Online ad lobbyists disingenuously claim that privacy safeguards will doom the commercial Internet, choking off content and publishers.Â They are fearful that consumers will have the power to actually decide who can collect and make money off their data–instead of their “Big Brother Can Steal Your Data Anytime, Anywhere” model.Â In a new column written for the journalism think-tank and resource Nieman Foundation,Â Ken Doctor (who covers the business of news for them) writes [excerpt, our emphasis]:Â “Enter a new age of Do Not Track. Maybe, in that world, news mediaâ€™s role â€” and its engagement with audiences â€” becomes much more valuable. Maybe, itâ€™s a reintermediation of a kind, as news mediaâ€™s role in the shopping/buying lives of its readers re-emerges, digitally.Â How might this happen? If we look at the potential newsonomics of Do Not Track, we can see at least two ways that real revenue can be driven out of the reordering of the tracking worldâ€¦If Do Not Track puts more power back into the hands of the publisher, then publishers may be help to re-sell the information â€” and that could help build toward the new business model news publishersâ€™ needâ€¦The big opportunity, perhaps, is the ability of news publishers to transparently offer reader/consumers the opportunity to â€œopt inâ€ to a wider world of reading and shopping targeting. Then, they could re-emerge, in the tablet era no less, as community and national centers of news â€” and commerce. Forget Foursquare; readers could check into their favorite news companies.“
Google, like other major advertising and media companies, works hard to please its biggest advertisers.Â For decades, radio and TV networks relied on Standards and Practices divisions to screen programs to make sure they were suitable “environment” for commercials.Â So-called “brand protection” has mushroomed online–as we predicted it would many years ago.Â The business model for TV and the Internet are aligned–it must please the Fortune 1000 advertiser first.Â So it’s no surprise that Google has launched a “brand protection feature” for YouTube, explains Ad Age, that provides “more control for advertisers to exclude objectionable videos, genres, channels.”Â Ad Age explained that YouTube’s new feature, is called “target excludes.” It’s “part of the site’s Video Targeting Tool, which gives advertisers the choice to exclude as few as one video they don’t want their product associated with as well as specific genres and channels. The feature addresses the most often-criticized aspect of YouTube: You can buy video there, but you never know what you’ll get.Other uses for this new feature by advertisers include improving returns by excluding channels or videos that are not relevant to the brand or those that are performing poorly.”
Here’s how Google explains it: “Weâ€™re constantly working to give advertisers control and flexibility over their YouTube campaigns. We place great value on this because ads are an extension of what a company represents as a business, and we want YouTube to be a place where that reputation and image can flourish. To that end, weâ€™ve been rolling out features to keep advertisers in control of their campaigns…Google has also been investing significantly in ensuring brand safety, transparency and control for advertisers across the Google Display Network. Weâ€™re hoping that these added layers of control will make your campaign targeting even more precise.”
As we said, so-called online brand protection is a booming business.Â But its purpose, explains one online advertiser, is to be “a preemptive technology and is designed to block ads from appearing next to controversial content…protecting brands from potentially damaging negative associations resulting out of negative content adjacencies.”Â But questions should be raised now about how decisions will be made placing videos and other content on so-called censoring “whitelists” [which are really blacklists]. How will it ultimately affect the diversity of controversial content online?Â Does YouTube further go from a quasi common carrier to an environment where, as we already see, Google favors some content over others? Â Will the online medium be further transformed to reflect the TV model, with consequences to serious journalism and independent content?Â The questions are larger than what Google does.Â But given Google’s network neutrality flipflop and its online ad and data collection ambitions, a debate about the impact of so-called “brand protection” on the future of the online media is in order.
Google recently made an announcement that will require likely greater bandwidth for Google’s YouTube.Â According to its July 9, 2010 post, “Today at the VidCon 2010 conference, we announced support for videos shot in 4K, meaning that now we support original video resolution from 360p all the way up to 4K…We’re excited about this latest step in the evolution of online video.” Also perhaps relevant to its Verizon dealmaking is Google’s move towards long-form ad supported videos on YouTube, to better position itself as a commercial video provider. If they want to ensure they are first in the `que’ with other entertainment companies, then reversing its position on network neutrality is part of their business plans.Â They are ultimately in the same show biz/advertising space as everyone else is.Â Â Btw, given that the media/telecom companies really don’t see a difference when marketing and distributing across multiple platforms, inc, mobile, it’s outrageous mobile would be exempt from network neutrality rules.Â But perhaps blame it on Google’s Admob acquisition and its [and everyone else’s] plans for mobile location ad targeting!
Here’s an excerpt from today’s Ad Age article on Google’s new higher resolution and more bandwidth system for YouTube:Â “YouTube recently announced support for “4k video,” meaning video files with a dimensional size up to 4096 x 2304 pixels — in other words, much larger than your computer can handle.Â Online video is booming, and marketers are still trying to figure out how to create the optimal user experience and achieve the best results for their campaigns…YouTube mentions that watching videos in 4k requires an “ultra-fast high-speed broadband connection,” but this is actually the least-important requirement. While users on slower broadband connections can always wait for enough of the video to download and buffer before watching it (though why would a marketer force consumers to do that?)…
The Center for Digital Democracy will ask both the FCC and FTC to ensure that consumer privacy is protected as part of the regulatory review of the Comcast/NBCU partnership.Â Comcast is currently deploying interactive TV applications, including for advertising, on its cable systems.Â Â The nation’s largest cable company and broadband ISPÂ has played a leading role in developing next-generation â€œadvanced advertisingâ€ services through the Canoe Ventures interactive TV cable consortium, as well as with CableLabs (Comcast chair Brian Roberts is the chair of the board of CableLabs, the industry’s R&D center).Â For advanced advertising, information on household viewing, including from individuals, will be collected from set-top boxes that can be combined with outside databases to form viewer ad targeting profiles.Â Â Highly personal ads will be created, practically instantaneously, for real-time delivery based on these profiles. Cable and other video providers are creating a â€œreal-time decision-making systemâ€ for marketing that analyzes user data–including income, ethnicity, and viewing and behavior patterns–to help determine the precise ad to be delivered. Comcast is reportedly planningÂ â€œa gigantic database called â€œTV Warehouse,â€ able to store a full year of statistics gathered from digital set-tops in more than 16 million households nationwideâ€¦ having a massive 500 Terabytes of storage, would then feed up to a database even broader in scope operated by Canoe Venturesâ€¦â€
As the nationâ€™s biggest â€œvideo providerâ€ and â€œlargest residential Internet service provider,â€ Comcast has access to detailed financial information on its TV and broadband subscribers.Â It also has a treasure trove of consumer data on viewing behaviors online and with TV.Â Comcast can also use its dominate position as the leading high-speed ISP and cable TV provider to extract additional consumer information from its programming partners.Â Â Regulators will need to ensure effective safeguards on network neutrality, programming access and competition, and consumer privacyâ€”especially for â€œadvanced advertising.”
CDD also will ask competition authorities to review Comcast’s relationship with Canoe Ventures, and its implications on content diversity.
As the nation faces a severe economic crisis, new jobs–especially for youth– must come from the public sector. We should take this opportunity to create a federally-funded “public media corps.” Its mission would be to revitalize public television, helping it become more relevant for the 21st Century. We have a generation of youth (and many others) adept at using new media, who can create social networks, mobile applications, online video and more. There is a vastly under-utilized system of broadcast stations which can serve as production and distribution hubs for new programming. The public media corps would be tasked to engage in investigative reporting and news production; create new forms of cultural programming that reflect the country’s diversity (something public TV desperately requires, by the way); help develop a new approach to public media communications (in such areas as mobile content and social networks).
As the Obama Administration considers its policy for public broadcasting, it should recognize the system is in deep crisis. There’s been an absence of leadership and vision coming from CPB and PBS [I will let others address NPR, which is much more vital than its TV kin; although they too should be part of the public media corps]. We can use this unfortunate financial melt-down to both re-envision public television and help develop a new generation of digital media advocates, journalists, and creators. At a time when traditional news institutions are in their own crisis, the country needs a way to better see itself. A public media corps could provide numerous digital mirrors–so we could see our mistakes, flaws, and the many positive qualities that can help with the painful transition ahead.
As Time Warner and the other broadband monopolists craft schemes to begin imposing pricing plans for broadband which limit and meter our online use, it’s time to push for a meaningful public interest “universal service” digital age policy. A 21st Century democracy should provide a reasonable amount of free access to every citizen in their home (along with more plentiful free access in schools, libraries, and community sites). Today’s New York Times has an non-analytical article on the Time Warner broadband metering trial [“Putting a Meter on the Computer for Internet Use.” Reg may be required].
Under Michael Powell’s FCC, the Bush Administration gave a broadband monopoly to the phone and cable giants–ending the hope for any serious competition. By rewarding the old monopolists (cable TV & phone) with a new digital domain to lord over, the Powell FCC ensured that consumers and citizens would eventually have to confront threats to both affordable service and content diversity online [that’s the network neutrality part of the story]. The plan by Google and others to free up extra spectrum isn’t a complete answer either. More bandwidth governed by an advertising-centric business model will foreground some kinds of content over others–leaving, we believe, digital content that illuminates democratic expression a hostage to commercial forces.
That’s why everyone must be guaranteed some form of free basic bandwidth so they can access news, information, and even entertainment without fear of running afoul of a cut-off (or huge bill) by their local cable or phone ISP. What that free access amount should be needs to be debated; but it should be generous enough so individuals can consume mighty multi-media amounts of educational, civic, and political content.
It will be a true test for the groups working on communications policies–as well as the leaders of our major political parties–to see if they have the vision and courage to call for what is right. If they merely confine themselves to be a part of the safe and narrow dimensions of what are the usual U.S. media policy debates, they will fail to address one of the critical public interest issues of our time.
It’s interesting to watch the tandem work of Google and Doubleclick, even prior to the proposed merger. Doubleclick was just signed-up by the BBC to handle its forthcoming interactive display paid advertising on BBC.com (the Beeb better explain to all its users what will happen with those digital crumpets placed on their computers–I mean cookies, pixels, and other digital spy techniques). Here’s how NMA magazine [sub required] reports it: “BBC Worldwide has appointed DoubleClick to handle display ads on BBC.com, following last week’s green light to allow advertising on the international site... It will also be responsible for the pre-roll advertising on BBC.com through its existing BBC World deal. DoubleClick will work with BBC Worldwide’s internal sales team…The ads will only be served to users outside of the UK…” (Doubleclick already works with the BBC, handling ads for BBC World and the Beeb’s magazine).
Last March, the BBC signed a deal with Google’s YouTube, calling it a “ground-breaking partnership.” Meanwhile, the BBC is drastically cutting staff and reducing news budgets, as it faces reduced public funding. The reduction in funds for the world’s premier public service programmer–and the staff cuts–is a story unto itself–which we will eventually address. But the BBC should not be permitted to endorse a business model for online marketing where its users–even if not UK citizens and residents—are tagged, tracked, targeted, and sold to the highest behavioral targeting bidder. Unless safeguards are imposed, online advertising could have an adverse impact on the diversity and integrity of the news. This deal should also behoove the BBC news staff to launch a major investigation into the Google and Doubleclick merger, inc. how such a merger will impact public affairs programming.
It’s important to follow the online ad marketplace for video-based advertising. Note what a Doubleclick top exec said in a ClickZ interview: ” We claim we do the most video on the Internet.” The same exec also said that “[A]ccording to all the figures, as far as we can tell, we’re the second largest rich media vendor.”
Of course, Google’s YouTube is the number one online video brand as well [a Google rep. is quoted saying that it’s now the eight largest website]. As YouTube explains, it is “the worldâ€™s largest online video community allowing millions of people to discover, watch and share originally created videos. YouTube… acts as a distribution platform for original content creators and advertisers large and small.”
In other words, the merging of Google with Doubleclick will create an online video and search advertising and marketing powerhouse–one which threatens both competition and privacy (among other issues).
We don’t know anything about the work and personal interests of Mr. Luis UbiÃ±as. But he’s the in-coming president of the Ford Foundation. Ford is a premier public foundation working to promote a global civil society. We hope that Mr. UbiÃ±as will seize the initiative to fund a variety of efforts designed to foster a global democratic digital media environment. That means funding advocacy groups representing the interests of the public as both consumers and citizens (even if it means taking on the clients that he has worked with while at McKinsey and Co.); helping fund sustainable and responsible models for multi-platform and multi-media content production; promoting a diverse range of owned and operated services that reflect the interests of and are controlled by low-income and minority/new majority groups; helping journalism make the transition to the digital era; ensuring the new media truly contributes to electoral reform. Of course, dealing with the digital divide, open broadband networks, the future of public media, and privacy must also on the agenda. Such work must address the problems in the U.S., as politically thorny as they are. [We know there’s more to add to such a list. This is just starters].
This is not meant as a self-serving comment, as we’ve been funded by Ford in the past. It’s in the spirit of being on-the-record that someone with a great deal of media industry knowledge is taking over a key philanthropic institution. And it’s occurring during a critical turning point for the future of democratic communications, in the U.S. and everywhere else.
Here’s his bio from a Digital Hollywood conference: “Luis UbiÃ±as is a Director in McKinsey & Company’s West Coast Media, Entertainment and Technology Practice, dividing his time between offices in San Francisco and Los Angeles and also overseeing the practice in Seattle and Denver. Since joining the Firm in 1989, he has focused on serving media, communications and technology companies undergoing major change -entering or exiting businesses or redesigning core processes. Luis has extensive experience in the telecommunications and cable industries: helping build consumer high-speed data businesses; introducing advanced digital set-top boxes and services; and, now, helping design the early VOIP trials. In cable operations, he has worked with MSOs across a broad range of activities, including channel line-up standardization, rebuild prioritization, and purchasing. Luis’ work for other media companies has been operations-focused, helping several newspapers improve circulation and advertising sales and working with content companies to improve international distribution and developing digital distribution strategies. For technology companies, Luis has worked with early entrants in the home networking, digital set-top box manufacturers and other hardware providers. In addition, he has served a large number of technology start-ups as part of his work with venture capital firms. Before joining McKinsey, Luis worked at Booz, Allen & Hamilton, concentrating on marketing and strategy assignments. He also worked briefly as a reporter for the Los Angeles Times, The Wall Street Journal, and as assistant to the CEO of the Honduran beer and soft drink (Coca-Cola) monopoly. Luis has an A.B. in government, magna cum laude, from Harvard College, and an M.B.A. (Baker scholar) from Harvard Business School. He currently serves on the Boards of the Digital Coast Roundtable in Los Angeles and the SteppingStone Foundation in Boston.”
Yesterday, the FTC sent out a release announcing its November town meeting on online advertising and privacy. The hearing is in response to the formal complaint my group Center for Digital Democracy and the USPIRG filed last November.
It’s clear that the FTC is fearful of really tackling the privacy and consumer-manipulation problems intrinsic to the online ad field. Behavioral targeting, which we also address in our complaint, is just the tip of the proverbial data collection and target marketing iceberg. Policymakers at the FTC, the Congress, and state A-G’s must do a better job in addressing this problem. Chapter seven of my book covers the topic, along with recommendations. As we noted in our statement yesterday, CDD has given the staff at the FTC a ton of material since November, further making the case for immediate federal safeguards. There is so much at stake regarding the future of our (global) democratic culture and its relationship to online marketing. We hope others will join with us and raise the larger societal issues, in addition to the specific online ad marketplace concerns.