The Burden of 'Old Media'

Gareth Davies, AdBrain, CEO, and ExchangeWire columnist, reflects on some of the latest quarterly results from some of the digital advertising industry's biggest names, and explores what they tell us about the contemporary ad tech landscape.

The industry's biggest names have released their latest quarterly earnings, and the ad/martech land is collectively scratching its head wondering what it all means?

The universally welcome answer to that question is that tech is officially hot! We need only look at Apple, which recently announced that it enjoyed its best-ever quarter in terms of earnings.

However, let's examine what this means in a wider context. The iPhone manufacturer revealed last year it is to dip its toes in the programmatic landscape, making in-app ad inventory available through tie-ups with MediaMath, Rubicon Project, among others.

As a luxury business, Apple is rapidly on its way to becoming a $1trn (yes trillion) business, but we must remember that content (such as iTunes, etc.) and ads (its iAd business) are less critical to its success.

Apple's business is hardware and very difficult to replicate, and from what we can observe, there is no desire to monetise its consumer data. Quite frankly, you don’t need to when you sell 75 million $1,000 phones in a single quarter!

With its own OS and multi-device penetration, that is all about a closed, high margin ecosystem, Apple's core business is not compatible with media partnerships, and from what's evident, there's little or no desire to open the gates to its golden city.

Less fortunately, the latest round of results calls shows that Yahoo is still in the dumps, despite the incremental gains revealed.

No longer the starting point for the web, its media business is struggling. Yahoo last month revealed that its mobile ad revenues ($254m) increased 23% compared to the previous quarter, but its gross revenues still decreased 2% year-on-year.

The sad fact for Yahoo is that today everyone is a publisher, and with mass content fragmentation, it still hasn’t built an aggregated content, or ad tech strategy to join content and data together.

Now Yahoo's activist shareholders are pushing for a merger with AOL, with the latter of the pairing recently revealing that its programmatic revenues increased 250% year-on-year accounting for 39% of its non-search revenues. So while AOL is progressing its ad tech offering it is still a long way behind the duopoly of Facebook and Google (more about them later).

Post its Flurry acquisition, (giving it data insights on over 600,000 apps, plus a device penetration of over 1.6bn devices), it would make sense for Yahoo to join forces with AOL, plus I'd add that they should also buy mobile specialist Millennial Media. For purchasing Millennial Media would mean Yahoo would have tech, (The JumTap DSP, Nexage SSP) alongside its existing mediation and analytics capabilities (courtesy of Flurry), plus media, in the form of a combined Yahoo network, Flurry and Millennial Media network(s). Add to this AOL's premium publications, and syndicated programmatic reach, it could potentially be a force to be reckoned with.

Meanwhile, Facebook is on a tear! Its cross-device, audience data and technology are clearly yielding handsome rewards, with it recently announcing $3.85bn in quarterly revenues, up 49% year-on-year, and with mobile accounting for 69% of its advertising revenues.

Examining the core ingredients to that success, it's worth pointing at Facebook is effectively the default ID for the mobile app world (that's Facebook IDs, plus WhatsApp, and Instagram, not to mention log-in for third party apps).

With such levels of insight, and data, I'd say welcome to the era of cost per person advertising, the next wave of cross-device, data rich targeting, far more complex than basic media targeting. With Facebook's single sign-on, and video capabilities (via way of its LiveRail acquisition) these are exciting times for the industry.

Meanwhile, Google's results were more lukewarm, and the fact of the matter is, it's starting to look like a desktop technology business (which counts as 'old media' these days). The urgency for Google to become a cross-device business could not be more apparent. However, that's not to say Google is doomed. Expect it to move up in the data game this year and move with more cross-device targeting capabilities, but less aggressively than Facebook.

As a result, I'd expect concerns around privacy to increase – we need only look at how data protection authorities in Europe are increasing their scrutiny of the pair – so expect both to tread carefully, as they move ahead.

So what can we deduce from such results?

Firstly, it's clear that Facebook and Google's share of social log-in (compared to the rest of the industry) is dominant, Facebook is in the lead with this respect, and Google is chasing; everyone else dead. In a cross-device world, where advertisers need holistic audience management, this is simply the case.

Also, how do traditional media businesses survive in this world? In the case of Yahoo the options appear to be: A) Join forces; B) Invest (or partner) in tech and data; or C) Focus on the ‘holistic' user.

In the case of Apple we can see that value lies in closed (or walled) garden ecosystems, that are rich with data, that can go on to fuel tech-enabled media landscapes. Simply put, the ad tech ecosystem powers the web (and now the app universe too), but the content landscape is way too fragmented for such players to reign supreme.

However, this is no time for complacency, as enterprise players are rapidly storming in: Oracle, SalesForce, Microsoft, et al, are all equipped with consumer intelligence through data, not contextual behaviour tied to content, and preparing to move in.