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Worldwide, news publishers face a “platform reset”
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May 23, 2016, 4:28 p.m.
Business Models
LINK:  ➚   |   Posted by: Joseph Lichterman   |   May 23, 2016

On April 25, publishers, platforms, and industry groups including ESPN, Google, and The Guardian met in New York to discuss how to deal with the continued threat of adblocking.

The meeting was organized by Johnny Ryan, the head of ecosystem at PageFair, a company that builds technology to circumvent adblocking, and Jason Kint, CEO of industry trade group Digital Content Next. This was the third such meeting that has been organized — the previous two took place in London last fall and earlier this spring.

Though the meeting was private, the participants came away with seven takeaways that they’re sharing publicly, offering interested parties advice on how to best deal with the threat of adblocking.

While this was a cross-industry group, one relevant party wasn’t included in the meeting, though: Adblocking companies themselves. Eyeo, the company behind the popular Adblock Plus adblocker, put on its own meeting between publishers and advertisers last fall in New York. DCN and the Interactive Advertising Bureau were invited to that meeting but didn’t attend.

Regardless, here are the seven recommendations that the participants in the April meeting came up with for dealing with “the blocked web” — the Internet that users see when they browse with an adblocker turned on.

1. “On the blocked web, the user must have immediate tools to reject and to complain about advertising.”

Though the participants didn’t agree on the best way for consumers to reject ads, they did agree that there needs to be an element of choice for users. Consumers, Kint said, need to be part of the advertising experience.

“There was an agreement that there needs to be a feedback loop from the consumer,” Kint said. “There needs to be some element of choice…a more productive set of tools, or the ability for consumers to express feedback to advertisers. That could mean everything from technology that better signals a consumer issue in the adtech space, to the consumer being able to express in real time that ads are causing issues.”

2. “Rather than restore all ads on the blocked web, only a limited number of premium advertising slots should be restored. This will make a better impact for brands, clean up the user experience, and incentivize better creative.”

In a race to generate as much revenue as they can from web ads, publishers have loaded their pages with too many display ads.

“Publishers needing to monetize their pages has resulted in more and more ads and less ability to push back on certain ads that negatively impact the consumer,” Kint said. “So, you end up with less consumer trust, a worse consumer experience, and it becomes a vicious cycle.”

In response, publishers should offer fewer ads and charge a premium for them. “Inventory is scarce, therefore it’s expensive,” Ryan said.

3. “The blocked web may provide the opportunity to establish a new form of above-the-line advertising.”

Much existing digital advertising is an attempt to collect data around users. Publishers and advertisers need to move away from this practice, Kint and Ryan argued.

“We’re not looking to invent some new sexy thing,” Ryan said. “Advertising needs to go back to a simpler place. Less intrusion is more. We’re talking about ads that would resonate very well.”

These wouldn’t necessarily be native ads, but they’d be ads that aren’t distracting and don’t take away from the editorial content. “They’re not ads that have an X that you have to go out of your way to click,” Kint said.

4. “Contextual targeting can be used on the blocked web to establish ad relevance if other forms of tracking are not practical or desirable.”

Though users don’t like being tracked by advertisers, there are other ways to target ads toward them.

“You show a relevant ad by taking a look at what you’re reading,” Ryan said. “It’s not snooping. If this article is about golf, let’s show this guy a set of golf clubs or an insurance policy for his home, because golfers tend to be homeowner.”

Contextual targeting may be the most difficult of these recommendations to accept.

“On the blocked web, you no longer have third-party data collection, cookies, and ways to track the user out of context,” Kint said. “Consumers have said, ‘I don’t want that to happen anymore.’ Whether it’s the data and privacy piece, the security issues that get introduced, or the latency that happens because of all those third parties, tracking is not acceptable. You have to find another way to bring value to the advertiser.”

5. On the blocked web, where third-party tracking is largely blocked, publishers can create new value by engaging with their users to elicit volunteered data.

This type of interaction already happens when readers sign up for email newsletters or voluntarily take online surveys.

“They do it all the time already, with personalization and other ways that they get value back in return,” Kint said. “It’s been happening forever. This is more about the realization and acceptance that third-party tracking has gone away with adblocking.”

6. “Measuring advertising success on the blocked web with broader top-of-funnel metrics may incentivize buyers to focus on value rather than cheapness. A second benefit is that such metrics (example: engagement time) can be unified across digital and non-digital media.”

Publishers such as The Economist and The Financial Times are already selling ads based on engagement time.

“The value is aligned with the consumer actually experiencing the product, on a cost-per-hour or cost-per-second model,” Kint said.

7. “On the web as a whole, there should be a maximum pageload time standard that publishers and advertisers both commit to. The growing hazard of adblocking may incentivize this.”

Facebook’s Instant Articles and Google’s AMP already emphasize speed. Publishers are also getting on the bandwagon: Last week, The Washington Post announced its own high-speed mobile site.

Publishers have lots of room for improvement when it comes to reducing the amount of data their sites consume. Last year, The New York Times analyzed the speed and data usage of five mobile news sites. The ads on The Boston Globe’s, for example, took on average about 30 seconds to fully load.

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