Google/Yahoo and the relationship between competition in the digital ad business and content diversity

We have long argued that we must focus on the implications to the funding of digital content diversity as fewer companies dominate the core revenue [monetization] apparatus. Google is in a position to become the primary digital gatekeeper for online/interactive publishing revenues. That’s because how revenues are shared, such as TAC (Traffic Acquisition Costs), is a fundamental economic lifeline for content. That’s especially critical as the old media economy of broadcasting and newspapers continues its meltdown.

We think this excerpt from TechCrunch underscores our view: “On the publisher side things are even worse. Google doesn’t share enough revenue with content sites that show their ads. The only thing keeping them even close to honest is the fact that Yahoo and Microsoft will occasionally compete for those partners. Take that away, and Google will go back to keeping the majority of advertising revenue generated at those sites (their only competition will be other types of advertising, which generate far less revenue). That is a terrible outcome when you look at it from the perspective of the health of the Internet.”

Trade Analyst on Google/Yahoo!: Google becomes “monopolistic gatekeeper”

From Diane Mermigas June 18, 2008 column in Online Media Daily [excerpt]:

excerpt: The deal puts more than 90% of the search ad market in Google’s hands, and raises the likely prospect that Google and Yahoo will work together on display ads. Executives from both companies have suggested as much, calling the partnership “good for competition;” when they should have said that it is “good for the competition.” The deal is a Trojan horse that makes Google the monopolistic gatekeeper, sucking the democracy and free capitalistic process out of advertising and e-commerce. The nonexclusive clause in the deal seems meaningless…Deutsche Bank, CitiGroup and Merrill Lynch are among investment banks reducing their estimates on Yahoo in anticipation of its advertisers shifting their business to Google. “This effectively signals the end of Yahoo’s competitive entry in the paid search business and signals to advertisers /agency customers to simply work with Google to purchase ad impressions from Yahoo longer term,” said Deutsche Bank analyst Jeetil Patel.

Watch out for those data-collecting “brand builder” widgets!

excerpt from Technewsworld: “…pairing widgets with behavioral analytics creates a sea change in the iterative marketing process. Emerging sophisticated analytics tools for widgets and social applications now give marketers unprecedented capabilities to reach out and track engagement within the consumer social networking environment. As a result, widgets and social applications may well become the most powerful brand builder of all for online marketers.

While most widget platforms that target the professional market provide analytics, some go a step further by giving marketers access to detailed interaction metrics, including time spent with the widget, number of viewings at the component level, rollovers, clickthroughs, pass-alongs, postings, and mass distribution. Brand awareness and recall, difficult to measure in traditional advertising without focus groups and surveys, can be measured at a granular level by analyzing widget engagement levels…By tracking posting, sharing, and viral hotspots, widget analytics provide specific metrics regarding a consumer’s actual and potential influence and his value on the engagement ladder…

With advanced widget analytics, marketers can identify, profile and reach out to opinion leaders within social networking communities. These influencers might be missed when tracking purchase history or Web site page views, because they may not be frequent or large dollar value purchasers. Instead, these opinion leaders influence their network of family, friends and associates by passing along content, posting it to their blogs or profile pages, or reviewing and rating it.”

Yahoo opposed Google/DoubleClick Deal a few months ago: Tales of corporate turn-around

via October 15, 2007:

“Yahoo (NSDQ: YHOO) has made its first public comments on the European Commission’s review of Google’s (NSDQ: GOOG) $3.1 billion purchase of DoubleClick, and, as you can probably guess, its take is pretty negative. In a submission to the Commission, Yahoo says the purchase, if approved, will mean higher prices for online display ads and less competition in the digital publishing sector. Andrew Cecil, public policy head for Yahoo Europe: “Combining Google’s search business with Doubleclick’s ad technology will strengthen Google’s dominant position in Europe. The competitive landscape for online advertising will be negatively impacted.”

and via Search Engine Watch: “Meanwhile in Europe Yahoo is heading the push with the EU. Yahoo has longer online advertising standing in Europe.
“Combining Google’s search business with DoubleClick’s ad technology will strengthen Google’s dominant position in Europe,” Andrew Cecil, head of public policy for Yahoo! Europe, said in an e-mailed statement today, Bloomberg reported. “The end result will be higher prices for Internet publishers and advertisers and less choice for European consumers.”

Ad Biz Looks Critically at Google/Yahoo! Pairing

Just some excerpts from today’s coverage, to give policymakers and the public a sense of how the 10 year pact is viewed from inside the ad industry.

First, from Ad Age: “Yahoo is outsourcing search monetization to Google in a 10-year deal, the companies officially announced tonight. But advertisers see less competition and higher prices…But the agreement… doesn’t necessarily protect Yahoo from the possibilities that the deal will erode its search business in the long run or make Google an even more dominant player. When Google search ads are mixed in with Yahoo search ads for a particular search query, Google will almost always win the better placement… And if Google consistently wins, marketers may be less inclined to bother using the Yahoo system, instead choosing to put their optimization efforts toward a single system.”

Yahoo, Google Strike a Deal on Paid Search. Abbey Klaassen. Ad Age. June 12, 2008 [sub required]

Online Media Daily: “…some in the industry have questioned whether Yahoo brass thought about the repercussions of the deal in terms of competition and advertiser perception in the mid- to long-term.

“I think the financial rationale is pretty clear,” said Bryan Wiener, CEO of 360i. “But $450 million is a lot of money, so it can’t just be all tail terms that Google will be serving. I can’t imagine that there won’t be some very valuable commercial terms in that mix.” Wiener said that if advertisers no longer saw the value in buying keywords directly through Yahoo, then fewer companies would end up using (Yahoo’s Search Advertiser Platform) Panama in the long run.

According to Neeraj Kochhar, vice president/director of SMG Search, there are definite concerns among advertisers. “I don’t see this as a positive move in terms of competitive activity,” Kochhar said.”

Final Microsoft Rebuff Sends Yahoo into Google’s Arms. Tameka Kee. Online Media Daily. June 13, 2008 [reg. required]

Stephanie Clifford of the New York Times has a good blog post on advertising industry concerns about the deal.

From the Los Angeles Times, 6/14/08:  “The consolidation of everything under Google is not good,” said Aimee Reker, global director of search at digital agency MRM Worldwide. “It will aggregate so much power and control in one place that it no longer is an open marketplace.”

Congress and Anti-trust Officials Must Take Action on Google-Yahoo! Deal: Competition and Privacy Issues at Stake

The government must take swift action to prevent the creation of a digital combine that merges assets and services of the first and second leading online search advertising companies—Google and Yahoo!
Google is the country’s (and world’s) leading search firm. Yahoo is ranked number two and says it is the foremost online display advertising company. This combination potentially threatens user privacy, as more data (including behavioral and mobile) about consumers are shared or pooled by the two leading online giants. Competition in the online ad sector—already weakened by a series of takeovers and acquisitions—is seriously threatened. This deal will have a significant impact on the advertising industry, including agencies. Both Google and Yahoo also provide critical search advertising services for many of the nation’s leading newspapers. Congress will need to explore how this deal impacts journalism, especially at a crucial marketplace juncture for the traditional media industries. Yahoo is permitting Google to extend its reach into one its significant assets–paid search. Shareholders will also suffer, as Yahoo! will be viewed by advertisers as a less effective means to target consumers.

Statement on behalf of the Center for Digital Democracy

Tracking You Offline and Now On: Acxiom Database Targeting Products Integrated into ComScore

We are rushing headlong to the seamless integration of consumer tracking and targeting across all “platforms.” We believe the further blending of more traditional “offline” segmentation and targeting tools into the online marketing system raises disturbing privacy and consumer protection issues. Yesterday, Comscore announced that “the addition of Acxiom’s PersonicX segments to the comScore Segment Metrix service for the U.S. market. This powerful new offering is targeted at advertising agencies and marketers seeking higher performing online media plans… PersonicX is a household-level segmentation system developed by Acxiom and used by marketers that groups consumers into 70 different lifestage-based segments based on several demographic variables… Predictive of U.S. consumer behaviors, media preferences, shopping patterns, and financial needs, marketers rely on Acxiom’s PersonicX to target more specific segments in an offline environment than is possible using simple age breaks. comScore Segment Metrix – PersonicX now enables marketers to reach these targeted segments via online as well as offline media, helping marketers better hone their messaging strategy, value proposition, and media placement… said Tim Suther, Acxiom senior vice president for digital marketing services. “The unparalleled insight into the interests of various lifestage interests created as a result of this partnership will allow marketers to generate enhanced planning strategies driven by improved segmentation and better execution by using targeting approaches that accurately align their online and offline marketing efforts.”

Hasn’t Google Heard of Separating Content from Advertising? YouTube Fostering Stealth Infomercials

Google is now permitting creators of YouTube content to sell their own ads (with a split going to Google). But what’s alarming is that some of the videos on YouTube are being produced in cooperation with advertisers, including featuring its products in the program. For example, Advertising Age reports that “Revision3, the online-video-production company…is selling advertising on YouTube, starting with GoDaddy, a sponsor that’s regularly integrated into the content of its shows.” Revision3’s website explains that “it has attracted a wide-range of top advertisers including Sony, Netflix, Dolby, Microsoft, IBM, HP… Verizon and FX Networks. Advertisers enjoy a unique bond with the audience via customized message integration and host mentions that deliver phenomenal results.” Revision3 lists among its “success stories” the following:

Verizon VCast: As part of its launch of a mobile phone-based streaming video service, Verizon sponsored Diggnation. As part of the sponsorship, the hosts interacted with the VCast service during an episode, and discussed how the service worked and what it did. Awareness skyrocketed. According to Amanda Donelly, the Media Supervisor at Verizon’s agency Moxie Media, the results were “seriously way better than we had ever anticipated”.

Congress, the FCC, FTC, and media reform advocates will need to address the purposeful blurring of content and advertising in online video (broadband and mobile). But industry also must enact meaningful rules regulating such practices. That’s where Google comes in. As the global online advertising market leader, Google needs to set the highest standard for ethical business behavior. Enabling stealth informercials guised as entertainment tarnishes the reputation of YouTube.

source: “YouTube: You Created the Content, Now Sell the Ads.” Abbey Klaassen. Advertising Age. June 9, 2008 [sub required]

IAB’s Lobbying Against Privacy Safeguards: Trade Group Will Add New Members to Help Fight Consumer Protection Legislation

The trade lobbying group Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) plans to add new members to help it generate “grassroots support against proposed legislation in New York and Connecticut that would ban the collection of data about online consumers without a person’s specific consent.” According to ClickZ, the IAB will create a new low-dues membership structure which will enable smaller online advertisers to swell its ranks. What is IAB’s pitch to its prospective members about privacy safeguards offered by state legislators in New York and Connecticut? ClickZ says that “[T]he IAB contends that the proposed measures would have a disproportionate negative impact on small publishers that rely on ad networks to manage advertising sales.”

The IAB’s leadership is off on a irresponsible mission to persuade online marketers and the public that privacy rules would “kill the web.” Such an self-serving view of why privacy rules are required in the age of online marketing will only further diminish the credibility of the IAB.

Wal-Mart Tracks & Targets its Customers Online via Behavioral Targeting

Wal-Mart has signed a behavioral targeting deal with Yahoo!  DM News reports that “when a shop­per puts a digital camera into a shopping cart and then takes it out, will be able to deliver an ad for a digital camera the next time that shopper returns to the site. If a shopper performs a search for digital cameras, an ad for digital cameras will be pre­sented with the results.”

We haven’t examined Wal-Mart’s privacy policy yet. But they should be held to a standard where its customers are treated fairly, not like retail guinea pigs. For example, will Wal-Mart tell its users what Yahoo! says it can do with its behavioral targeting product:

“With more behavioral data, real-time updates and audience modeling, Yahoo! Behavioral Targeting can deliver larger audiences and better performance than before.

With Engagers, advertisers can target consumers specifically interested in a product category, moving them down the sales funnel and eliminating waste. With Shoppers, advertisers can target consumers based on likelihood to click, improving response and conversion rates.
Yahoo! offers:
• The most experience with behavioral data and targeting, and the most sophisticated targeting technology online
• The largest online user base & the most detail about users (what they do, not who they are)
• The largest volume of behaviorally targeted ad impressions”

Will Wal-Mart tell its customers that can be classified under such Yahoo! behavioral categories entitled:

Female Fashion Freaks
Consciously Cruising (Alt. Fuel Vehicles)
Seeking out the Silver Screen
Female Electronic Gurus
Home Hopping
Hunting for Trucks
Female Gamers (18-24)
Planning for the Golden Years
Nutrition Nuts
Aspiring African Adventurers”