The Times of London sees success in digital editions approach

The Times is enjoying a mobile windfall.

Users of the British newspaper’s paid-for mobile app are up 30 percent since this time last year, and people are viewing three times as many pages per visit as they were a year ago. The average number of pageviews on the app is up 300 percent since last March, and tablet traffic hasn’t been cannibalized in the process, according to the publisher.

Those rises all stem from a decision The Times took a year ago to push away from the trap of commoditized online news and focus on publishing three updates to the digital editions a day: at 9 a.m., 12 p.m. and 5 p.m. It wasn’t just the publishing schedule that was core to the change; it was also the refocused design. Everything was designed to look good on mobile and give a simplified user experience.

“At the time, some people thought we were crazy,” said The Times’ head of digital Alan Hunter. “But it’s working. Our guiding principles when we started were to be reader-first and mobile-first. I had those things written on a massive whiteboard in the boardroom. We wanted to do what was good for them, not what media commentators thought we should. And it’s working.”

Although Hunter wouldn’t reveal specific numbers, he said that the 30 percent lift was from a “reasonably high” base number, while over the last year tablet growth has been smaller than smartphone.

The articles themselves on the smartphone app are no different from the website, where a few hundred pieces are published a day. Comment and analysis are the formats that do well, along with exclusive scoops. But the focus on the design and its simplicity was core to driving engagement.

It’s been a year of radical change for The Times. The website, which has also seen a 20 percent uptick in its audience in the last year, introduced registered access last summer and is viewed as a funnel for the subscription products. The most engaged readers and subscribers are on the smartphone and tablet apps. “People read on the site, but that’s where they will be introduced to our journalism,” added Hunter.

There are plans to grow that too. Registered users can read two articles; to read a third users must subscribe. Last month, the count was around 550,000 sign-ups and climbing steadily. Ultimately, the goal is to use the registered access as a shop window to then convert people into paying subscribers and app users.

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Meet ‘M”: Facebook Messenger Digital Assistant

Facebook on Thursday launched its digital assistant named “M” for US users of its Messenger application, ramping up the social network’s efforts in artificial intelligence.

For users of the messaging platform, M will pop up and suggest “helpful actions” in the chat window.

The move is seen as the first step in a broader launch of the digital assistant to compete against services from Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Apple and Samsung, which is launching its new assistant with its newest smartphone.

M uses artificial intelligence and “suggests relevant actions to help manage conversations or help get things done,” Facebook product managers Laurent Landowski and Kemal El Moujahid said in a blog post.

“We are bringing the power of M’s AI technology to support and enhance the Messenger experience and make it more useful, personal and seamless.”

With M, Facebook Messenger users can simplify tasks such as sending money to friends, sharing location or obtaining a ride-share.

Facebook, which has its own artificial intelligence research lab, announced M in 2015 as an experiment, and the expansion to Messenger is another step in the social network’s broader AI goals.

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YouTube Sets Limits on Which Partner Channels Can Show Ads

Doing all it can to stop an advertiser exodus and convince brands that they’re safe on its platform, YouTube announced changes to which channels in the YouTube Partner Program can show and profit from ads. Under rules announced yesterday, partner channels need to accumulate 10,000 lifetime views to quality for ads, YouTube says

“This new threshold gives us enough information to determine the validity of a channel. It also allows us to confirm if a channel is following our community guidelines and advertiser policies,” wrote Ariel Bardin, vice president of product management for YouTube, in a blog post.

Because automation isn’t enough to weed out harmful channels, YouTube will implement a review process in a few weeks where a human will verify that channels with qualifying views are consistent with the company’s ad policies. YouTube has learned that it can’t trust flagging problem channels to its community.

YouTube’s troubles began in February when The Times of London reported that ads for major brands were appearing on videos from hate sites. That led to over 250 advertisers—including Walmart, Starbucks, Pepsi, General Motors, Johnson & Johnson, Dish, Verizon, and AT&T—boycotting the site.

So far, reaction from the industry has been optimistic.

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YouTube TV debuts in 5 US markets

YouTube TV is especially interesting for marketers because it’s backed by Google. While Google has the power to potentially turn YouTube TV into a strong competitor given its budget, bent toward innovation and massive technology infrastructure, the company could also demand higher advertising rates as the service picks up traction.

Alphabet, Google’s parent company, has put a sharper focus on YouTube as consumers demand more video content and turn more frequently to their mobile devices to view it. On a recent Alphabet earnings call, analysts suggested that YouTube could act as a sort of heir apparent to Google’s search advertising business, which has been its key revenue driver for years.

However, Google is also currently navigating tough waters with YouTube, as major U.S. brand marketers including Verizon, AT&T and PepsiCo freeze their spend on the platform over issues with ads appearing next to offensive content, including terrorism- and hate speech-related videos. While YouTube TV is a different beast altogether, strictly streaming TV-like offerings advertisers would deem “safe,” it launches in the midst of a particularly bad PR moment, which might hurt its early legs.

Overall, digital media continues to make inroads into the territory typically owned by linear TV with skinny bundles and over-the-top (OTT) services like YouTube’s. The quickly expanding swath of digital TV-like alternatives seek to accommodate a growing trend toward cord-cutting, but it’s also possible the space is getting overcrowded before it ever truly takes off. Certainly, the sheer number of current offerings is likely to be confusing for consumers.

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As Video Evolves, Media Companies Scramble to Adapt

TEN, Condé Nast Entertainment and Time Inc. rethink format and distribution strategies.

Pardon the pun, but video is a medium that keeps on moving. It’s not only the channel with the highest audience growth for magazine media brands (up 44% in unique viewers YoY, per the February 2017 Magazine Media 360º Brand Audience Report) but its formats remain in flux. In the last year, we’ve seen the impulsive Facebook fall in (and sometimes out) of love with distributed video clips, live streaming and now long-form media with ad inserts 20-seconds into play. Meanwhile, Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat have gone all in on their own streaming formats. On connected TV sets, OTT has been the growth catalyst for lean-back viewing as prime-time viewing shrinks. But how are well-established magazine branded video programs maintaining business and editorial strategies as many of the major distribution points morph at will? To find out we checked in with TEN: The Enthusiast Network, Condé Nast Entertainment and Time Inc.’s People Entertainment Weekly Network (PEN) to learn how they’re adjusting and maintaining focus on growth in the face of relentless change.

While most players followed Facebook’s ambition for live video early in the year; TEN, PEN and CNE look at their video strategy holistically. “The real question is whether we can justify the investment and satisfy user experience while making it a business,” says Scott Bailey, president, automotive division at TEN. Across its auto properties, TEN launches north of 45 live programs (more than 1,000 minutes) each month. While it was fueled initially by Facebook’s seed funding, Bailey is exploring revenue models for the format. “It’s changed how we go to market,” he says. In addition to long-standing auto event coverage and new car unveils, the live push has inspired content innovation, like renovating a Chevy live on air over the duration of a week.

While TEN often spiffs up the raw live content in postproduction to create new franchises, Bailey notes a certain economy to it all, in that users don’t expect the same fit and finish from live feeds. “When there’s a two-person production team with an Osmo camera you can produce live video.” And yet these broadcasts can now be amortized across Facebook, YouTube and TEN’s O&Os site, as well as its paid Motor Trend On Demand network. Facebook has moved from testing to deploying ad inserts.

Conversely, PEN’s overall strategy remains focused on its cross-platform video-on-demand site, mobile, as well as OTT apps, which just celebrated one million downloads. The full content for its programming resides solely within PEN, but lighter clips and teasers get widely distributed across the social video ecosystem. Red carpet events and TV episode recaps have been effective real-time streams. And while the emphasis has been less about live feeds, now even OTT platform partners Apple and Roku are “very interested in live programming,” says Susanne Mei, general manager, PEN. Yet, the PEN apps have proven video doesn’t have to be live to feel live. The basic design of the app drops people into a linear playback experience from which they can opt into on-demand choices. “We have seen a lot of linear usage,” Mei says. People often want to lean back and “not be confronted with not knowing what to watch.”

Playing the Quality Card

More polished, longer and linear experiences may eventually trump the live streaming fetish of early 2016. “The jury is out on whether these lower production value live streams are really resonating with audiences,” says CNE General Manager Joy Marcus. The format can be very compelling when live events are well suited for social activation—like commenting on fashion on the red carpet. CNE created a live studio on budget, she says, and the company learned a lot from being one of Facebook’s top paid partners on live. But Marcus wants to keep CNE’s focus on whether these opportunities really add up to a good user experience rather than just feeding the live beast. “I think this incarnation of live as low-res, turning on the camera and talking, might not be its final incarnation,” she says.

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99% of Young Adults Multitask While Viewing

Americans are streaming a lot of TV, but how much of it are they really seeing? According to the 11th edition of the Deloitte Digital Democracy Survey, 73 percent of American consumers binge watch TV shows. Young adults are the strongest bingers, averaging six episodes and five hours per viewing session. They’re not simply glued to the screen during that couch time: 99 percent of millennials and generation Z viewers are multitasking by texting, browsing, using social networks, reading emails, and shopping online. How they can follow the twists of complex streaming series is a mystery.

In the latest high water mark for streaming services, Deloitte finds that 49 percent of U.S. consumers subscribe to a paid OTT service, while 74 percent subscribe to pay TV. For younger adults, nearly 60 percent subscribe to a paid streaming service. However, viewers spend 40 percent of their time streaming from free services and 35 percent of their time streaming from paid services.

The hardware used for streaming video varies by age: Millennial and generation Z viewers spend roughly half their viewing time watching on something other than a TV. Generation X spends 60 percent of their viewing time with a TV and baby boomers spend over 80 percent.

The reason pay TV subscription rates are as high as they are is largely due to bundled offerings. Deloitte finds 66 percent of pay TV subscribers keep their service because it’s bundled with internet and they’d pay more without it.

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Roku Moves From Audience Measurement To Demographic Guarantees

Two years after Roku starting working with Nielsen on audience measurement it’s become the first OTT platform to offer demographic guarantees based on Nielsen Digital Ad Ratings. “It’s a huge mile marker for our industry,” Jim Lombard, Head of Advertising Sales, says in this interview today with Beet.TV during a break at the 2017 Transformation conference of the 4A’s.

The advancement of Roku’s video ad platform capabilities helps advertisers reach audiences on its 300-plus channels that are drifting away from linear television while using detailed demographic metrics comparable to linear TV. “It allows for advertisers to transact the same way as they would with measurements in the linear space in the OTT space,” says Lombard.

Two years ago, Roku announced that it was working with Nielsen on audience measurement deals. The next logical step was audience guarantees, particularly since they are becoming more popular with linear TV buys.

“Essentially, what we’ve done is Roku registration data is matched with a third-party vendor,” Lombard explains. “The metadata is passed through in the ad call, and then Nielsen uses their measurement tool to be able to verify age and demo against that ad call.”

One of the ways Roku has differentiated itself is that its technology enables its channel partners to do targeting, measurement and interactivity. The company also has its own sales team that sells and monetizes inventory across more than 300 channels.

It’s also the only platform that has both comScore and Nielsen, according to Lombard.

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Will Snapchat’s Data Play Fend Off Competition?

Wall Street investors seem undecided about whether Snapchat is indeed the wave of the future or just a flash in the pan.

But one month after its IPO, the messaging app’s execs are doggedly focused on broadening Snapchat’s appeal to brands—notably direct response-minded companies.

“Snapchat has a perfect opportunity to become a direct response powerhouse, especially for location-based marketing to millennials,” said David Deal, digital marketing consultant. “Though Snapchat needs to mine data about millennials more effectively to beat Facebook and Instagram.”

To that end, effective April 3, millennial marketers will be able to zero in on Snapchat users who are most likely to download their brand’s app, targeting slivers or swaths of the platform’s 160 million users who have shown interest in either the brand or the functionality it’s offering. These app-install ads allow the marketer to set cost-per-download goals in a measure that’s designed to get app marketers of all budgets into Snapchat’s business client pool.

Snapchat, part of Snap Inc., has ramped up its machine-learning and audience-segmenting capabilities for app installs since its beta product went live in October—to date, it had offered only rudimentary targeting tools to a select number of brands. The new system charges ad buyers on a cost-per-thousand-impressions scale that’s based on auction-style, competitive bidding. “[It’s a] cost-efficient way to drive app installs right from Snapchat,” explained Peter Sellis, Snap’s director of monetization product.

Also today, brands can serve follow-up ads (re-marketing, in industry parlance) to those who have interacted with Snapchat’s sponsored lenses, geofilters or videos. Such behavioral data can be employed to reel in everything from a fitness app download, to a test-drive appointment for an automaker to a shoe purchase via ecommerce. The company believes advertisers will want to take aim at consumers in what direct response practitioners call the “consideration stage.”

“We’ve been listening closely to direct response advertisers,” Sellis revealed.

He’s listening for good reason: eMarketer’s latest figures for 2016 had the U.S. app-install advertising space valued at $5.7 billion. Facebook has reportedly, at times, seen up to 20 percent of its ad revenue, which totaled nearly $26.9 billion last year, from app installs. Google is increasingly a huge app-install contender, and Pinterest just last week rolled out its own app-install ads system. So, Snapchat’s competition is fierce.

“Right now, Snapchat doesn’t move users outside its own environment, so we would expect a longer time for user behavior to adapt,” remarked Emmy Spahr, media director at SapientRazorfish. “Pinterest, on the other hand, actively works across other websites and shopping experiences, so users are already engaging with the platform and websites—adding app downloads here would be seen as a value add.”

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Prime-time is still king, however you watch

It’s becoming increasingly clear that, despite the fact we can watch anytime, we continue to gravitate to traditional prime-time hours. And that is regardless of the device we are using.

Data from comScore shows that however we watch video, the most frequent time for viewing is between 8 and 11PM each night. Television, of course, has lived by primetime for decades. However, it looks like the DVR was made for it. In the peak viewing hour, 9 to 10PM, 17% of household DVR viewing takes place. Both television and online viewing see a much smaller peak, about 8%, occurring in that hour.

The BBC confirms that the peak of on-demand viewing occurs at almost the same time as regular television viewing. At 9PM, TV viewing peaks with 27 million viewers. The peak in iPlayer usage occurred slightly earlier in February 2017. There were 763,000 iPlayer TV requests about an hour earlier than the TV. Unlike TV viewing, however, the peak in iPlayer requests is sustained much longer, through until about 10PM.

Incidentally, the BBC points out that the Internet peak, which includes all consumer usage, not just video, occurs at 4PM.

Viewing peaks at primetime through all devices

In the recent free nScreenMedia white paper The Secret Life of Streamers, new Conviva data reveals that primetime is peak viewing time regardless of the screen used. The two biggest screens, the connected TV and the PC, show the biggest peaks at 9PM each night. During that hour, connected TV video plays are 2.7 times higher than in the average hour. PC video plays are 1.7 times bigger than average hour plays.

The tablet and smartphone peaks are twice the average hour plays for each device.

This data reflects the very different usage patterns for each of the connected devices. The connected TV is a favored device for consumers to turn to when they want to enjoy their favorite shows on SVOD. For example, Netflix reports most of its viewing is on connected TVs. Whereas, the smartphone is used more consistently throughout day. When it comes to nighttime viewing, consumers turn to the biggest screen at their disposal to watch high value content.

One interesting thing to note about the PC is the peak in viewing that occurs around noon each day. This may suggest that a favorite lunchtime activity at work is catching up with a favorite show, or the latest YouTube video.

On-demand viewing, bigger screens preferred for prime-time

This data suggests two things:

On-demand platforms support and enhance the viewers desire to watch during prime-time
Viewers continue to gravitate to the biggest screen available between 8-11PM.

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Ad Revenue Growth Predicted To Rise 3.7% In 2017

Global ad growth will slow in 2017 to 3.7%, with total advertising revenues reaching $511 billion, according to Interpublic Group’s Magna.
By comparison, Magna estimates that 2016 ad revenue grew at a stronger 5.7% pace, reaching $493 billion. Magna states the slower rate of growth is attributable to lack of cyclical events such as the Olympics and major political campaigns that added $3.5 billion in incremental ad spend last year.

Advertisers are reallocating their budgets. Digital-based ad sales will grow double-digits to become the top media category in 2017, Magna asserted, surpassing linear TV ad sales for the first time ($70 billion vs. $67 billion for national and local).

2016 was the first year when digital ad sales finally surpassed total linear television.

This shift took place years ago in many other countries analyzed by Magna — such as 10 years ago in the UK and two years ago in China. The fact it happened in 2016 in the U.S. is a testimony to the strength and resilience of television in America: “linear TV is losing viewers but remains attractive enough to national advertisers that they are — so far — willing to tolerate high CPM inflation to try and maintain their investment in the medium,” says the report.

Digital-based ad sales are approaching 40% of total sales in 2017 and projected to reach 50% by 2021. Magna found social and search captured the bulk (95%) of digital dollar growth in 2016: $10.5 billion out of $11 billion total net growth.

Social video was one of the key drivers in 2016, and this will continue in 2017 with the main social media networks competing to offer ever more video content to their users, including some premium content through partnerships with television and major sports leagues.

This will allow social media vendors — Facebook, Snap, Twitter — to offer new innovative video ad formats to advertisers, such as ads in live social streams, like the Facebook Video app on OTT. Driven by this continued video push, Magna expects social video ad sales to double again in 2017 to reach more than $4 billion dollars, or a third of total U.S. digital video ad sales, and 20% of total social media ad sales.

“While total marketing budgets are flat, the main driver of advertising growth at the moment is below-the-line direct marketing budgets (e.g. direct mail) being re-allocated towards Search and Social by big and small businesses,” stated Vincent Létang, EVP global market intelligence, Magna. “Most of the net advertising dollar growth will be taken from traditional direct marketing budgets rather than new marketing spend.”

U.S. advertising sales grew by nearly 6.6% this year to $180 billion, which Magna asserted was the strongest growth in six years, and it’s a new all-time high for U.S. ad dollars.

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