A Boon For Hulugans, Streamers and Cord Cutters

Today’s content is written by Alexa Paradis

Hulu has always been a leading force in the streaming age, differentiating itself from Netflix by offering current seasons of network shows in addition to their vast library of shows and movies. This made them the perfect match for cord-cutters who wanted immediate access to new episodes of their favorite shows. On May 3 during their 2017 Upfront, Hulu announced that they were now offering a live TV subscription that includes over 50 channels to start that will grow over the current year. The current channel offerings include all 4 Broadcast networks, all major sports networks, 5 children’s networks along with the Scripps channels just to name a few. This package will not replace their normal streaming subscriptions but instead be an add-on for customers that will cost $40 per month and also come with the ability to stream on multiple screens at once, quite less then the average cable bill. “Hulu can now be a viewer’s primary source of television,” said Hulu CEO Mike Hopkins. “It’s a natural extension of our business, and an exciting new chapter for Hulu.” As a millennial that cut the cord once I moved out of my parents’ house, I would definitely consider adding this onto my normal Hulu subscription especially if it means I can be watching the new episode of Scandal while my boyfriend watches the Yankee game in the other room.

For advertisers this means even more inventory on Hulu, in addition to their 32 million viewers who opt for ad-supported content advertisers now have access to the standard 2 minutes of local breaks per hour on cable networks. Also announced was a new deal with Nielsen, Hulu said advertisers will have access to Nielsen’s Digital Ad Ratings (DAR) across connected-TV devices starting in the fall of 2017, to provide a validated measurement solution across screens. Another amazing new feature for advertisers is the launch of T-commerce interactive ads in partnership with BrightLine that will let subscribers purchase movie tickets through their connected TVs. The on-screen purchasing capabilities will expand to other categories like retail and quick-serve restaurants in 2018.

Aside from the exciting announcement of the live TV subscription Hulu touted their extensive release schedule of original programing for this year with all of their biggest stars stepping on stage to share their excitement. Stars of the instant hit “The Handmaid’s Tail” announced that not only did they have the most streamed series premiere on the platform out of original and acquired series but they have already been green lit for a second season. Other exciting original series announced were Marvels “Runaway Teens”, Mars mission drama “The First” from House of Cards creator Beau Willimon, Seth Rogen’s project “Future Man”, Sarah Silverman’s political comedy series “America, I love You”, “The Looming Tower” which will star Alec Baldwin along with the series finale of “The Mindy Project”.

A powerful moment took place when Mindy Kaling took the stage for her last upfront and thanked Hulu for being a place that all types of women can be showcased and celebrated, which is not something you can find in many types of entertainment today. This certainly sets Hulu apart from their traditional network counterparts as a way to connect with Millennials who place a high value on inclusivity of all types of characters, especially female ones.

This year’s upfront showed that Hulu is remaining vigilant in their quest to be streamers go-to service and advertisers go-to platform to reach a diverse and highly engaged audience. The company shows no signs of slowing down their innovation either.

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Private Equity

Over the last few weeks there has been much reported about problems with automated digital buying, whether it’s Facebook’s misreporting of metrics, YouTube ads running within controversial videos or the latest that Header Bidding isn’t fixing brand safety problems. This problem has major implications on the future of the business of digital publishing.

Over the last few years open market real time bidding has taken off, driven primarily by agencies who are looking to arbitrage pricing to improve their overall margins. They create imaginary companies, agency trading desks, which simply sell inventory to themselves to sell to their clients at significantly higher CPMs than they paid. Agencies are looking for low price inventory that provides the highest margin. Clients aren’t looking deeply enough at site lists and sources of clicks to see how much bad traffic and click fraud is occurring. There’s just too much to wade through to find out.

This creates a need for publishers to create more impressions to sell through low quality and low cost content. Publishers created click bait and fraudulent traffic to make up for the “race to the bottom” pricing being offered by buyers. Sites like Buzzfeed, Diply, Answers, and Mashable use social media to generate traffic to content of absolutely no consequence;  “listicles” that require multiple clicks to complete. Each click results in a fresh set of ads being loaded and charged to advertisers. The industry went too far and now it is time to return to more reasonable practices.

As a buyer who embraces programmatic buying of digital advertising for many clients I see the value in using data to better select which ad impressions to bid on based on our clients’ needs. I counsel my clients not to use programmatic just to save money, but to use it to minimize waste that comes from buying “media space” instead of “audiences”.

Header bidding will help in allowing publishers to evaluate all bids simultaneously, thereby selling the impression to the highest bidder but there is little incentive for them to minimize the click bait approach that leads to the wormhole. The best outcome for all parties is for faster adoption of private marketplace (PMP) deals that can be executed programmatically. There is more transactional transparency for all parties. Publishers can better control who advertises on their pages and marketers can have better control of brand safety and content they approve of.

Accept the higher CPM that PMP’s require because you’ll be getting the same results or better on effectiveness. Don’t let low CPMs be the barometer for your digital media buy.

 

Programmatic for B2B Publishers

A short piece I wrote for B2B publishers on programmatic in advance of a conference I’m speaking at.

http://campaign.r20.constantcontact.com/render?m=1120289682256&ca=7cb6affe-0b52-41a9-943f-10ae1f0cd00c

When Walking Away Is The Right Decision

I hate walking away from prospective business, but a recent situation made me realize that sometimes that is the best outcome. A few months ago I received an inquiry from someone purported to be a consultant who was given our name through a mutual business friend. She was looking to bring in a new media agency for a small HBC company. The brief she sent focused on two objectives; reduce the agency fee and improve the media efficiency (she meant to say lower the CPM because media efficiency and media cost are not the same thing).

I scheduled a conference call with her and one of my key people, while on vacation, to discuss the project and see if it made sense for us to participate. We opted to go forward and had an in-person meeting with the consultant the following week. As she briefed us it became clear that she was asking for spec work, a fully fleshed out media plan—read my prior post on this subject here http://wp.me/p2edMw-2s

There is a certain amount of spec work I am willing to do in a new business pitch. Anything more than that I ask to be paid for. In this case I asked for a “go-away” fee on the work if they did not hire us. It’s an interesting approach in that often times the work is good enough that it forces the prospect to hire us or pay two agencies. The problem here is that we wanted a lot more than the prospect was willing to pay. They did not put the same value on our work as we did. Our ask was 10X what they were willing to pay.

We settled on an intermediate number, but I insisted that it be only if the client agreed to our ongoing fee structure. It made no sense for us to continue if the client wasn’t intending on paying us the compensation rates we wanted. The consultant danced around the commitment and kept insisting that we needed to do the spec work and the fees would work out. Red flag number 1.

Red flag number 2: the consultant asked us to break out our fees for planning and buying separately because she wanted to manage some of the buying herself. Apparently she had a relationship in the :10 TV unit space and wanted to be more than the consultant. She was going to push for the agency that allowed her to maintain this position—and likely the one who planned the most :10’s.

It was then that we decided that we did not want to pursue the assignment because there would be a lot of spec work, which even if they did not hire us, would benefit the consultant more than the client or us.

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The Value Of Content

If someone asked you to work for free would you do it? I would not. But many publishers do this all the time. They allow their content to be served to people who use ad-blockers. Most publishers would say that about 20% of traffic comes from devices with ad-blockers. I don’t understand why sites would serve content to people who block ads. It’s like working for free.

Today the Financial Times launched an interesting defense on ad-blockers. Rather than serve up content with no chance of selling the ad impressions the digital newspaper is testing hiding a percentage of the words in its story to point out how advertising revenue funds the content.

The New York Times is being more direct by insisting that people whitelist their site from the ad-blocker to receive content. This is a big step in the right direction for media content providers. Content costs money. Good content costs more than bad content. Advertising is a necessary aspect of most publishers’ sites because very few people will pay for content with cash. Why should a business give its product away just because a device has an ad-blocker on it?

These steps by FT and the NYT reminds people that quality content can only be provided if there is a revenue exchange. Publishers need to stand firm on blocking content to those who do not want to pay for it. Visitors either need to pay cash or pay attention. The ad-blocking phenomenon will only end if content providers don’t enable them. Don’t work for free.

Read more in this article from Ad Age.

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The Battle Over The Pipeline

No, not the Keystone Pipeline, but the pipeline delivering content into US homes. Yesterday the FCC proposed a framework (whatever that means) for providing innovators, app developers and device manufacturers the information they need to develop new technologies. A link to the FCC’s statement on this is here: http://transition.fcc.gov/Daily_Releases/Daily_Business/2016/db0127/DOC-337449A1.pdf

So who is for and who is against?

No surprise, cable companies are against this because it does something they hate most, it creates competition for accessing TV programming. It also removes an important revenue stream—renting boxes to subscribers, generating billions to their coffers.

Basically everyone else in the world supports this. Imagine people having their own boxes (think Roku, AppleTV, Google Fiber) and deciding what programming they want through their cable company and what programming they want direct.

Another benefit for consumers will be the ease to transition from Cable TV to SVOD to YouTube, etc on your TV monitor. My favorite part might be a single remote instead of three. The question that remains is whether this will eventually reduce costs or increase costs. People are willing to pay for multiple services and convenience, so it could go either way.

Video content providers will see a boon and direct access to subscribers without having to be held captive to cable company’s demands and idiosyncrasies. With millions of options for video content people will curate their own personal networks. We will likely see even more short-form content with fewer ads as either pre-roll or in-stream with more real time ad insertion and addressability.

In the words of the French poet Paul Valery, “The future isn’t what it used to be”.

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To Boldly Go…

You know I can only be talking about Star Trek, unless you’ve been in a cave for the last fifty years. CBS announced today a new Star Trek TV Series, but with a twist in distribution. The first episode will air on the traditional CBS network, but all subsequent episodes will only be available on CBS’ All Access SVOD service.

SVOD is a growing phenomenon, currently with about half of all homes subscribing to one service or another. The main players are Netflix, Amazon and Hulu. HBO just hit 5% of homes. CBS currently leads the next tier of providers, each with less than 2% of users.

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CBS is looking to jumpstart their paid subs with this move, but is one program—albeit a series with a huge cult following—enough? Time will tell.

The more important aspect of what’s going on here is testing the viability of a new distribution system and a new revenue model. Netflix and Amazon have used original series to accelerate their uptake, but it’s more of a value-add for a new subscriber to their tremendous archive of movies and TV shows. HBO, already a paid service is growing—as pointed out above. Younger consumers are cutting cords, not spending their time with the same traditional media their predecessor generations used. The fact of the matter is CBS has to be successful with this move. They have no choice. Today’s announcement should quickly be followed by more of the same. Their future depends on it.

The Dark Side of Programmatic Buying

Programmatic digital can be dicey when it comes to getting what you paid for and you should be concerned about fraud, bots, safety, and viewability issues that result in bad outcomes.

A few months ago a prospective client asked me to evaluate a small programmatic buy her agency had executed for her with one DSP. The agency thought the buy was great, given that they drove a CTR of .48%, higher than most campaigns with a CPM of $1.40. On the surface I would agree.

That is, until I looked at the source of clicks report. This was a small enough campaign, just under 10,000 clicks, that a simple scan of the source of the clicks made me question the real value of the campaign. Many of the URL’s were from out of the US (Belgium, Brazil, Malaysia to name a few) but his was supposed to be a US campaign. Many were from sites that I could not load if I tried. Many seemed to be legitimate sites, but the visits were very low quality and very brief. The average session time for clicks from this DSP was 1/3rd to 1/4th the next lowest referrer. Average page views were even lower.

I sent the source of clicks list to a third party fraud and safety expert for their opinion. About 50% of the clicks were “High Risk” for fraud and another 5% were “Suspect”.

So if this is true, the client’s CPC for real clicks just doubled, at a minimum. Since I knew which DSP was used I asked them for their opinion on the third party auditor’s findings. I was shocked at the response from the DSP salesperson; we take brand safety very seriously and we’re more than happy to deliver on any parameters mandated.  Normally, during campaign negotiations we need to know in advance if a campaign is being measured by a third party and we’ll set up with daily reporting so that we can optimize out of those placements, sites, creative, and or content driving fraud.” 

Let me translate this for you. He said that if they knew we were going to look at a third party safety audit that they would not have delivered those impressions. Want to know what was worse? The CEO of the DSP echoed the same sentiments when I raised the issue up the line.

Fraud and bot clicks are going to happen. Clients and their partners who focus exclusively on getting the lowest CPM or CPC will find that they are actually paying more than they think for real inventory. Use a third party verification service for your campaigns, even if it is just to keep the people you’re giving money to honest.

For more info go to http://www.ocdmedia.com

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Is Your Marketing An Investment Or A Cost?

Never underestimate the importance of goal setting and strategy in media. While smart media buying will save you money, smart media strategy will make you money. Without a well thought out media plan you are not getting the most from your budget because you have not determined what you should buy and what you should not. While what you buy may be priced well relative to other options, buying the wrong media is wasteful no matter what the price is. And all too often advertisers and their agencies let buying lead the media process or are missing the connection between the plan strategy and the buy.

Would you use an investment strategy of buying only stocks that are less than $10 per share? And would you use the broker who charges the least per transaction because all he has to do is tell you how much of a given stock is available when you are ready to buy? Or does this sound crazy to you? It is crazy. But what’s crazier is that some companies handle their largest investment, advertising media, in this manner.

This approach is designed to limit your costs, but what you may not know is it also limits your return. Successful media buying, much like having success in the stock market, depends on good research and good timing because the basis of both is supply and demand. The biggest difference is that media buying is more negotiable than the stock market, an extra level of complexity that ultimately determines how much you will pay for your ad time/space.

And negotiating is something large media buying agencies on the whole don’t do as well as their smaller sized competitors. “How can this be?” you ask. “My agency buys gazillions of dollars of ad time, they have to get better prices than the agencies who buy less. It’s simple math. You buy more you get a better price.” Remember Lucy and Ethel in the chocolate factory in that classic “I Love Lucy” episode? That is what being a media buyer in a mega-media agency is like. You don’t have time to “wrap” the schedule properly because you have three more buys to get on the air that day.

Negotiating is about give and take, a certain back and forth. If you’re using one of these big guys chances are you’re not getting the best price because the buyer cares more about getting four buys on the air, and less about buying the right inventory. It’s easier for them to only buy the lowest priced stuff because they don’t have to worry about value. But you should because your media buy is your investment in your brand like your stock portfolio is your investment in your retirement, not an expense on your P&L.

Smart media planning let’s you know which media does and does not make sense for your efforts. It helps tell you which media to stay away from. Buying the wrong media because it’s cheap is as wasteful as buying premium priced media that isn’t right for you. Neither one will produce results.

An approach that recognizes the importance of strategy means targeting the right people at the right time, yielding a smarter use of your marketing resources. Make it easier for a buyer to buy effectively because they know the difference between price and value.

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Who Is Minding The Store

The marketing world is being turned upside down. There are as many as 25 major media reviews going on right now, as I wrote about in my last post. There are many theories as to why; Is it the agency kickbacks/rebate issue? Is it about service pricing? Is it about getting better expertise? Any one of these is legitimate enough and I’m sure there is a mix of reasons. For the agencies the impact is tremendous. Whether it’s to retain or acquire the account the resource dedication for a pitch of this magnitude is huge.

I’ve run new business and worked at more than one of the agencies involved in these pitches. Dozens of people, freelancers hired to help, weeks and weeks of late nights and weekends. This isn’t done in someone’s spare time, because they have none. People are working on the pitch throughout the day and into the night.

So what does this mean to existing clients? One unintended consequence of these reviews is the labor shortage it creates on existing clients because all hands are on deck for these pitches. It means someone who is supposed to be working on your business is not. It means the junior people are doing more of the work because the senior people are involved in the pitch. It doesn’t mean total neglect, it means inattentiveness to everyday matters. And that’s when mistakes happen. An assistant sends an incorrect IO to a media company. A cancellation order doesn’t get issued. A decimal place is off on a CPM and a plan is totally miscalculated. These things happen and they usually happen when people are forced to choose where to devote their time.

Also, in every new business pitch these agencies are being asked to show the organization chart if they win. No one shows empty boxes. They are promising your people to the new client. Don’t be surprised to find out your favorite person is being reassigned.

If your account is at one of the agencies involved in these pitches pay close attention to how many mistakes happen during this time. Pay attention to who is/isn’t involved everyday. It will give you an indication of how important a client you are to them.

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