Unilever’s threat to withdraw its advertising from online video platforms such as Facebook and YouTube if they cannot guarantee editorial standards is a shot in the arm for traditional media.
Commercial broadcasters and Pay TV operators have been leading a pretty successful counter attack against GAFA (Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple) over the past couple of years, having been gifted evidence that unmoderated online video sites are brand unsafe.
The chief marketing officer of the world’s second largest marketing spender did not mince his words at the IAB (Interactive Advertising Bureau) conference in California last week. “We cannot continue to prop up a digital supply chain – one that delivers over a quarter of our advertising to our consumers – which at times is little better than a swamp in terms of its transparency,” said Keith Weed.
This goes beyond the panic that gripped the industry in 2016 when online ads were placed alongside brand inappropriate (extremist) content, after which WPP-owned GroupM downgraded its expectations for Internet advertising growth.
This speaks to the growing clamour, now heated in political circles, about pressuring – if not legislating – social media networks to filter posts, videos and threads related to terrorism, misogyny, racism, hate speech of all kinds, paedophilia and even fake news.
Unilever, the consumer goods multinational which spent EUR 7.7bn (£6.8bn) marketing its brands last year, can chalk up some PR brownie points for making its stand public, though it has yet to wield the axe properly on Google and others. Another consumer goods giant, Proctor & Gamble has, slashing 7% ($140m) off its quarterly ad spend to June 2017, the bulk culled from digital channels. Far from harming sales, it recorded a 12% rise in income for the period.
P&G’s stated reason may have been different: that for all its consumer tracking technologies and direct micro-targeting, digital accountability was proving far from perfect. The effect was to cast further doubt on the efficiency and transparency of digital.
The latest intervention plays into the hands of Europe’s broadcasters. Analysts at Liberum, for example, see an opportunity for ITV to take a bigger slice of the UK online video advertising market. ITV has a 45% share of the UK TV advertising market but only 6.5% of British online video advertising, the investment banking and research company states.
Sky, Scottish broadcaster STV and Channel 4 have all launched targeted ad products which are proving to spur investment. Sky, which was first to bring targeting into the linear broadcast environment, reports AdSmart delivering a 75% return rate, with channel-switching during a targeted advert reduced by 48%. The integration of AdSmart into Virgin Media set-top boxes will give advertisers access to 30 million viewers in the UK and Ireland, and give TV sales teams more scale to compete with social media networks.
Meanwhile, Channel 4 saw digital revenues from its All 4 multiscreen streaming service climb 24% year-on-year to £102m (figures at July 2017) and offers personalised advertising via All 4 across smart TVs, mobile, tablet and games consoles.
One challenge for broadcasters and platforms when offering targeted advertising – and indeed for the wider data-driven marketing ecosystem – will be to stay compliant with the European Union’s incoming data directive (GDPR), which activates in May. By all accounts, the broadcasters have been pretty rigorous about getting buy-in for use of personal data from all VOD subscribers.
Into this space will soon march the European Broadcaster Exchange (EBX) and it could not be more timely. The joint venture of ProSiebenSat.1, Mediaset, TF1 Group and Channel 4 combines the VOD platforms of each member and will claim to reach 160 million viewers a month when it goes live later this Spring. It will offer advertisers the chance to create pan-European campaigns, at a scale currently only offered by Facebook and YouTube, combined with what EBX believes is the strong demand for high-quality and brand-safe video advertising environments.
Delivering a true premium quality of service is the broadcaster’s ace card – not just in terms of viewer experience, but for advertisers too. It is the key differentiator between broadcasters and the likes of Facebook and YouTube, where three seconds is enough to count as an advertising view.
No-one expects an aggressive shift of money from established online budgets to TV, but there is a window of opportunity that broadcasters can exploit. The Internet giants are shaping up to their own challenges. Google, for example, is pouring money into AI in a bid to track and remove offending material as soon as it is uploaded and at an efficiency which is not humanly possible.
Internet advertising promoters are also keen to move the agenda on. “It is now more critical than ever to reinforce the quality of the digital advertising environment to ensure that advertisers have strong confidence, and underpin the delivery of free content,” says Townsend Feehan, the CEO of the Interactive Advertising Board Europe. “Ensuring that viewable impressions are measured correctly and consistently across all markets in Europe is a key first step.”