Thanks to our sponsor Google, we got the full first day of last week’s CM Summit, featuring Fred Wilson fresh from the Tumblr deal, Pinterest CEO Ben Silbermann, and about 20 speakers in between for your viewing pleasure. Enjoy!
The world is atwitter about Tumblr’s big exit to Yahoo!, and from what I can tell it seems this one is going to really happen (ATD is covering it well). There are plenty of smart and appropriate takes on why this move makes sense (see GigaOm) but I think a lot of it boils down to the trends driving Yahoo’s massive display business.
If there’s one thing we all know, it’s that a new form of native advertising is spreading throughout the Internet. It started with Google and AdWords, it spread to Twitter and its Promoted Tweets, and Facebook quickly followed with Sponsored Stories. At FMP, we have sponsored posts and our Native Conversationalist suite, which we are scaling now across the “rest of the web” – the smaller but super influential independent sites that we believe are major suppliers of “the oxygen of the Internet” – the content that drives true engagement. Other companies are adopting similar strategies – Buzzfeed is building a content marketing network, and Sharethrough has moved past its “wrap a YouTube ad in a player and call it native” phase and into more truly native units as well.
The reason native works is because the advertising is treated as a unit of content on the platform where it lives. That may seem obvious, but it’s an important observation. When a brands’s content competes on equal footing alongside a publisher’s content, everyone wins. Those search ads – they win if they are contextually relevant and add value to the consumer’s search results. Those promoted tweets only get promoted if people respond to them – a signal of relevance and value. The same is true for all truly “native” ad products. If the native ad content is good, it will get engagement. The industry is evolving toward rewarding advertising that doesn’t interrupt and is relevant and value additive. That’s a good thing.
Left out of this evolution, until now, has been Yahoo!. When you break it down, Yahoo! is a Very Large Display Advertising business, with a hefty side of search and a bit of this and that on top. And that display advertising business is going through a wrenching shift, as buyers move to more efficient programmatic channels (for a visualization, see my last post). CPMs (cost per thousand, the unit of value for display advertising) are rapidly declining for “standard display” units – the boxes and rectangles that built Yahoo! and much of the rest of the web.
It will take a couple of years for those ads to A/evolve into new forms that are standardized and B/be driven by data and real-time programmatic rules in ways that brands can really trust (it’s already working for direct response, but that’s not the end game). Display will always be around, but as I said, it’s in a significant evolutionary phase, and the short to mid term reality is this: CPMs are dropping, and Yahoo! has a massive display business.
At the same time, we’re all shifting our attention to mobile devices, and we’ve adopted the “stream” as our preferred method of content discovery and consumption. That stream doesn’t work so well with standard display. But it’s great for native units.
Yahoo! is already shifting its home page and other content sections to a stream like interface. Tumblr offers only native ad units (founder David Karp lifted his strategy pretty much wholesale from Twitter’s “the ad is the tweet” philosophy). And Tumblr was built from the ground up as an activity stream.
I’ll write another time about how I believe that display and native will eventually merge – via the programmatic exchange. For now, Yahoo’s move gives it an asset that its branded display sales force can sell as sexy: native, content-driven advertising at scale. A good move.
I’m very proud to announce “Behind the Banner“, a visualization I’ve been producing with Jer Thorp and his team from The Office for Creative Research, underwritten by Adobe as part of the upcoming CM Summit next week. You can read more about it in this release, but the real story of this project starts with my own quest to understand the world of programmatic trading of advertising inventory – a world that at times feels rather like a hot mess, and at other times, like the future of not only all media, but all data-driven experiences we’ll have as a society, period.
I’m a fan of Terry Kawaja and his Lumascapes – Terry was an advisory to us as we iterated this project. But I’ve always been a bit mystified by those diagrams – you have to be pretty well steeped in the world of adtech to grok how all those companies work together. My goal with Behind the Banner was to demystify the 200 or so milliseconds driving each ad impression – to break down the steps, identify the players, make it a living thing. I think this first crack goes a long way toward doing that – like every producer, I’m not entirely satisfied with it, but damn, it’s the best thing I’ve seen out there so far.
I am deeply grateful to all the folks who helped us make this happen, in particular Jared Cook at Adobe, and a legion of leaders in the industry who reviewed early versions, including Walter Knapp, Bill Demas, Ned Brody, Brian O’Kelley, Ann Lewnes, and dozens more who helped me research and imagine what this might end up looking like.
So take a look and tell me what you think. It’s far too complex to embed here, so we have it running over on the CM Summit site. If nothing else, it should get folks talking, and I hope you’ll help us make it better by leaving a comment here, or sending me mail with your thoughts.
Oh, and while you are at the site, check out the conference lineup. We are almost sold out of tickets, and it’s going to be one heckuva conversation, so please join us!
In case you have any interest, here’s a short clip of me opining on Google Glass and the upcoming OpenCoNYC, which is going to be HOT. More on that soon.
I’ve been a bit slow to update this site lately, as my return to Federated Media, and preparation for the CM Summit and OpenCo NYC, have pretty much eaten up all my time lately. But I did want to repost a few things I have written elsewhere, starting with this article in Ad Age, written two weeks ago.
Titled Publishers, Ad-Tech Firms, Marketers Need to Connect, Build Trust (no, I didn’t write that headline, if I was in charge, it might have been “Hold Hands or Die Apart” – pageviews, ya know?), the article argues that our industry is not yet prepared for what the market is going to demand – solutions that integration adtech and brand marketing. Here’s a sampling:
Something troubling has jumped out at me. There’s an extraordinary asymmetry of information among these three important players in our industry, and a disturbing sense of distrust. Brand marketers don’t believe that ad-tech companies view brands as true partners. Ad-tech companies think brand marketers are paying attention to the wrong things. And publishers, with a few important exceptions, feel taken advantage of by everyone.
Here’s a representative sample of things I’ve heard:
“If I had it to do over again, I am not sure I’d be in publishing. You can’t win over the machines.”
“Brand marketers are wasting their money. If they’d just get smarter about data, they’d realize content doesn’t matter — what matters is leveraging what you know about a customer. They’ll never get it. “
“The Lumascape has devolved into a pay-per-click machine. Tech companies are too full of themselves. I don’t trust them. It’s a “black box.’ “
“Agencies and technology companies are leveraging their data advantage to arbitrage publishers’ inventory — and even their marketing clients’ spend — so as to pad their bottom lines.”
“I won’t put any of my inventories on exchanges — the last time I did, CPMs were so low it was embarrassing.”
This isn’t a pretty picture. But even as I hear statements like these, I also hear story after story about how data-driven marketing practices are working. Publishers like Forbes, Ziff Davis and Weather.com have seen revenue from “programmatic premium” rise to as much as 20% of total top line, up from 5% or so just a year ago. (Programmatic premium is the practice of running premium inventory through programmatic channels in ways that “protect” that inventory, such as building private marketplaces or adding publisher first-party data.)
Smart marketers are leveraging ad tech to drive real brand lift, conversion and sales. And a platoon of top ad-tech companies are preparing to go public in the next 12 months, hardly a sign that they have business models built on shady business practices. (We’d do well to recall that Google went public one year after “click fraud” was considered pervasive in the search marketplace.)
What we have here is a failure of communication and shared values. The brand marketers I speak with acknowledge that they don’t understand how to map their brand-building skills to the offerings of ad-tech companies. The ad-tech companies confide that they don’t understand the motivations of brand marketers (nor do they believe it would be profitable to try).
For more, head to Ad Age.
(image) Back in 2005 I whipped off a post with a title that has recently become relevant again – “Traffic of Good Intent.” That post keyed off a major issue in the burgeoning search industry – click fraud. In the early days of search, click fraud was a huge problem (that link is from 2002!). Pundits (like me) claimed that because everyone was getting paid from fraud, it was “something of a whistling-past-the-graveyard issue for the entire (industry).” Cnet ran a story in 2004 identifying bad actors who created fake content, then ran robots over AdSense links on those pages. It blamed the open nature of the Web as fueling the fraudsters, and it noted that Google could not comment, because it was in its quiet period before an IPO.
But once public, Google did respond, suing bad actors and posting extensive explanations of its anti-fraud practices. Conversely, a major fraud-based class action lawsuit was filed against all of the major search engines. Subsequent research suggested that as much as 30% of commercial clicks were fraudulent - remember, this was after Google had gone public, and after the issue had been well-documented and endlessly discussed in the business and industry press. The major players in search finally banded together to fight the problem – understanding full well that without a united front and open communication, trust would never be established.
Think about that little history lesson – a massive, emerging new industry, one that was upending the entire marketing ecosystem, was operating under a constant cloud of “fraud” which may have been poisoning nearly a third of the revenues in the space. Yet billions in revenue and hundreds of billions in market value was still created. And after several years of lawsuits, negative press, and lord-knows-how-much-fraud, the clickfraud story has pretty much been forgotten.
It should. Because the same movie is once again playing, but this time the problem has migrated to the open ecosystem of programmatic display. As anyone who’s studied the LUMAscape knows, we now have a VC-fueled industry worth billions, with many players primed to go public in the coming year or so. And the original search players – Google in particular, but also Microsoft and Yahoo! – are also major actors in this new industry.
My post from January of this year - It’s Time To Call Out Fraud In The Adtech Ecosystem - summarized the new breed of fraud in our industry, and recently, many publications have intensified their coverage of the topic. In late February, I invited a handful of adtech CEOs to a lunch where we discussed the issue, and everyone at the table – from AppNexus to Google, OpenX to MediaOcean – agreed that it was time to address the problem head on.
And that’s how we got to the news this past week that the IAB is standing up a task force on “Traffic of Good Intent.” I’m proud to be a co-chair of the group (and yes, the name does come from that 2005 post in these pages). This time around, there are many more players, a much larger industry, and a far more complicated ecosystem. But it’s worth remembering that bad actors always take advantage of open systems. It’s up to us to unite and drive them back. We should all be trading in traffic of good intent – real human beings, engaged with real content and services across the Internet. Our customers, partners, investors, and our good company names depend on it.
I look forward to the work.
A year or so ago a friend and colleague approached me with a crazy idea – what if we tried to re-invent the tech conference, expanding it to become a celebration of all innovative companies that are inspired by the values of the open Internet? And further, what if it wasn’t a conference at all, in the normal sense, but more of a festival, a combination of an artist’s open studio, a music festival, and a business event?
That’s what became OpenCo, an “inside out” conference where instead of sitting in a stuffy hotel ballroom, you go our into the modern working city, to see founders talk about their companies in their native environment.
Last Fall in San Francisco, we tested the idea with a pilot, and more than 2000 folks registered to go visit companies like Twitter, airbnb, Google, The Melt, and scores more (85 in all).
Today, we’re announcing that thanks in large part to our Tour Sponsor American Express OPEN Forum, the OpenCo platform is coming to four cities this year – starting this coming May 22-24 in New York.
But to get there we need your support too. I don’t directly ask for help from all of you, but this time I am. I believe in OpenCo as a movement – the kinds of businesses we curate into the festival are literally changing the world, and this festival lets them open their doors to the public and share their knowledge with the community. We keep at least a third of the tickets for to the public, but we also sell tickets at various levels for those who want to ensure they get access to the companies they really want to see. We’ve raised an IndieGoGo campaign to cover our hard costs. That’s all I want to do – see this idea spread.
So please go to the campaign and support OpenCo at any level you can.
Companies in New York that will be opening their doors include Warby Parker, Etsy, Foursquare, Kickstarter, Buzzfeed, Business Insider, Lerer Ventures, General Assembly, Rebelmouse, RapGenius, and many, many more. If you have a New York business, you can apply to be an OpenCo here.
THANK YOU FOR SUPPORTING US!
OpenCo Innovation Festival Expands To New York City, London, Detroit and San Francisco for 2013
Indiegogo Funding Campaign, Host Company Application Process and Early Attendee Registration Open Today
SAN FRANCISCO, April 9, 2013 – Today OpenCo, a new kind of conference-as-festival where a city’s most innovative companies open their doors to the general public, announced the expansion of the event series for 2013. On the heels of a very successful inaugural San Francisco event last Fall, OpenCo is expanding to highlight innovation on the East Coast via an event in New York City from May 22-24, 2013 as part of Internet Week New York.
To support the overall OpenCo initiative, an Indiegogo campaign launches today to help cover fixed costs related to event logistics. There are currently four pledge levels, each offering a selection of value-added benefits. Please visit the OpenCo Indiegogo page to pledge your support of innovation in New York and to get first dibs on visiting exciting companies like Buzzfeed, Etsy, Foursquare, Thrillist, Warby Parker and many more!
Additional dates and details for the OpenCo events launching in London, Detroit and San Francisco will also be available shortly via the OpenCo website.
How OpenCo Works for Attendees
- On May 23-24, OpenCoNY participants will be able to attend hourly, citywide “open studio” sessions led by participating host companies (HostCos).
- Just as with bands and stages at a multi-day music festival, attendees go to the OpenCo website to customize an event schedule from “tracks” that are curated according to industry and neighborhood.
- Individuals who make a pledge to support OpenCo via Indiegogo will receive early access to the schedule picker site and will be able to build their personal schedule according to the following tiers:
- $500 Backstage pledges gain access on Monday, April 29th.
- $100 Reserved pledges gain access on Monday, May 6th.
- $25 Fan pledges and the general public gains access on Monday, May 13th.
- The event is free for anyone who wants to attend, so sign up now by visiting openco.us.
- Space is limited and we expect the event to reach capacity very quickly. In fact, more than 2,000 people registered for the San Francisco event during the three-week window.
How OpenCo Works for HostCos
- The HostCo application process officially opens today, but scores of companies have already expressed their support and interest in participating including: AOL, AppNexus, Betaworks, Bloomberg, Business Insider, Buzzfeed, Estee Lauder Online, Etsy, Fab.com, Foursquare, General Assembly, Kickstarter, Lerer Ventures, Local Response, Pave, PolicyMic, Rap Genius, Rebelmouse, Thrillist, Warby Parker, ZocDoc.
- These participating host companies will share their business vision, outline their founding principles and values, and discuss what it means to be part of NY’s collaborative ecosystem.
- Each HostCo is required to host at least 20 attendees – but the more the better.
- The event is free for HostCos, so feel free to suggest an innovative company as a potential HostCo by visiting openco.us.
Backstage Access Kick off Event with Special Guests
OpenCoNY will launch the evening of May 22 with an invitation-only, VIP event at The Altman Building that will feature intimate discussions with Chad Dickerson, CEO at Etsy, Bob Pittman, CEO at Clear Channel Communications, Matt Seiler, Global CEO at IPG Mediabrands and Eric Hippeau, partner at Lerer Ventures. Interested attendees who submit an Indiegogo pledge for $500 or more will receive coveted back-stage access to this event in addition to other great perks.
Those Who Make OpenCo Possible
OpenCo is made possible by a list of impressive organizations that have pledged their support as partners. Founding partner is American Express OPEN. The OpenCo event series is produced by BattelleMedia.
“Innovation is everywhere and by opening up the doors to these openly collaborative companies, OpenCo gives investors, job seekers and curious neighbors the chance to hear these inspiring stories firsthand,” said John Battelle, OpenCo co-founder and CEO at Federated Media Publishing.
“The best way to experience and learn about the innovation economy isn’t in a stuffy conference room – it is up close and personal and on their turf,” said Brian Monahan, OpenCo co-founder and managing partner at MAGNA GLOBAL, part of IPG Mediabrands. “All participating companies share a commitment to open communication and open collaboration that is the hallmark of modern, innovative businesses. We are thrilled to bring the OpenCo philosophy to New York for Internet Week this year.”
OpenCo is a mix between a business conference and artist’s open studio with the vibe of a music festival. The events offer job seekers, investors, marketers and curious neighbors direct access to the leaders of the most innovative companies across the globe and in their natural habitat.
Visit openco.us for more information.
The agenda for our seventh annual CM Summit is live. And it rocks. You can read all about it here. I am really looking forward to this conversation, mainly due to the quality of the folks who are coming. Oh, and the theme, of course.
I won’t beat around the bush. I want you all to come. I’ve lowered the price, because I heard from many of you last year that the ticket was too high (it sold out anyway). But this year, the conversation is too rich for anyone to cry poor over. Come and join us.
Speakers include Pinterest founder Ben Silbermann, Yahoo CMO Kathy Savitt, USV partner Fred Wilson, Aereo CEO Chet Kanojia, Jacki Kelley, CEO North American of IPG Mediabrands, Amanda Richman, President of Starcom MediaVest Group, AOL Networks CEO Ned Brody, GoDaddy CEO Blake Irving, AppNexus CEO Brian O’Kelley, Buzzfeed CEO Jonah Perretti, and many, many more.
Register here! Early registration ends in two weeks.
(image) Last week I was in Salt Lake City for the Adobe Summit, on a stage the size of a parking lot. After some opening remarks about how the world is increasingly lit with data, I brought out Adam Bain, President of Global Revenue for Twitter. (He Vined it, natch.) Five thousand or so folks in the Internet marketing and media business were in attendance, behind us was a 7,000 square foot HD screen (I kid you not). I’ve been in front of a few big crowds, but this one was enormous. You could have parked a few 787s in the space.
My point is this: Bain knew he was in front of a lot of people, including nearly 200 journalists. As we worked our way through any number of predictable but important topics – Twitter’s revenue (growing but no numbers), the acquisition of BlueFin (TV analytics and more), etc. – I asked Bain to distinguish between Twitter and its competitive set. This was a relatively politic way of asking the inevitable “What about Facebook” question. It was then that Bain uttered what I thought was the most interesting comment of the day: “[With Twitter,] there’s no algorithm between you and your feed.”
Facebook’s “Edge” rank has once again been in the news, as one writer or journalist after another discovers what most of us already knew: Facebook filters what you see in the Newsfeed, and the algorithm that determines that filter is a black box (one that you can influence with money, of course).
On Twitter, there’s no filter between you and your feed. If, like me, you follow 1,200 or more people, your feed is a hopeless firehose, and that’s just the way it is, Bub.
My Twitter feed is a blur to me, I dip in and out, but I never consistently gain value from it. I know there’s so much more I could be learning from it, but so far, no dice. (Four or so years ago I even asked our tech team at FMP to build a Twitter parser, we used it for a while…that’s another story…)
I’ve always been on the lookout for tools to surface the best stuff shared on the service – and I’m still looking. Summary services like Percolate are too high level (only five or so stories), and curation through tools like Tweetdeck work to a point, but require too much input and are not dynamic enough. I recently tweeted out a request for new filtering tools, and got back this list:
- Twitter’s daily email digest (which I’m not getting for some reason, so I’ll turn that on)
- Tweetdeck (which I have used a lot, but stopped using when Twitter bought it, more on that below)
- Cronycle (still in private beta)
- The Tweeted Times
- And of course Flipboard.
From a quick look at these services (some of which I’ve tried), I don’t think any of them do quite what I want them to. And that’s kind of my point. It’s great that Twitter doesn’t filter my feed, but it’s a bummer that third parties haven’t been able to solve for my problem. And of course, there’s a reason for this. Developers have left the consumer space mostly alone – Twitter has made it very clear that they don’t want anyone creating new interfaces for the consumption of your feed, and filtering services – in particular ones like Flipboard – come dangerously close to that line.
The enterprise, on the other hand, has benefitted from the unfiltered feed – that’s where Percolate is focused, as well as Salesforce, Adobe, and many others. Gnip has a good business selling access to Twitter’s firehose, but overall, as one might expect, the use case is more aggregate and less individual in nature.
That’s a dilemma. One the one hand there’s Facebook, which has “placed an algorithm in between” us and our feed. Facebook is controlling our experience on our behalf – and it’s questionable whether that really scales. Then there’s the noisy mess of Twitter, where I could imagine any number of super-wonderful third-party apps, yet so far Twitter has kept that ecosystem at bay.
It’s clear that Twitter will soon offer more controls to its users – giving us various ways to filter our feed. The company recently dropped support for its recently acquired Tweetdeck apps – clearly it plans on folding that kind of functionality into its core services. Once it does, I hope the company will relax a bit and give developers the go ahead to create real value on top of an individual’s raw feed. No one company can boil the ocean, but together an ecosystem can certainly simmer the sea.
Starting a business is a journey, as any founder will tell you. When I started Federated Media Publishing almost eight years ago, I did my best to collect all the lessons learned from Wired, The Industry Standard, and Web 2 Summit, and apply them to my new venture. One of those lessons was that it’s OK to step away when the time is right. Several years ago, I did just that, becoming an “active Chairman” at FMP and handing the operational reigns over to an accomplished executive, Deanna Brown.
Since making that decision, FMP has grown dramatically, but it’s also had its challenges. Last year, for example, we made the difficult but important decision to rethink the company so as to lean into our two most promising lines of business – content marketing (which we lay claim to inventing as “conversational marketing” some seven years ago) and programmatic marketing (which we invested in heavily last year, after acquiring a very fast growing business in Lijit Networks in Fall of 2011). It meant stepping back from something we had been doing for some time – directly selling standard display banners - but it proved to be the right choice. FMP is having a great first half of 2013, and I couldn’t be more excited about our roadmap and potential for the rest of the year and beyond.
The funny thing is, even as I became “just the Chairman” at FMP over the past two years, I never stopped thinking about the company. It woke me up nearly every night, tugging at my sleeve, asking me questions, demanding my best thinking. Deanna and I would meet every week to talk strategy, review numbers, or just plain chew the fat. Running a company with hundreds of employees, top notch investors, and a big top line revenue number is damn hard, and Deanna not only ran the place, she made it hum. I am in her debt.
So when Deanna told me earlier this year that she wanted – in a thoughtful and appropriate manner – to move on and do something smaller and more directly related to content creation, I immediately understood. As I said above – it’s alright to step away when the time feels right. We spent a month or more thinking about who might be best to replace her. FMP is a unique company – straddling the two fastest-growing sectors of the digital marketing world: Native content marketing, and programmatic platforms. There aren’t many executives who are fluent in both, and who also might be a cultural fit for a company as storied as this one.
And then it hit me – quite literally in mid-sentence while on a Board call. Why the hell don’t I simply step back in? I love this company, I am passionate about the Independent Web, and to be honest, I see a huge opportunity in front of us. What am I, nuts? Why didn’t I think of it the moment Deanna told me of her decision?
I think the answer lies in how we often try to convince ourselves that the choices we’ve made in the past are the right ones. I agonized about leaving the CEO’s chair, and I’ve spent the two years since then convincing myself (and many of you) that the right path for me was writing a book , running various conferences, and ruminating on what the “next big thing” might be.
But I’ve come to realize that it’s OK to change your mind, as long as you are following your heart. I love the book I’m working on, and I don’t plan to abandon it (I’m bringing on a co-author). And I love the conferences I do, and I’ll still be doing them (though I’ll be hiring someone to run them full time). But my first love is the company I started in 2005, whose story is not only unfinished, it’s at the height of its running narrative. I am utterly convinced that the media company of tomorrow will have both a technology-driven programmatic foundation, as well as the ability to execute bespoke, beautiful ideas on behalf of the entire media ecosystem – creators, marketers, and communities. When you bring the scale and precision of data-driven platforms to the brilliance of great media executions, magic will happen. Delivering on that vision for the Independent Web is the mission of Federated Media Publishing. And I couldn’t be more excited to rejoin the company as its next CEO.
So that’s the news I have for you today. I ask for your support as I embark on this new journey – I know I’m going to need it. I promise I won’t ever stop writing here, nor will I stop asking for your feedback and your insights. And because this is probably the only time I’ll have the chance to say it in a post, I want to say thank you to Deanna Brown for what she’s done not only for Federated, but for me personally. I can’t wait to see what she does next, and, if I’m lucky, to be a partner to her next chapter. Onwards!