Google should have been grilled by more intelligent lawmakers than the House Republicans

Committee hearings — in the House even more than the Senate — are always a showcase for the worst aspects of the embarrassing, benighted gerontocracy of the American legislature. That happens not least because the most senior members of most committees ask their questions first, and those tend to be the representatives from the safest districts and thus the members least interested in actual governance and the most invested in petty squabbles with the press and industry, as those are the fights that will help them get elected to a fifteenth term.

So Tuesday’s interrogation of Google CEO Sundar Pichai by the House Judiciary was a terrific use of a hugely powerful public forum in the world’s foremost democracy — at least it was, if you’ve always wanted to ask the CEO of Google, for example, how to get the crown prince of Nigeria to pay up after giving him your checking account routing number. Or whether that email forward from your golfing buddy is correct about Mark Zuckerberg giving away free iPads to anyone who buys a reverse mortgage.

It actually wasn’t much smarter than that: Throughout the hearing, representatives like Steve King R-Iowa, and Ted Poe, R-Texas, blasted Pichai for problems they had with iPhones (which, as Pichai observed to King, Google does not manufacture). Florida’s John Rutherford asked Pichai to send him “a printout” of the data Google had collected on him.

But there was a sinister cast to much of the questioning, too: Plenty of senior Republicans wanted to know what Google was doing to defend them from the threat of negative search results when people used Google’s search product to learn about them or their legislation. “I googled American Healthcare Act [intended to repeal Obamacare] and virtually every article was an attack on our bill!” whined Steve Chabot, R-Ohio.

It’s undoubtedly too much at this point to expect shame or, indeed, any kind of introspection from Republican politicians, who seem fine with having installed a uniquely incompetent and compromised game show host as head of the executive branch. But it is useful to look at what all of Tuesday’s nonsense was in service of, because there did seem to be a strategy behind it.

Foremost among many distinguished contributors to this strategy was Lamar Smith of Texas, who presented Pichai with a chart published by right-wing site PJ Media and authored by anti-vax favorite and Benghazi conspiracist Sharyl Attkisson (who, to her credit, had the grace to call the chart “subjective” in the blog post where it originates), which he pronounced “irrefutable” evidence of a biased search algorithm that prevents conservatives from reaching the number of people Smith felt they ought to reach.

But behind the content-free bad-faith posturing was a real threat: If Google does not correct for its perceived “political bias,” the laissez-faire free marketeers of the Republican party might suffer a sudden attack of Marxism and correct the company’s supposed bias for them.

For instance, King demanded a list of the 1,000 people — Pichai’s estimate — who work on Google’s search algorithm (which is designed to analyze search terms in several different kinds of context, including, in most cases, its often scarily-accurate perception of what the user is looking for based on past behavior across Google’s products) to enable Republicans to police those engineers’ “political bias” until it better pleased him. “Look at their social media, and if that doesn’t solve this problem, the next step is to publish the algorithms,” he told Pichai. “If that doesn’t happen, the next step is amendments to section 230” — the law that absolves platforms of responsibility for the material published through their systems — ”and beyond that is a Teddy Roosevelt step,” a reference to trust-busting.

This would pain King considerably, he said — “I don’t want to regulate anything” — but a public discourse in which he is criticized with impunity in public is, he implied, simply too high a price for the country to pay.

Regulating Google closely — even breaking it up — might well be very good for society, but only insofar as the people doing the breaking weren’t seeking to enable the worst parts of Google’s operations (like its ability to surface unending far-right messaging to unsuspecting YouTube users looking for videos of new games or movie trailers) and to squelch dissent into the bargain.

It’s already an article of faith among people who oppose Google’s excesses that the company ought to be brought into closer alignment with the values of the society that has allowed it to grow to terrifying and formidable size, but those values might need some fine-tuning if they give power to people like King, the sort of legislator gleefully stops in to a racist nationalist talk show during a trip to the sites of the Holocaust.

Republicans at Tuesday’s hearings hardly touched on Google’s near-monopolistic power, except to threaten to end it if Google doesn’t accede to their political demands — or the wonky algorithms which do, in fact, serve up not just fascist bloviations but total fabulism and conspiracy theories, especially if users view content the algorithm sees as fascism- or lunacy-adjacent.

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Companies Rethink The TV Ad Model For OTT

The advertising model for traditional, linear television is actually pretty simple. Networks air TV shows, and those shows have regular commercial breaks. In total, they typically end up being around eight minutes of commercials every half hour, and 16 minutes in an hour.

Now, as consumer viewing shifts to over-the-top video — a format dominated by the ad-free giant Netflix, and the limited-ad giant YouTube — companies are realizing that those old ad models just won’t fly.

“It is clear to us that consumers are not going to stand for 16 minutes of ads per hour,” Scott Rosenberg, the GM of Roku’s platform business, said at the Business Insider Ignition conference last week. “The consumer we are serving is highly empowered, they have lots of screens to choose from — ad-free experiences to choose from. While they value free, there is a tolerance. It is very clear that ad loads will come down, and the ads will have to become smarter and more engaging.”

So what can companies do? Better targeting and more relevant ads are a start, but so are ads that are not interruptive to the viewing experience. Roku will be adding search-based and discovery-based ads in the coming months, and is looking at other formats as well.

Other companies, such as Hulu and AT&T, are looking into other options, including “pause-vertising,” in which an ad would begin to play after a user presses pause on a show they are watching.

The logic is that as consumers increasingly binge-watch shows, they are increasingly pausing the action to grab a drink or use the bathroom. That could present an opportunity for certain advertisers.

While some consumers may be annoyed by these types of ads, they are certainly less interruptive than traditional commercial breaks, and are part of the value exchange of ad-supported OTT.

“Ad-free is a great product, if you can afford that type of viewing experience, it gives you back some time,” said Hulu CEO Randy Freer at the Business Insider event. “What we really like is that we can offer choice. We can offer a $0.99 package, or our Spotify bundle to consumers, and that is ad-supported, they understand that, and it has less than half of the commercial time than you have in traditional markets.”

Value is the key word here. Rosenberg says that consumers clearly want free ad-supported options to complement their paid subscriptions, and that “free” is the most-searched for term among Roku apps.

“I think many of us in the industry have been trying to figure out what the balance of ad-supported and ad-free viewing will be five years from now,” Rosenberg says. “It is very clear to us now at Roku that consumers are cutting and shaving the cord, not just because they are looking for more choices, but because they want value, so free is a really important selection criteria as consumers get into OTT.”

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Data: Love Island ‘most engaging TV content’

New data published by connected intelligence specialist Kantar Media shows that reality television has driven the highest level of social media engagement over the course of the past year, closely followed by current affairs programmes.

Kantar Media measured engagement amongst UK viewers between December 1st 2017 and  November 30th 2018. The insight is taken from Kantar Social TV Ratings, which was launched in 2014 as the official metric for understanding, analysing and benchmarking the impact of social media on TV viewing habits.

Over the 12-month period studied, there was a total of 75 million Tweets, resulting in an enormous 28 billion overall impressions. Entertainment programmes are the most tweeted about on the whole, attracting 32 million Tweets during the period, followed by drama (20m) and current affairs (13m).

Despite the nation’s interest in live programmes, the data also suggests that viewers have been making increasing use of streaming services and on-demand viewing opportunities. Three-quarters of all TV-related Twitter activity during the year-long period occurred outside of broadcast windows, amounting to 17 billion impressions and 99 million likes.

The Love Island appeal

Kantar Media’s data reveals that Love Island was the most talked about television series on Twitter in 2018, with a total of 6.3 million Tweets, 18 million likes and just under 60 per cent of all interactions taking the form of retweets.

According to additional insights, taken from Kantar Media’s TGI consumer survey, one million adults agree with the statement: ‘I specially choose’ to watch Love Island, 74 per cent of whom are women. The programme is particularly popular amongst those who are young and without children as well as parents with young children. Two extremes of the country find Love Islandparticularly compelling, with those in the North East 31 per cent more likely to be fans and those in the South West 34 per cent more likely to be fans.

When looking at brand engagement around Love Island, clothes brand and sponsor Missguided featured most highly. 15,000 Tweets around Love Islandalso mentioned Missguided; while 6,800 mentioned tech sponsor Samsung and 2,400 mentioned drinks brand and sponsor Lucozade. Missguided was equally popular across Instagram, forums and blog posts referring to Love Island, making up 56 per cent of all brand mentions.

The remainder of the top five television series on Twitter list was made up by current affairs programmes, including Question Time (with 2.5m Tweets), Good Morning Britain (1.8m) and The Andrew Marr Show (1.6m). Daily Politics (1.5m Tweets) came in sixth, just behind Doctor Who.

The top 20 Individual Broadcast list was dominated almost entirely by Love Island, with the first episode of the new series taking third place (with 205,000 Tweets), behind annual live music events The Eurovision Song Contest(841,000 Tweets) and The Brit Awards (229,000 Tweets). The series finale took fifth place (with 151,000 Tweets) behind the series launch of I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here! (162,000 Tweets). The Great British Bake Offand Celebrity Big Brother entered the top 20 list, in positions 14 and 15 respectively.

2018 was feted as the ‘year of the launch’, with hugely hyped new shows including The Bodyguard and Informer making their debuts, while well-known favourites Doctor WhoOrange is the New Black and The Handmaid’s Talereleased new series. However, of these, only Doctor Who made a significant impact on Twitter, coming in at number five in the top series with 381 million total impressions.

Alongside The Bodyguard, which featured at number seven (42m overall impressions), the list of Series Launches was dominated by popular entertainment shows. Love Island Series 4 topped the ranking with 206,000 Tweets, followed by I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here! (162,000) at second; Celebrity Big Brother (77,000) third and The X Factor fourth (63,000). 

“What is truly interesting is the way in which our data highlights the strong attachment consumers have with their favourite television programmes, even outside of the broadcast window,” noted Andy Brown, Global CEO, Kantar Media UK & Ireland.” More than ever, consumers are using social media to communicate about television programmes at a time that suits them. For brands and advertisers, this serves to reiterate the opportunity offered by multi-channel engagement and the need for a connected intelligence approach to measure its impact; using social media platforms to become a part of the conversations they know their audiences are already having, at the right time and in the right place.”

Top 20 series 24-7

1Love Island Series 4ITV 26,279,0832,504,097,324
2Question TimeBBC One2,534,625417,463,964
3Good Morning BritainITV1,804,7131,098,129,607
4Doctor WhoBBC One1,751,565380,961,212
5The Andrew Marr ShowBBC One1,627,741379,495,930
6Daily PoliticsBBC Two1,512,650374,073,067
7NewsnightBBC Two1,310,81129,215,0654
8Eurovision Song ContestBBC One1,184,023428,059,387
9Coronation StreetITV1,163,275563,280,542
10The X FactorITV1,160,523399,778,812
11I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here!ITV1,121,051450,559,265
12This MorningITV990,293488,925,655
13EastEndersBBC One975,000388,526,162
14Celebrity Big BrotherChannel 5959,370565,552,864
15Celebrity Big Brother Series 21Channel 5930,763465,267,295
17Big Brother 2018Channel 5730,843285,681,325
18BreakfastBBC One677,521351,752,281
19Strictly Come DancingBBC One656,647413,796,284

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YouTube and Facebook taking lion’s share of online video ads, but TV dominates

YouTube and Facebook account for the majority of online video advertising in Europe, but the vast bulk of video advertising still goes to television, according to a report by the European Audiovisual Observatory.

facebook Youtube TV ads

According to the report, Online Video Sharing: Offerings, Audiences, Economic Aspects, which cites a number of third-party data sources, YouTube and Facebook together take a 56% share of the European online video advertising market. In 2018, YouTube took an estimated 32% of the market, with Facebook taking a 24% share. Broadcasters took a 20% share of the market collectively.

Despite the dominance of YouTube and Facebook in online video advertising, the vast bulk of video advertising – 91% – went to television in 2016. However, the growth rate of the online video advertising market is much higher than that of the TV ad market – 21.4% between 2015-16 compared with 2% for the TV advertising market and 11% for the overall online advertising market.

The report also noted that 6-15 year-olds in the UK spend about 20% of their screen time watching online video clips, compared with about 45% watching broadcast TV, 12% watching recorded TV, 6% watching catch-up TV and 10% watching paid for streaming or download services. Over 16s, by contrast spend 63% of their screen time watching broadcast TV, 17% watching recorded TV, 6% watching catch-up TV and 6% watching paid for streaming or download services, and only a very small amount of screen time – 2.9% – watching online video clips.

YouTube is used at least once a month by 93% of western European consumers, according to the report.

Despite the growth on online video and the rise of SVOD, the report cited Recode data from 2017 that shows traditional media companies still account for the bulk of expenditure on original non-sports content, with the top four spenders – NBCUniversal, Time Warner, Fox and Disney all being traditional players, led by NBCUniversal, which spent US$10.2 billion. Netflix comes in at number five with expenditure of US$6.3 billion, while Amazon is number seven with US$4.5 billion. Among technology and social media companies, Apple and Facebook were the top spenders, coming in at number 13 and 14 with spend of about US$1 billion apiece.

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How to combat growing ad fatigue amidst the rise of OTT video

Show of hands: How many of you have watched TV via the internet?

Keep your hand up if you’ve watched the same ad repeated multiple times, or even ads for competing brands, within the same ad break while watching online TV?

I suspect many of you still have your hand raised. With explosive growth in over-the-top (OTT) video offerings — such as catch-up TV, live TV streaming, and video-on-demand services — ‘competitive separation’ is a challenge that many publishers face.

Yet for both publishers and advertisers, there are automated controls that can be deployed to prevent your message from being spoiled by frequency or competition issues.

Quality control

For the delivery of online video ads, quality has many variables from the audience to placement and load time to viewability. Controls must be in place to manage this array of factors.

Competitive separation — giving media owners the ability to separate creatives whether the campaigns are executed traditionally, programmatically, or from third-party tags — is one such control issue with which many have trouble getting their heads around. As OTT video audiences have grown, so has the chance of ad fatigue for many publishers. Competitive separation helps solve this issue by allowing publishers with long-form content to fulfil an ad break with creatives from various sources and de-duplicate categories or advertisers (landing page URL) across sources.

For instance, a publisher could ensure that if the first ad is a Coca-Cola ad from a direct-sold demand source, subsequent ads in the pod would not be from competing brands — regardless of the source. Competitive separation controls, the likes of which are available in the SpotX ad serving platform, give audiences a relevant and diverse set of ads each time, preventing the ad experience from being spoiled by excessive repetition.

Using podding to control frequency and placement

Engaged in a TV-like viewing experience and watching their choice of premium highly engaging content, OTT audiences are highly valuable to advertisers.

Without programmatic controls, however, ads delivered in this environment are placed randomly, rather than in a controlled and optimised fashion. With the aid of podding technology, publishers can fill an ad pod with multiple ads from a single ad request. They can be programmed to play in a particular sequence, as the diagram below shows.

From a publisher’s perspective, podding maximises efficiency and fill, offers more control and is a better experience for the audience. The system eliminates duplication by using a single ad call to fill multiple ad slots, rather than individual requests for each ad within the pod.

Not only does this erase the possibility of ads repeating or running next to competitors’ ads, it also means fewer ad calls between various platforms, easing latency and infrastructure loads. Pods can also be configured to maximise ad revenue – for example, a 90-second pod could be programmed to ad call lengths of 15-second, 45-second, 15-second and 15-second.

From the advertiser’s perspective, podding delivers more control and greater effectiveness by facilitating de-duplication and competitive separation. Coupled with the use of standard identifiers, SpotX enables advertisers to control frequency across all environments, even those without advertising identifiers like some smart TVs.

Ask your technology partner the right questions

Simply calling three ads at once is nice, but it doesn’t really resolve the issues mentioned above. At a minimum, to truly reap the benefits of podding, your technology partner should be able to provide the following features:

Tight controls over ad delivery, such as:

– Maximum pod duration
– Maximum duration per individual ad
– Minimum duration per individual ad
– Maximum number of ads

Tight controls over ad content, such as:

– Automatic ad deduplication
– Competitive separation

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Internal Emails Shine Light On Facebook’s Approach to Sharing and Selling Data With Developers

Your personal data has always been the key to Facebook’s business — and Facebook executives, including CEO Mark Zuckerberg, have used access to that personal data to strengthen strategic partnerships and hurt competitors over the years. At one point, Zuckerberg even considered selling users’ personal data to outside app developers.

That much was clear from a new trove of internal Facebook emails and other documents released by British lawmakers Wednesday. The documents had previously been sealed as part of an ongoing lawsuit filed against Facebook in California, but were made public by Britain’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, which collected the documents last week.

“I believe there is considerable public interest in releasing these documents,” tweeted Damian Collins, the committee’s chair. “They raise important questions about how Facebook treats users data [sic], their policies for working with app developers, and how they exercise their dominant position in the social media market.”

The emails, which mostly date from 2012 to 2015, include conversations from Facebook’s top executives about the company’s developer tools and data-sharing practices before widespread changes were made to limit access to some user data in early 2015.

A Facebook blog post says the emails were “cherrypicked” from the lawsuit and represent “only one side of the story.”

“I understand there is a lot of scrutiny on how we run our systems. That’s healthy given the vast number of people who use our services around the world, and it is right that we are constantly asked to explain what we do,” Zuckerberg wrote in a Facebook post published Wednesday. “But it’s also important that the coverage of what we do — including the explanation of these internal documents — doesn’t misrepresent our actions or motives. This was an important change to protect our community, and it achieved its goal.”

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Liberty Global Working on New Addressable TV Advertising Offering

European TV and broadband company Liberty Global today announced it is working on a new addressable TV advertising offering with advanced TV ad tech company Cadent. The new offering does not have a release schedule yet, but Liberty Global has announced that it will be deployed first by its subsidiary Virgin Media in the UK.

Cadent says “Advanced TV Platform” includes server-side ad insertion which doesn’t require much of the business logic or creative assets to physically sit within set-top boxes, being largely handled on the cloud instead. The company also says the platform handles execution across a range of platforms and formats including household addressable, network DVR (digital video recorder), IP live, and set-top box and IP delivered video on-demand (VOD), with unified and normalised reporting.

Liberty Global has already tested the waters with addressable advertising, but previously this has been confined to separate initiatives and collaborations run by its subsidiaries. Virgin Media last year signed up to Sky’s addressable TV advertising platform AdSmart, while in Belgium, Liberty Global-owned Telenet has used INVIDI technology to run addressable TV ads for channel operator SBS.

It seems that Liberty Global will try to make this new platform work alongside these existing addressable TV advertising products. The company says Cadent’s platform has open APIs (application programming interfaces) which can integrate with third-party systems, including Sky’s AdSmart.

But if the roll out is successful, it would also extend addressable advertising capabilities for the first time to some of Liberty Global’s other subsidiaries, in markets including Poland, Slovakia and Switzerland.

This might take time though as Liberty Global grapples with the same issues around regulations which have faced other international businesses who have bought out addressable TV solutions. Telenet’s addressable TV trial in Belgium was held up by privacy complaints, and Liberty Global might expect to face similar challenges in other markets at it navigates divergent rules around use of data for TV advertising.

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