kinds of metaphors work here, I think.

For me to say that is really easy but we also need to think about the pot/well/till and just how big it really is. There are a lot of resources that estimate the amount of advertising measured in all sorts of ways. And with different colclusions. Will budgets grow or will they shrink during the global meltdown? And where will the money go? Newspapers are suffering, traditional ad-funded TV and radio has long since lost any licenses to print money and digital advertising will grow, or maybe shrink. The outsider would assume that digital advertising has taken taken some kind of wild bungee jump into the well and the hands can, sometimes, grab the cash (if the cash was floating in the well … ah, you get the point).

But regardless of the current state of the budget we’re are moving into a world where there is a proliferation of ‘stuff’ that we all enjoy that we don’t dierctly, pay for. We pay by allowing the product/service to take a fraction of our time in viewing the ad. This proliferation of ‘stuff’ however, means the marketers/advertisers have to spread their limied budgets in an ever-growing number of places. The water in the well must now quench thirst for many more people.

Thinking about the well, I’ve started to wonder how long it will be before the amount of water in the well isn’t enough to keep anybody alive for very long. Are we moving to a position where things we all want to watch/read/consume will disapear because marketers are trying to use a little of everything? You know what I am thinking here: spend some money on social media marketing and take it away from TV. But now there isn’t enough money for either TV or social media.

Is this a concern? I don’t think my views are wholly thought through but I’m kind of throwing it out there to see what people think.

When will it end? When will the water run out?

Welcome To Your Digital Ad Dashboard

Your ad-server makes the decision if it should serve an ad or not. Why then is a spreadsheet handling the prediction. Your ad-server knows how many ads it displayed. Why is that information being re-keyed into a billing system? These are blockers to efficiency and suceess. They are not insurmountable. The industry will move in that direction.

The technology behind managing online display advertisments can be incredibly complex. The business behind it the technology even more difficult to comprehend. Then there’s the poor publisher behind who buys the ad-server technology to manage their own increasingly complex business. These are the people I work with day-in, day-out. Publishers trying to get a grip on technology when, truthfully, they don’t care about technology. Generally, they care about delivering the advertising campaigns that somebody is paying them to deliver. The tech should do that. Seamlessly.

Sadly, much of the technology in this space is a black box. Few people in an organisation understand how it determines how/when/why ads appear. While it’s not ideal, I don’t consider it to be too surprising given that the online display market is only just a teenager and is still maturing. New approaches to selling online media result in new tech features which in trun need to be understood and explained to an end business. Here, I am focussing on the publisher ad-serving business because different problems exist in the agency world.

However, there is one part of the business that I think we’re missing in the advertising tech game for online content owners. We need to be the dashboard for the advertising & marketing departments in a publisher or content owner. And we’re not. We are one of many systems from inventory prediction spreadsheets through unrelated billing.

Although we shouldn’t need to be every component of the system we do need to unify the data. Your ad-server makes the decision if it should serve an ad or not. Why then is a spreadsheet handling the prediction. Your ad-server knows how many ads it displayed. Why is that information being re-keyed into a billing system? (OK, not everywhere, but in many places). These are blockers to efficiency and suceess. They are not insurmountable. The industry will move in that direction.

However, there’s one area where we have a disconnect. The advertising technology systems don’t tend to work well with those web analytics systems. This, to my mind, is the biggest disconnect we have in the industry.

I do know all the arguements that explain the disconnect; I’ve used them myself. The systems are trying to achieve differet things and the stats from the analystics systems provide lots of useful data over and above the kind of advertising data our industry needs. Designers, content producers, systems admin and network people all need the data web analyitcs software delivers. Often it’s great and detailed data.

But web analytics systems report numbers of users on websites. In any business, these numbers are usually passed along to management and the board. They’re used on marketing materials to shout, “Hey, look how great we are. We have a big number here and it’s getting bigger by the month. My graph groweth towards the sky”.

People love good numbers and a good story. So, the board in the company gets the marketing people in the company to tell the good number story far and wide. And they really don’t have to go that far until they’re telling it to the ad sales people. Who, in turn, pick up the phone and tell the news to their customers. And before you know it, everybody wants to buy ads against these lovely big numbers because they have these big numbers.

Unfortunately, the ad-server disagrees with these big numbers. There are lots of reasons why. Some valid reasons for different data, some valid differences between counting approaches, some just tech differences. Occasionally, these differences can add up to a big number.

Some years ago a major broadcaster had a site that generated big numbers. But their ad technology didn’t say the same number. Remember, people like big numbers. So the management didn’t like the smaller numbers from the ad-server. Smaller numbers meant a smaller revenue. And yours truely was asked to look into it.

After being provided with two data sets I started looking at them and, quite quickly, I found a bunch of clear and obvious discrepancies. The nice analytics numbers counted all the pages, even the ones without ads (and there were a good number of them). The analytics numbers counted non-human traffic from search engine bots and other robots. You can’t serve ads to them. And if you do people don’t like it.

I could go on but this is already long enough.

Let me be clear. This is not a problem with trhe analtics industry nor the ad technology business. The analytics companies could easily provide reports that matched up by filtering in the same way ad-servers do. That’s just a report to them. But the issue is at the end client. They don’t want to know the technicalities of the differences. And why should they? But equally, they should not be allowing sales and marketing folks to be building & selling advertising models against numbers that they stand no chance of delivering.

My appeal to the ad-server business is this. Develop an interface that marries analytics data with ad-serving data. For my purposes let’s assume that’s easy. Create a single view of the data for the end business so they buy, sell and predict from the same numbers. Make sure predictions and post-delivery reports are based on the same data,

I think it’s the only way we can make the industry work without the distrust that happens when different systems purport to report on the same things but provide different reports.

And don’t get me started on differences between ad-servers!

ce n’est pas un ‘ad-server’

When we take publisher tools into a multi-platform world we’re taking them further and further away from having responsibly for serving. In the IPTV world, in the online video world and, to a large extent, in the mobile world publisher tools are making a decision and letting something else do the technical side of the delivery.

Je viens de rentrer d’une visite à Paris. If that doesn’t read as, “I’ve just got back from a visit to Paris” then you’l know O-levels weren’t as good as the rose-tinted view of the dumming down brigade suggests. That, or I’ve just forgotten everything Mrs Taylor taught me about cats sitting on tables or buying one-way tickets to La Rochelle.

À Paris, j’ai rencontré des gens très sympas. But, I wasn’t there just to be friendly, I was there for the second part of the pan-European tour for Microsoft Advertising’s regular outreach sessions, MSA Today. And, in case youâre imagining musician-on-a-bus type touring, it was date two of two (the first being last week in the UK) and so a “tour” is perhaps a little “licence artistique” on my part.

I was part of a group of people showcasing Microsoft Advertising’s offerings to publishers: a set of tools that help media owner’s understand advertising inventory; delivery premium advertising content and monetise remnant/discretionary inventory. It’s a neat set of tools that you can find more about on Microsoft’s web.

To give a bit more background to what I noted last week, while working on the presentation (which has been made available over at Microsoft), I became increasingly convinced that one particular piece of terminology was incorrect: the industry refers to some of that technology as an ad-server and, for most publishers, that name isn’t accurate. And before I’m accused of being pedantic, I think we (those of us work in the business of helping publishers manage advertising inventory) are doing ourselves a disservice by not properly describing what we’re doing and what value we are bringing.

I appreciate that my distinction “certainly in technical terms” is overly specific. But for most publishers and ad-server can be said to do around about six things and in the vast majority of cases the publisher system never actually serves an advertisement (my definition here requires the ad-sever to hold the advertising creative and provide the asset or the URL of the asset back to the user’s browser). And I am talking about publisher ad-servers here; the equivalents for buy-side, optimisation or network players in this space might “serve” the ad more often than not.

And now you’re asking “Pourquoi est-ce important?” (or something similar). I believe the serving aspect diminishes the value because it’s seen as a technical not a business process. Not that it should, the development and innovation behind serving digital advertisements is often overlooked but nonetheless we’re dealing with realities in this small space of the industry.

A publisher needs a system that provides order management; that provides inventory analysis (both pre and post-sale); provides workflow tracking for the ad operations team; provides reporting and insight on delivery, sales and finance and, finally, makes the decision on which advertisement should be shown through fast analysis of targeting rules and the browser’s request. In the world in which we operate today, at the point of selection the publisher’s system hands-off responsibility for delivery to the advertiser (buy-side) or network’s delivery system which takes responsibility for telling the browser where to load the ad from.

When we take publisher tools into a multi-platform world (which, to some extent was the point of my pitch for Microsoft) we’re taking them further and further away from having responsibly for “serving”. In the IPTV world, in the online video world and, to a large extent, in the mobile world publisher tools are making a decision and letting something else do the technical side of the delivery. This is not to play down the important of solid, reliable and timely delivery but it’s just not how publisher “ad-servers” have evolved. In the cable television space we’re already talking about a legacy web “ad-server” as being a ad-decision service and that, more accurately, reflects what we’re doing.

Again, I am trying not to be pedantic about this but selection, targeting, analysis, prediction and workflow management are sophisticated tools that power publisher’s businesses. The serving is really the last item, admittedly vital, in the chain but often it is not done by the publisher’s system as we know it today. Why is it not a referred to as a delivery analytics platform or a decisioning system?

I really do wonder if we are doing ourselves a disservice in underplaying the business systems we’re providing. Back when we were just rotating ads every few seconds, and I once worked on a system which selected the ad based on the numerical value of the second you requested it, our tools were primarily a mechanism to deliver. Now they are a mechanism to mange, process, refine, analyse and invoice. Systems have been rightly integrated into CRM and billing systems as well as into content management and analytics platforms. The value a publisher”ad-server” brings is infinitely better than those systems of old yet our terminology hasn’t changed.

As an industry we need to be better at highlighting our real value. I don’t believe “ad-server” serves is well any longer. It’s time to change.

Part One of this piece was written after the UK version of the presentations and can be read in That’s Not An Ad-Server.

Disclaimer: the views here are my own and are not necessarily the opinions of my employer (who sent me) nor customers (who I spoke to while there). You have read the full disclosure, haven’t you?

That’s Not An Ad-Server

How does your system handle basic sales order workflow, yield management and business intelligence? These days, a publisher ad-server needs to be great at decision making, great at making those decisions for multiple platforms – preferably while understanding the audience across those platforms – great at forecasting and a great optimiser. Serving the ad? That comes next.

If you follow the things that I write here then you’ll know that I am involved in the technology of the digital advertising industry. A few years ago I would have said that I work for an ad-serving company; at a push I worked for a publisher ad-serving business. Just over a year ago, the ad-serving company that I work for was acquired by Microsoft (as part of their aQuantive purchase) and I have been part of Microsoft Advertising for some time now. Putting the fact that Microsoft is an enormous company to one side, I honestly don’t think I can say that I work for an ad-serving company any more (and I don’t mean because I work for one that now makes Xbox and Word). No, I believe that the term ad-server is out-dated and we should stop using it. Ad-serving is dead (at least for publishers).

There are some that will balk at that statement but stay with me.

Microsoft has some big ambitions in digital advertising, just look at the other acquisitions aside from aQuantive: ScreenTonic, Massive and AdECN, and as part of those ambitions we have been welcomed – quickly – into the Microsoft Advertising family. And to that end we’re included in the marketing events. And that is why today I stood in front of a group of publishers, as part of the Microsoft Advertising Today conference, to declare ‘The ad-server is dead. Long live the ad-server’ just without any robes, royalty or a crown anywhere to be found.

Strictly, my part of the day was entitled, ‘Beyond Ad-Serving’ – which is to say if you’re a publisher you shouldn’t be focusing on just the delivery of the advertising because, well, chances are your system isn’t delivering it. Sure, it’s making all the decisions (and you should be very interested in how your system can handle the different prioritisations required by different campaign types) but it’s passing of the heavy-lifting of delivery to a third-party system (or even to a network who will then pass it on to an advertiser system). Frankly, as we move into an era of networks, exchanges and bidding systems, publishers need to think about much more than the serving part.

Those of you vaguely familiar with the kinds of systems I am talking about will know I’m being overly picky in my use of terminology but I do, genuinely, believe that this is an important point. How does your system handle basic sales order workflow, yield management and business intelligence? These days, a publisher ad-server needs to be great at decision making, great at making those decisions for multiple platforms – preferably while understanding the audience across those platforms – great at forecasting and a great optimiser. Serving the ad? That comes next.

So, ad-serving is dead because the ad-server has matured.

Microsoft have kindly put up a copy of the presentation that I did. You may be surprised to hear that I was encouraged to remove bullet points. Yes, at Microsoft (sadly, the pdf rendering isn’t great but you’ll get the point).

Disclaimer: the views here are my own and are not necessarily the opinions of my employer (who lets me talk about my opinions) nor customers (who I spoke to). You have read the full disclosure, haven’t you?

In Recovery Mode

For most of the weekend before last (and parts of the week either side) I was in Amsterdam at IBC. IBC is essential an enourmous broadcasting technology conference & exhibition; although its styling itself for the electronic media industry.

How long does it take to recover from a week in Amsterdam? Given it’s now Monday, I will say about five days. Of course, your mileage may vary etc. etc.

For most of the weekend before last (and parts of the week either side) I was in Amsterdam at IBC. IBC is essentially an enormous broadcasting technology conference & exhibition; although its styling itself for the electronic media industry. While the focus appears to me to be technology there is, apparently, a decent representation from the creative side of the industry. It’s been around for years and it’s quite important to many in the broadcast sector. While I’ve known about it for a long time, and have watched colleagues go before, I’ve never been myself. Upon arrival at the conference, prepare yourself: I found the size quite daunting. I suspect extensive, advance planning your visits/meetings etc. is the key to the experience.

Friends often ask me about this kind of event. Is it a trade show, conference, place for old friends to meet/excuse for a drink? Well, I know that this time I probably encountered the lot but I have never been so exhausted after a conference in all my life which is why it’s taken me five days to get the photos up onto Flickr. Although the hotel that they put us up in was very nice, central & restful; there is a lot (an awful lot) of walking. Tip: take a map showing the location of the RAI conference centre and your hotel. Walking between the two may be a trek but it saves waiting for the cabs or trams as the centre closes each day.

The thrilling thing (at least for me) was that it was the culmination of many months of work to have our advertising management tool deliver targeted, addressable advertising to video on demand systems. Microsoft, of course, had a fantastic stand in the Topaz lounge where all sorts of great technologies were being showcased. Check out some of the things Silverlight can do. But for me, the television screens in the corner connecting AdManager to Mediaroom were what it was all about. This meant that I stood, for many hours, watching the same video clips and advertisements (and I still want a pizza despite – or, perhaps because of – seeing a pizza ad several hundred times) but the response from customers, partners & prospects was great. You can read about the Mediaroom Advertising Platform on the official press rele

ase for the event.

I think targeted, addressable advertising is future for advertising; and I don’t think that’s a big announcement at all. Many people in advertising will say they’ve been doing it for years. What’s direct mail advertising, after all? However, in the digital world the key issue will be defining what is meant by targetable or addressable. Many years ago we used ‘targeting’ to describe how we were able place an advertisement on a particular page on a web site. Other areas of the advertising industry have used it describe demographics or audience segments. Isn’t Amazon’s “customers who bought” suggestions a great form of highly targeted promotion? The main problem is that we have no standard, industry definition of what we mean by targeted or addressable. Amazon knows my purchase history – it should be easy to target on that. But what about mobile or television advertising? How to we define what’s targetable. I agree that we still have some research to do in this area.

As an aside, it’s worth recognising that with little effort, many things are targetable, including personal data. But that’s not what I am referring to here. Privacy policies, user information, declared data etc. are all the scope of legislation and deserve a better piece of writing than this. No, I’m suggesting that the industry simply need to standardise what it means targetable advertising as a starting point for us all.

There were plenty of other people demonstrating similar things in this and related fields. It’s interesting to see that the television business is not, contrary to the predictions of You Tube doom, standing still. If IBC is anything to go by there’s a whole heap of innovation for those of us who watch television which could dramatically change our experiences. I’m looking forward to seeing which make it to the mainstream.

Apart from watching television advertising all day, Amsterdam was a fun place to be. It being my birthday in the middle of it all there was a desert with a sparkling candle in it, presented to me a great steak restaurant, whose name I have lost and, therefore, can’t recommend. Thanks to all my UK colleagues for that. After we had packed away, there was a canal tour to pass an hour or two before heading to the airport, arranged by some of my US colleagues (some of whom had not visited Amsterdam before).  There was even a bar showing American football and a late night team of my US friends trying to explain the rules to me. I’m not certain I mastered them, I’m afraid. Sadly, there wasn’t enough time to catch up with my old friends from my days in the radio distribution business. Hopefully, another year.

It was an exhausting week but a great glimpse of where we are taking the technology.

Disclaimer: the views here are my own and are not necessarily the opinions of my employer (who sent me) nor customers (who I spoke to while there). You have read the full disclosure, haven’t you?

 

Update: 29 September: Added some links to related commentary at Connected TV.

Get Your Product Right Or Get In The Liferaft

If your product will rely on advertsing in whole or in part to fund your business model build in advertising hooks and concepts from day one or else you may as well hand that VC money back.

I wrote recently about the problems I see with an assumption that advertising will pay for everything. Even in the month since I wrote that, world markets are moving in a direction that’s making us all look for the liferaft. All of us excet those who got the big bonuses over the last few years and didn’t blow them on an overpriced city pad. I hear they are in Indian beach huts.
My second point last time, and forgive me shamelessly quoting myself, said, “if advertising is going to be central to your proposition then make it central to your product development plans”. I’ve been thinking a little more about this and I can’t stress the importance of it. So, I’m going to say it again. And put it in bold: “if advertising is going to be central to your proposition then make it central to your product development plans”.
There is a counter argument, I know. Get your product right first. When you get all the bells and whistles built into your product or service then people will love/use it and advertiser’s like that. Well, see my previous post: advertising can’t pay for everything in this world. If the advertising experience is poor for the conumser you’ve blown the bit about getting your product right. If the experience is poor for the advertiser then you have a mountain to climb to convince them to come.
No, if your product will rely on advertsing in whole or in part to fund your business model build in advertising hooks and concepts from day one or else you may as well hand that VC money back and go and join all the bankers on a beach in India for a year or two. It doesn’t have to distract too much from your central product proposition but you need to remember that it is core to your business proposition.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah”. I think that’s what I can hear you saying. “We won’t do that”. But I’ve seen great companies – big and small – make this mistake again and again.
I’ve lost count of the number of websites that I’ve met with who add advertising into the mix after they’ve done the content system design and build. And after they’ve spent a lot of money on the design which happened not to have a brief to include advertising. Then they add the advertising spaces into the look and feel of the site and the whole thing suddenley looks disconnected. The content system isn’t built to pass any itelligence back to the ad system and they struggle to place ads in the right place. Worse, the content system has a content structure that doesn’t map to how the sales team want to sell the ads so from the first sale nobody’s expectations are met.
There are fewer companies I’ve met, but they exist, who build a way to have users register to use a product but don’t coniser how that could enhance the advertising proposition to both the conumser and the advertiser. So it’s a sepearte system that doesn’t share intelligence. Several times I’ve seen teams re-engineer registration interfaces just to faciliate some use in the advertising mix (and remember knowing you’re a registered user of a site can, sometimes, mean you see less – not more – advertising).
And while I’m talking about registration, you are asking for a little more than an email address aren’t you? Gender and country – fields which doen’t identify an individual in any way (unless your country consists of two people and only one of them is a man) can be invaluable in determining which advertisers might be interested in your audience. More data is better but it’s a start.
Remember that you are selling audiences not spaces. You need to know a little bit about them to be able to construct a meaningful advertising proposition. However, you also need to remember that there are laws – with good reason – that mean you can’t invade an  individual’s privacy. It’s a good trade. I get a product for free and I tell you a little bit about me. You need to aggregate and anonymise data. If you have solid aggregated data then you stand a chance at building a good advertising proposition. And in any product development it isn’t a bad idea to know your audience, is it?
Whatever your product think about how the ads will fit into the mix. It’s not just websites. Many years ago I worked with a company that specialised in sponsored SMS messages. You know the kind of thing. My team score and you send me a text. Somebody else pays for the text. All very nice until you remember that you need to send me the score and get the sponsor message in less that 160 characters. And that sponsor message needs to include a message and, often, a response mechanism. You see the problem?
I could go on. But you don’t need me to rub it in, do you?
So, for one final time, if advertising is going to be central to your proposition …, oh you get the point.

I wrote recently about the problems I see with an assumption that advertising will pay for everything. Even in the month since I wrote that, world markets are moving in a direction that’s making us all look for the liferaft. All of us excet those who got the big bonuses over the last few years and didn’t blow them on an overpriced city pad. I hear they are in Indian beach huts.

My second point last time, and forgive me shamelessly quoting myself, said, “if advertising is going to be central to your proposition then make it central to your product development plans”. I’ve been thinking a little more about this and I can’t stress the importance of it. So, I’m going to say it again. And put it in bold: “if advertising is going to be central to your proposition then make it central to your product development plans“.

There is a counter argument, I know. Get your product right first. When you get all the bells and whistles built into your product or service then people will love/use it and advertiser’s like that. Well, see my previous post: advertising can’t pay for everything in this world. If the advertising experience is poor for the conumser you’ve blown the bit about getting your product right. If the experience is poor for the advertiser then you have a mountain to climb to convince them to come (back).

No, if your product will rely on advertsing in whole or in part to fund your business model build in advertising hooks and concepts from day one or else you may as well hand that VC money back and go and join all the bankers on a beach in India for a year or two. It doesn’t have to distract too much from your central product proposition but you need to remember that it is core to your business proposition.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah”. I think that’s what I can hear you saying. “We won’t do that”. But I’ve seen great companies – big and small – make this mistake again and again.

I’ve lost count of the number of websites that I’ve met with who add advertising into the mix after they’ve done the content system design and build. And after they’ve spent a lot of money on the design which happened not to have a brief to include advertising. Then they add the advertising spaces into the look and feel of the site and the whole thing suddenley looks disconnected. The content system isn’t built to pass any itelligence back to the ad system and they struggle to place ads in the right place. Worse, the content system has a content structure that doesn’t map to how the sales team want to sell the ads so from the first sale nobody’s expectations are met.

There are fewer companies I’ve met, but they exist, who build a way to have users register to use a product but don’t coniser how that could enhance the advertising proposition to both the conumser and the advertiser. So it’s a sepearte system that doesn’t share intelligence. Several times I’ve seen teams re-engineer registration interfaces just to faciliate some use in the advertising mix (and remember knowing you’re a registered user of a site can, sometimes, mean you see less – not more – advertising).

And while I’m talking about registration, you are asking for a little more than an email address aren’t you? Gender and country – fields which doen’t identify an individual in any way (unless your country consists of two people and only one of them is a man) can be invaluable in determining which advertisers might be interested in your audience. Crude, yes. Simplistic advertising, yes. But more data is better and it’s a start.

Remember that you are selling audiences not spaces. You need to know a little bit about them to be able to construct a meaningful advertising proposition. However, you also need to remember that there are laws – with good reason – that mean you can’t invade an  individual’s privacy. It’s a good trade. I get a product for free and I tell you a little bit about me. You need to aggregate and anonymise data. If you have solid aggregated data then you stand a chance at building a good advertising proposition. And in any product development it isn’t a bad idea to know your audience, is it?

Whatever your product think about how the ads will fit into the mix. It’s not just websites. Many years ago I worked with a company that specialised in sponsored SMS messages. You know the kind of thing. My team score and you send me a text. Somebody else pays for the text. All very nice until you remember that you need to send me the score and get the sponsor message in less that 160 characters. And that sponsor text needs to include a message and, often, a response mechanism. You see the problem?

I could go on. But you don’t need me to rub it in, do you?

So, for one final time, if advertising is going to be central to your proposition …, oh you get the point.

Moscow: War & Advertising In A Week

I went to Moscow to plan an ad-serving implementation but they went to war as I arrived. I missed the war but met smart, interesting people.

I suspect that I am in the middle of the one of the more (if not, most) interesting two weeks in my working career. Yesterday, I returned from Moscow some 1500 miles to the north east of where I type this and tomorrow I am flying 4800 miles, or so, in the opposite direction to Seattle. Russia to the USA. I could be running my own little cold war had Mikhail Gorbachev not done the world a service and taught us all a new word, perestroika, some 21 years ago. It’s possibly my only word of Russian, although I am reminded that we were all happy for glasnost freedoms; even if that meant 30,000 Muscovites had to queue for a beef patty in January 1990 in some kind declaration of the freedom to Supersize ones self. I suspect the Nobel Peace Prize committee didn’t cite Pepsico’s opening of a Pizza Hut when making the award to Gorbachev in 1990. Anyway, it appears the citizen’s of Moscow have, since dissolving the USSR on Christmas Day 1991, embraced consumerism and the market economy to such an extent as to make the upcoming Christmas Day 2008, Moscow-style, a very expensive affair indeed. Truly, the most expensive place I have ever visited. I imagine American Express do very well out of it all, much to the consternation – one imagines – of any members of the Politburo who may be looking down on this megacity.

As I left Heathrow on a, if I am honest, patched-up jet, some parts of the Russian army were taking a less tourist-like approach to Georgia’s South Ossetia, some 3700 or so miles from Moscow. Tbilisi and Moscow have disputed this territory for years. Depending who you ask, some may tell you that the Republic of South Ossetia is a country in itself but I think you’ll, generally, only get that answer from the people around about Tskhinvali (that’s South Ossetia’s capital should your geo-political globe not be to hand right now). In case you hadn’t worked it out, this isn’t an essay on political tensions in the South Caucasus but the dispute is relevant as my parents currently reside in Tbilisi, Georgia’s capital. In a nutshell, I fly into Russia one way while my parents evacuate ahead of an advancing Russian army. Less than a week ago they were on a bus heading to Yerevan watching Georgian tanks roll back towards me.

History and geography lessons aside, the thought that the country you are visiting is, regardless of a legal definition, at war with another country doesn’t fill your heart with joy or put a spring in your step. However, and this is the unsatisfactory climax to which I have been building these opening paragraphs, the people I met in Moscow were, unfailingly, concerned about my parents’ safety and went out of their way to help me get status updates. I image ringing the international operator and asking for trunk line to Tbilisi so I can ask about the weather would have got me on some kind of watch list. And that sums up my experience of Muscovites: warm, interested and friendly.

I was there to work on a digital advertising project with some people from a major publisher and, in the course of the last week, I’ve met with a large number of people generating digital content from news and sport to managing social media platforms and finding ways to generate advertising interest. The experience has, like many of these projects, shown me that the digital advertising business is truly global and facing more-or-less the same challenges and pressures. Interestingly, because one of the key drivers of this project was to increase display advertising relevancy without the need to serve-up more and more ad placements, we had some detailed conversations that expanded on my thoughts to the mobile conference earlier in the year: understand that each member of your audience is unique and, with the right infrastructure, digital advertising shouldn’t need to drown out the real content they are there to read so that you can make some return.

Hypothesising digital advertising’s future wasn’t the only reason for my visit. I needed to evaluate the the ways in which the technology that I represent fits into an existing workflow and how disruptive a new system implementation may be. The online advertising world has grown, in the fourteen or so years that I have been involved, organically. By that I mean we learnt lessons from our initial trials (hey, I logged on to hard-code ads on Christmas Day many years ago) and gradually adapted them. Software that solved problems ten years ago is still being actively developed today and being taken in many more directions than we could have imagined. As a result I often find customer processes that developed alongside the advancing technology are unique, (occasionally) misunderstood internally and inefficient: systems that too often rely on knowledgeable human gate-keepers or spreadsheets tucked on a machine in the corner. It’s an issue that I see the industry as a whole addressing in different ways but one that acknowledges what we refer to as ad-serving technology needs to integrate into wider business systems. One of the most delightful parts of my visit this week was that the customer I met had a complete understanding of their own processes before I even sat down and I was able to map them onto our products & plans with relative ease.

Although we had a lot of work to complete in the days I was there, and in spite of almost stranding myself in the Microsoft Moscow office for the night (tip: pre-book taxis), I managed to view Red Square and the Kremlin at night. I bought, what appeared to be, the world’s most expensive Beef Stroganoff (but I was sat looking at the Kremlin at the time); saw how the locals take a taxi without having to re-mortgage their house and got an all too brief guided tour (although we didn’t get to ride in the ‘special’ lane). I made it back to the airport – and to the sight of a almost new bmi plane – convinced that the digital entrepreneurs in Moscow will be creating some amazing products in the next few years and that they, perhaps better than some organisations I’ve worked with over the years, understand that developers need to eat. Such insight means that finding the way to make products efficient and advertiser-friendly is central to their thoughts. I’d love to go back but, perhaps, I’ll wait for hostilities to cease.

And now to pack for that flight in the opposite direction. I imagine my own internal war, the one where the jet-lag armies move in on the disputed territory of sleep, will be declared some time on Monday. In the meantime, my thoughts are with all sides impacted in South Ossetia and hope they find a speedy resolution.

Disclaimer: the views here are my own and are not necessarily the opinions of my employer (who sent me) nor customers (who hosted me). You have read the full disclosure, haven’t you?

Hey Product Manager, Thought About The Ads?

Wherever you sit in product or service development, on or off-line, think about how advertising will be integrated and put it at the heart of your development plans. It’ll pay, in more ways than just with revenue, in the long run.

Where are you reading this? Are you sat in an office or at home? Do you have the television on in the background or the radio in your ears? Maybe you’re mobile in some way? Is it a laptop in a coffee shop or are you on a train? Wherever you are, if you’re reading this you are connected to the the vast web of information, you know all the good stuff on the internet and all the bad stuff the news channels make up.
But you are also connected to a vast web of advertising. Switch on your TV, change your radio chhanel, look out of the window, open the magazine or surf along to my employer’s web page. You see advertising everywhere.
There was a survey once, that I can’t find right now, that counted how many advertisments an average person was exposed to in a normal day. Who’s average? What’s normal? Perhaps they just made up a number. But it was a big number. Quite big. Maybe very big, but – as I said – I can’t find it. Nevertheless, you don’t need a nice lady with a clipboard to tell you that you see a lot of advertising, because you know that, don’t you? From my recollection, it was all the advertising that you come across that you don’t remember seeing that was the interesting point of that survey
Anyway, as I can’t find it, there’s no point talking about it, right? I can summarise the last three pargraphs like this: there’s a lot of advertising everywhere.
I’ve had a fascinating couple of weeks, talking to some very smart people building some – on paper – interesting new online products. We talk about how to interegrate a range of advertsing options into these products.  See how much I’m giving away. Lawyers scare me. I’m saying no more about them.
What’s been clear for a couple of years now is that everybody, from big corporations to small start-ups, is convionced that they can monetise their ideas with advertising. Advertising is, apparetly, going to pay for everything. If you fall into the right demographic, your mobile phone will be paid for if you listen to a few ads. By-the-way, if you don’t want a moile phone paid for by advertising that’s fine. Some people, however, would love not to pay a penny to speak to their friends.
And there are three problems with this approach to product development and innovation. Firstly, many people who think their prodct or service is attarctive to advertisers haven’t actually thoguht about how the advertising experience will work. It’s a kind of approach that says, our product is great, people will love it, people will use it and advertisers will come.
Hey, consumers will have to really love it and come in droves. There aren’t many products that have acieved that level of attention where advertisers know they have to be there. Facebook is a nice exception that springs to mind.
Secondly, if advertising is going to be central to your proposition then make it central to your product development plans. Over the years I’ve seen too many great products have advertising added in as an after thought. And it rarely works. This needs to the be subject of another piece but please take the advice now and read a later post when I get round to writing it.
Thirdly, all these advertisers who will come have limited budgets. They can’t place ads everywhere. Your audience has to be very compelling to move budgets. Logic tells me that there is a point when advertising won’t pay for products and services any more. Should this stop your development? Absolutely not. We move on by innovation. But if your product is to stand a chance of making it seriously evaluate the advertising proposition. Then cut the expected revenue by 80%. Then work out how to fund the gap.
I do think the digital space has an advantage here. Increasingly, money is moving into the digital advertising arena from other media. So if you’re new idea is digital and – importantly – you’ve thought through the advertisng model and – most importantly – you’ve worked how the advertising experience with your product (from user and advertiser sides) then you may see advertising as a funding source but I don’t think your advantage is huge.
So here’s my appeal. Wherever you sit in product or service development, on or off-line, think about how advertising will be integrated and put it at the heart of your development plans. It’ll pay, in more ways than just with revenue, in the long run.

Where are you reading this? Are you sat in an office or at home? Do you have the television on in the background or the radio in your ears? Maybe you’re mobile in some way? Is it a laptop in a coffee shop or are you on a train? Wherever you are, if you’re reading this you are connected to the vast web of information, you know all the good stuff on the internet and all the bad stuff the news channels make up.

But you are also connected to a vast web of advertising. Switch on your TV, change your radio channel, look out of the window, open the magazine or surf along to my employer’s web page. You see advertising everywhere.

There was a survey once, that I can’t find right now, that counted how many advertisements an average person was exposed to in a normal day. Who’s average? What’s normal? Perhaps they just made up a number. But it was a big number. Quite big. Maybe very big, but – as I said – I can’t find it. Nevertheless, you don’t need a nice lady with a clipboard to tell you that you see a lot of advertising, because you know that, don’t you? From my recollection, it was all the advertising that you come across that you don’t remember seeing that was the interesting point of that survey

Anyway, as I can’t find it, there’s no point talking about it, right? I can summarise the last three paragraphs like this: there’s a lot of advertising everywhere.

I’ve had a fascinating couple of weeks, talking to some very smart people building some – on paper – interesting new online products. We talk about how to integrate a range of advertising options into these products.  See how much I’m giving away. Lawyers scare me. I’m saying no more about them.

What’s been clear for a couple of years now is that everybody, from big corporations to small start-ups, is convinced that they can monetise their ideas with advertising. Advertising is, apparently, going to pay for everything. If you fall into the right demographic, your mobile phone will be paid for if you listen to a few ads. By-the-way, if you don’t want a mobile phone paid for by advertising that’s fine. Some people, however, would love not to pay a penny to speak to their friends.

And there are three problems with this approach to product development and innovation. Firstly, many people who think their product or service is attractive to advertisers haven’t actually thought about how the advertising experience will work. It’s a kind of approach that says, our product is great, people will love it, people will use it and advertisers will come.

Hey, consumers will have to really love it and come in droves. There aren’t many products that have achieved that level of attention where advertisers know they have to be there. Facebook is a nice exception that springs to mind.

Secondly, if advertising is going to be central to your proposition then make it central to your product development plans. Over the years I’ve seen too many great products have advertising added in as an after thought. And it rarely works. This needs to the be subject of another piece but please take the advice now and read a later post when I get round to writing it.

Thirdly, all these advertisers who will come have limited budgets. They can’t place ads everywhere. Your audience has to be very compelling to move budgets. Logic tells me that there is a point when advertising won’t pay for products and services any more. Should this stop your development? Absolutely not. We move on by innovation. But if your product is to stand a chance of making it seriously evaluate the advertising proposition. Then cut the expected revenue by 80%. Then work out how to fund the gap.

I do think the digital space has an advantage here. Increasingly, money is moving into the digital advertising arena from other media. So if your new idea is digital and – importantly – you’ve thought through the advertising model and – most importantly – you’ve worked how the advertising experience with your product (from user and advertiser sides) then you may see advertising as a funding source but I don’t think your advantage is huge.

So here’s my appeal. Wherever you sit in product or service development, on or off-line, think about how advertising will be integrated and put it at the heart of your development plans. It’ll pay, in more ways than just with revenue, in the long run.

Disclaimer: the views here are my own and are not necessarily the opinions of my employer. You have read the full disclosure, haven’t you?

Nice, Mobiles and TeleMedia

The session I was speaking at, ‘The New Monetisation Paradigm: Content, Advertising, and Markets of One’, was surprisingly well attended given the 4pm start time: conferences can be long hard days and 4 o’clock is certainly more ‘retire to the bar’ time than ‘explore new business model opportunities that can generate revenue through advertising’ time.

Last week I was in Nice, which is nice, especially in the sunshine. Truthfully, temperatures were hotter than I feel comfortable in and I had to be really careful as I’d failed miserably to plan for such heat and forgot hats and suncream. Luckily, the bars on the beach all have umbrellas for shade. And beer used for cooling purposes.

I don’t recall ever having been to Nice before, so I was unprepared for the rich and the beautiful people wandering around. Bernie Eccelstone’s doppelganger, in the nicest sense of that word, was drinking beers at a beach-front bar on Thursday afternoon which was unsurprising as the Formula One circus was in town, or rather, in the next town; the Monaco Grand Prix revving its engines in preparation for Sunday’s race. Sitting here a few days later I can tell you that Lewis Hamilton won which means the bruises are worse as I have been kicking myself for not extending my visit and catching, at the very least, some practice circuits. Possibly a golden opportunity missed.

Fortunately, I was prepared for the TM Forum Management World 2008 conference which I was speaking at. I don’t usually speak at this kind of event (large conference) but was looking forward to it, especially as I was in one of the break-out rooms speaking to audiences with an interest in ‘Advertising & Monetizing TeleMedia Services’. The conference is aimed at the telecoms business in general with sessions ranging from ‘End-User Device Management’ to ‘Using SDF/SDP for Rapid Service Deployment’ and not an advertising-specific event. In fact, Microsoft was speaking on a whole range of topics unrelated to the ad technology world I’m used to working in (See also MSFT Press Pass). The session I was speaking at, ‘The New Monetisation Paradigm: Content, Advertising, and Markets of One‘, was surprisingly well attended given the 4pm start time: conferences can be long hard days and 4 o’clock is certainly more ‘retire to the bar’ time than ‘explore new business model opportunities that can generate revenue through advertising’ time.

Given it’s not an advertising-driven conference I wasn’t sure exactly how to pitch the presentation of Microsoft Advertising’s view of monetisation opportunities so I opted for a general view of display-based advertising markets, value & opportunities in a multi-screen environment that a Telco could easily provide. My co-presenters, Grant Lenahan from Telcordia Technologies and Gary Galinsky from Call Genie had taken slightly different views of advertising options on mobile, incorporating non-display opportunities (which include SMS messaging and ad-funded calling). All together, I think the three stories gelled into a very intriguing story for the operators’ representatives in the audience.

Thankfully, all three if us had taken these different approaches to the idea of monetising services which meant that, while we were in overall agreement, our presentations were sufficiently different for the audience. I’ve found one of the downsides of some speaking engagements that are put together by third parties is a lack of, if you’ll pardon me, engagement with your fellow speakers. Last week, I don’t believe it really mattered as there were good stories to tell.

I focused on the Microsoft Advertising suite of tools to tell my story of ‘connected advertising’ which, in a nutshell, suggests that advertising should no longer be considered separate by medium. Advertising is a conversation, a long-term engagement or a multi-layered pitch to a consumer. It’s not a 30 second radio spot, a 728 banner or mobile coupon. It’s all those plus relationships from other communication tools or social sites and a compelling future, at least for me, is one where advertising messages know this and ensure you’re not burned by messages nor are you swamped by irrelevant promotions. Advertising becomes both connected and smart.

So, where does mobile fit in? Well, my co-presenters were able to give compelling success stories for monetisation today: and some things are a long way from traditional thoughts of advertising. My pitch, if you like, was more of a future think-piece. The dots are not connected yet but they could be. I wanted to ask the audience to forget traditional notions of advertising and think how advertising to customers may become part of a larger communication through connected technology. I believe that’s better for everybody and I wanted to hear what they had to say about it.

The discussion that followed the presentations was fascinating for me. I come from a background of working with content owners who need to generate revenue via advertising to provide the services they’re offering. Much of the audience didn’t come from that perspective; many were – understandably – unfamiliar with advertising processes and the roles each player in the ecosystem fulfils. Many represented the service provider in the mix who may, for example, be providing a gateway for others to advertise rather than sell media space themselves. It’s a very different viewpoint and I thoroughly enjoyed the challenge of adapting my experiences to a different environment. Only the future will show which way it will play out and, unlike the Monaco Grand Prix, I can’t sit here and tell you who the winner will be.

Disclaimer: the views here are my own and are not necessarily the opinions of my employer nor of the conference management. You have read the full disclosure, haven’t you?

End Of Term Party

Thanks to all of our customers for making 2006 a great year. To celebrate we threw a little party.

Accipiter 2006 London Christmas Party
Accipiter 2006 London Christmas Party

When you walk into a bar and they have created an orange cocktail for your Christmas party, what on earth would you think? As you can see from the photograph our company logo contains a fair amount of orange so, perhaps, it’s not surprising but it was an interesting twist and an excellent introduction to a superb evening. We throw a customer party each year to say thanks them and also because it’s great to see them. I think they also appreciate the fact that they get to meet people in the industry – sometimes, competitors – that they wouldn’t otherwise talk to. I introduced two London based radio stations to each other. They’re less than ten minutes walk from each other’s offices yet these on-line guys had never met. As it’s that time of year, I’d like to say thanks to all our customers for making 2006 a memorable year for us. Thanks to those of you who travelled from overseas to be with us. Have a great Christmas and we look forward to working with you in 2007.

What Is An Ad Impression?

Lots of publishers I have spoken to get a little confused when their ad impressions counts are different to their page impressions. So my goal here is to try and identify the common reasons for the differences. The fact that advertising systems counts ads not pages is the first key difference.

The other day, I wrote, what I thought was, a handy guide to the basic web measurement concepts of page impression, visit and unique user metrics. Haven’t read it? Please do so before reading this one.

Back? This time I’m going to talk about a new impression metric that is often confused with the measurements I spoke about last time: the ad impression. To those of us in the digital advertising tech business the ad impression is our measure of scale and value for a website. However, our measurement counts advertisements and not most of those other things that I talked about last time.

How do they differ then?

Last time I noted that a page impression was counted every time somebody viewed a page of web content. That page, however, may have three or four (and often, many more) advertisements on it. Our industry, therefore, counts the number of times advertisements are shown. So, one page impression may be one ad impression but it may also be three ad impressions depending on the number of advertisement spaces a publisher has built into their pages. It’s important not to confuse them as these impressions are very different.

Lots of publishers I have spoken to get a little confused when their ad impressions counts are different to their page impressions. So my goal here is to try and identify the common reasons for the differences.  The fact that advertising systems count ads not pages is the first key difference.

Secondly, the advertising system will only count an advertisement impression when it is asked, by the browser, for the ad. It is not inconceivable that the advertisement system may not get the request for the ad and, therefore not count it (if the ad system is broken, or if it is slow, then the user may not wait around for the ad). Result: the page impression is counted but not the ad impression(s).

Thirdly, advertising systems try not to count robots, spiders and other automated web systems that make the web work for us but do not represent a human actually looking at an advertisement. After all, a computer is not really in a position to buy a new car.  I noted last time that when counting page impressions then those things should not be counted either. However, if the system measuring your pages is configured with a different list of what is – and what is not – a web robot then some pages may be counted when the advertising system might not count – or vice versa. Ideally, vendors of both systems would be using the same list but, sometimes and for many different reasons, they can’t. So the result is that a page counting system may not quite be counting the same people that an advertising system may be counting. The main thing here is that this is OK.  The systems have different counts because they look at different things. You know sometimes there are apples and sometimes oranges.

The next reason for the difference is simply to do with the way websites are set up. Many sites do not put advertisements on every page on their site. It may sound obvious but, if there is no advertisement placed in the page, it’s never going to count as an ad impression  I once spent a day trawling through the data for a very large, well-staffed, UK website to help explain differences in page and ad impression counts and I discovered hundreds of pages that contained no ads. The site had sprawled and their site management systems were simply not inserting all the right codes. The clever coders and designers who build websites sometimes miss this. There’s a whole other post about how, if your site is ad-funded, advertising should be part of the design process – but I digress.

Ask your web development team to look at all the places where there are advertisements on your site but they don’t call the ad-server to deliver them. This is often referred to as ‘hard coding’ because the advertisement code is hard-wired directly into the web page rather than designed to ask the ad-server to select an ad. This is a very common cause of differences between website page counts and ad impression counts. It’s often done because the ‘hard wired’ ad will be around for a long time the publisher does not want to pay the ad-serving company to continually select exactly the same advertising copy in exactly the same space. But, as with our examples above, if the ad-server is not asked to select the advertisement it can’t do its job and count it.

It’s worth pointing out that sometimes the ad-server appears to be asked for lots of advertisements and, even when accounting for multiple ads on a single page, the number looks too high. Here it’s worth checking that the ad-server code is correct on the page. Because ad-server code tries to do clever things to account for the many ways in which people view your site (with multiple browsers that support different standards) then incorrectly formatted code may ask for several advertisements when only one is displayed. The result is too high counts because the ad-server is unable to determine exactly which one will be displayed so assumes they are all valid. This is one for your coding team.

Also in the ‘too many ads counted’ category is the fact that you must be comparing the same site boundaries. Is your ad technology serving advertisements into other places? If it is, then we must ask if the code on those ‘other’ places is correct or is telling the ad-server that the request is coming from somewhere else. Most ad-servers rely on the code on the page, the ad-request, to know where the ad is being delivered to. If your request is telling the system it should be selecting an advertisement for Site A but it is, in reality, Site B then the ad system may assign the count to the wrong site (worse, it will also select an advertisement that may not really be valid for Site B).  Is the right code in the right place?

Finally, there are a couple of other reasons that add to the differences. Some people actively block advertisements using special software in their browser. If they do then the advertising system won’t count them. Some ad systems  also try to track suspicious behaviour (such as people clicking lots of times on advertisements trying to inflate the click-rate to make the site look better or generate additional revenue). If such browsers are detected then they are often blocked and removed from the advertising counts while they may not be removed from the page counts. Again, it’s valid because we’re looking at website traffic and audiences from different perspectives.

You also need to take into account the time is takes the advertisement to be served. Advertisers generally prefer that ads are counted when the entire piece of copy or creative is delivered. If it’s one of those rich, interactive, animations it could be taking longer than you imagine for all the file to be delivered. If the count happens once all content is delivered to the user’s browser then your ad-system may not be counting the ad for a short period after the ad looks like it’s been shown. This is one to check with your ad-server technology vendor. When do they initiate the count?

Thus, your web analytics and your ad-impression counts may differ for valid reasons. The key is to ensure that, if you rely on advertising to fund your endeavours, you’re giving your advertising system the best change of showing an advertisement in all the places you want them to appear.  Make sure your content control systems are inserting the right codes in all the right places.

In summary, if you’re doing all the checks and you’re content systems are inserting the right codes then your advertising system is doing the best job it can to count the advertisements for you. If it gives you a different number then you shouldn’t worry too much – there’s an acceptable difference that you can work with.

Update: it’s taken me over two years to write one of the pieces I suggest above: the one about if advertising is central to your offering then you need to think about it in the design process. Read Get Your Product Right Or Get In The Liferaft for some insights there.