Time Warner’s AOL Spin-off: How the Failure to Require Network Neutrality (Open Access) Led to a Failed Mega-Media Merger

News that Time Warner will spin-off AOL should also be analyzed in the context of the network neutrality debate.   AOL would never have had to pursue merging with Time Warner if the Clinton FCC had supported its call–backed by many consumer groups–for “open access” to broadband.  Denied the ability to migrate its successful telephone/common carrier-based business model to cable broadband by the FCC, AOL had no choice but to buy its way into the cozy cable industry club.  Here’s what Steve Case, then president of AOL, said at the National Press Club in 1998, as covered by my CDD:

“Government,” as he told the National Press Club in October 1998, “has a responsibility to preserve an open playing field—to preserve the openness, innovation and competition that are at the heart of the Internet….” Nor did Case shrink from suggesting that regulation was the key to untangling the broadband puzzle. “Significant challenges currently face regulators in the communications realm,” he conceded. “There is currently one set of policies that governs telecommunications, and another governing cable. These legal, policy and regulatory frameworks have little to do with each other….” Thus it was the government’s responsibility, Case concluded, to see that the cable broadband environment conformed to the “openness, competition and rapid innovation” that is the very “DNA” of the Internet. “The bottom line,” Case insisted, “is that competition in all ‘last mile facilities’ should remain open so that consumers have the same kind of choices in broadband that they do in narrowband.”

If the Clinton FCC, then under Chairman William Kennard, had supported open access, we (including the many Time Warner and AOL investors who lost considerable sums) may have avoided further media consolidation and the wreck which became AOL Time Warner.  It’s a history lesson the in-coming FCC chair and others should review.

Behavioral Targeting U.S. Hispanics: Another Example of Why Policymakers Must Be Proactive

Here’s an excerpt from a column written by an executive from a leading behavioral targeting company:

Behavioral targeting can help marketers reach across the cultural divide, helping to identify Hispanic online audiences, or any other ethnic group for that matter…Behavioral targeting is used to create Hispanic audience segments first based on users who have visited Spanish-language sites or any sites with Hispanic-relevant content. You can then create sub-segments based on not only ethnicity, culture, or language, but also interests and purchase intent behaviors observed on those or other sites. You can even identify “purchase influencers” among U.S. Hispanic populations, based on browsing and buying behaviors plus geographic location. You may then serve culturally relevant marketing messages to these segments when they travel to any other site online.

You will also find re-targeting useful, once you have begun to build these behavioral segments. As you serve ads to your Hispanic audiences and sub-segments, you can then re-target them across whichever network or sites you choose, with upsell, cross-sell, or discount offers…Behavioral profiles that have been tagged as part of a Hispanic audience or sub-segment can be given a boost by search data including Spanish-language or Hispanic content keywords or search engines that have been set to Spanish.

source:  How to use BT to reach U.S. Hispanics.   Jeff Hirsch.  April 21, 2009.  imediaconnection

Tracking You Offline for Better Targeting You Online: Why both the FTC and Congress Need to Protect Consumers

There is growing evidence daily about threats to consumer privacy online–all of which have real life consequences for the decisions we make when we buy products.   As the public relies more on using online to apply for credit cards, mortgages, explore health concerns or issues affecting their children and teenagers, it’s absolutely essential the individual–not the business–have full control over their data.  In a trade article on the “profiling” of consumers for online targeting, here’s how they describe linking your offline data with your digital experience.  It shows how the current definition of Personally Identifiable Information, PII, is out of date and fails to protect consumers.  Marketers don’t need your name or address to know your behaviors and target you [excerpt]:

How do marketers get access to the offline purchase data? More importantly, how do they marry it to your online identity without using PII? Usually, this involves the cooperation of several parties. The first might be an online retailer that links a credit card used in an ecommerce transaction with a third-party cookie. The second party is a data partner who owns that particular cookie and pulls in additional purchase history to augment the profile associated with that cookie, and then rents the profile to a marketer. The third is an online ad exchange, which will allow ad hoc purchasing of inventory against a particular cookie across inventory sold on the exchange.

source:  Where do we draw the line on consumer profiling?  Tom Hespos.  imediaconnection.com.  May 21, 2009

Google’s Retention of Search Data–tied to selling ads [Google Connects Offline Behavior To Digital Marketing]

This excerpt from an online ad news report illustrates perhaps a more compelling reason for Google to retain user data for longer periods, so it can better analyze the decision-making process for consumer purchasing for its ad businesses:

“We now understand the types of keywords people use at specific points prior to purchase,” says Davang Shah, head of automotive marketing at Google. “Six months prior to the purchase, we see roughly 56% of the auto searches buyers conducted were on non-branded search terms such as fuel efficient or hybrid sedan.”…Search plays a critical role throughout the purchase process…The data, related to paid, organic and display advertising as well as online marketing, includes the facts that 68% of buyers visit a manufacturer’s site in the six months prior to purchase, and 77% visit a third-party site. In aggregate, 84% visit at least one or the other…Shah says Google will cut the data by brand and provide the information to manufacturers, dealers and third-party companies…”

source:  Google Connects Offline Behavior To Digital Marketing.  Laurie Sullivan.  Online Media Daily.  May 22, 2009.  

Google’s Larry Page says, reports the BBC, the less Google can hold data the “more likely we all are to die”

At a Google-sponsored UK meeting called European Zeitgeist 2009, Google-co-founder Larry Page said that deleting user data by the six-month maximum period recommended by the EU privacy expert Article 29 Working Party could harm the public. According to a BBC report:  The European Commission wants data ditched after six months but Mr Page said there were benefits to users.  “More dialogue is needed [with regulators],” he [Mr. Page] told UK journalists at a Google event in Hertfordshire.  He said Google’s ability to plot and predict potential pandemics would not be possible if the firm had to delete search data after six months…Mr Page said deleting search data after six months was “in direct conflict” with being able to map pandemics…Mr Page said the less data companies like Google were able to hold the “more likely we all are to die”.  The European Commission has argued that holding on to search data runs the risk of third parties being able to build profiles of individuals even when some identifying information is deleted.

There is clearly a critical role for data in our society to be analyzed for many reasons–especially public health.  But for Mr. Page to not acknowledge how Google’s businesses are also tied into such data collection and analysis is unfortunate.  It underscores how Google’s top managers have failed to effectively recognize their own role in diminishing individual privacy around the world.  Nor should it go unmentioned that the products they sell on their own advertising platforms may also threaten or challenge the public health–including contributing to the global obesity crisis.

Behavioral Targeting Merges with Social Media Marketing for Individual Profiling [Annals of Behavioral Targeting]

As a growing number of people recognize (and taking advantage of), behavioral targeting is part of the social media marketing business model.  Such an approach illustrates why policymakers across the globe must address what is a largely stealth commercial surveillance system.  It has implications for the collection of data on individuals by government as well [my bold].

Here’s a excerpt from a recent announcement by WPP owned 24/7 Real Media Inc.:  “the leading global digital marketing company, has begun a pilot program to integrate social media engagement metrics into its behavioral targeting application. These social media engagement metrics will augment existing behavioral targeting attributes to drive robust advertising response and conversion.  Working with companies such as NuConomy, an innovator in social media measurement, select 24/7 Real Media advertisers are now leveraging non-traditional metrics such as comments, ratings, video plays, and link sharing to customize advertising, increase responsiveness and drive purchases.”

and Nuconomy says that:
By tracking engagement and site activity at the individual user level, NuConomy’s module automatically builds rich behavioral profiles, or interest maps, for each user – such as who is posting comments on bikes or sharing music recommendations with friends. This level of detail gives publishers a deeper understanding of user behavior so they can optimize their sites and marketing messages for different audience segments, even different individuals.”

PS:  We see that the folks over at the AT&T, Yahoo, AOL, etc. backed Future of Privacy Forum has engaged WPP to help its new research effort designed “to develop a variety of [privacy] notices that will resonate with consumers and begin to test them with users.”

We suggest that as its initial effort, the Forum require WPP to make public all the various methods it uses to collect data from consumers.  Such a list includes WPP’s ad networks, online games, mobile, cable broadband platforms, social media, etc.  That would provide the research initiative a good place to begin, if its effort is to be taken seriously.

AT&T, Time Warner, Microsoft and Facebook Join New Business Group with Ties to Obama Administration

In the age of social media marketing, what may lobbying look like when the Lincoln Bedroom meets Web 2.0?  This new “progressive” business group will also have to address the special interest agendas of its members, including online marketing and data collection.

excerpt via PR Week about the launch of Business Forward:  The group’s wide-ranging roster includes AT&T, Facebook, Hilton, IBM, Microsoft, Pfizer, and Time Warner and was founded by Democratic strategists… The goal for Business Forward is to provide consistent support for President Barack Obama and the Democratic Congress.

National Journal reports that: Rather than lobbying, Business Forward’s initial aim will be hosting events around the country to focus on maximizing funds in the $787 billion economic stimulus package…It will be led by political operative Jim Doyle; former Viacom lobbyist David Sutphen, whose sister is Obama’s deputy chief of staff; former Obama media consultant Erik Smith; former Obama campaign staffer Julie Andreeff Jensen; and Hilary Rosen, former head of the Recording Industry Association of America. Business Forward’s founding members will pay up to $75,000 per year for a membership…

In a letter in Politico, Mr. Doyle explains that “We plan to spend our time encouraging business leaders to discuss how America can make the most of clean energy investments in our current budget, reduce hospital costs through better health care information technology and reform schools so that today’s students are better prepared for tomorrow’s jobs.”

Technology Policy Institute’s Funders: An Online Marketing and Data Collection Lobby [Annals of Undermining Privacy Safeguards]

The Technology Policy Institute has a new study designed to help its corporate backers undermine the growing call to protect consumer privacy online.  Look who funds the TPI (and look for the failure of the study to acknowledge the funders and the conflict of interest) :

  • Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation

Video Metrics: “gauged by the millisecond” [Annals of Social Media Marketing]

The Obama Administration’s use of social media and analytics should trigger a serious debate.  How much information on citizens and others do we really want the government to have?  As part of the discussion, consider this excerpt from social marketing company’s RockYou’s pitch to advertisers and others [our bold].  This about the Feds tracking as you watch government-funded videos:

“…Social Video Ads and Cross Platform Video Distribution on the RockYou Ads Network…Looking at the landscape of online advertising – on social networks and beyond – it’s obvious that video advertising is the medium of choice for brands and marketers who have a story to tell…Video metrics go far beyond impressions. Audience interactions (views, stops, rewinds, sharing) are gauged by the millisecond and response can be measured, in real numbers. Advertisers who can combine that data with behavioral or demographic profiling, to reach exact targets, get amazing results. 

YouTube Home Page Ad Costs “$175,000 a day, plus an incremental $50,000 in spending on Google or YouTube”

We recognize Google has to generate ad revenues for YouTube.  But we also believe the public deserves to know about–and understand the implications–of Google’s deals with deep-pocketed advertisers.  These recent excerpts from Advertising Age and Online Media Daily help add to the public record.  First, Ad Age:

…the bigger YouTube grows, the more marketers find they must couple a campaign with spending…Geico, for example, spent a few hundred thousand dollars on YouTube as part of its online-video campaign… Geico took over the YouTube front page for the day April 2, and then bought YouTube search keywords such as “numa numa.” The rate card for a YouTube front-page roadblock is $175,000 a day, plus an incremental $50,000 in spending on Google or YouTube. Of the video’s 1.3 million views, 500,000 were achieved that first day on the YouTube home page. You can’t just throw a video up on YouTube and expect consumers to find it, “because it’s a needle in a haystack,” said Taylor Valentine, director-digital services for Horizon Media, who implemented Geico’s digital-media strategy.

Here’s an excerpt from Online Media Daily, on the impact of so-called “rich media” [multimedia & interactive] YouTube ads:

Sprint is expected to take over Google’s YouTube home page for 24 hours this week in a groundbreaking ad campaign that highlights a human clock. The campaign, which emphasizes Sprint’s “Now Network,” will embed user-generated content in the masthead — a first for masthead ads running on YouTube. Those who want to participate are assigned a number and use a Web camera to shoot the video and add themselves to the clock…YouTube’s standard home page masthead, 960 x 250, which launched in January, sits above the fold on the home page. A tandem unit — 300 x 250 — placed just below on the right can interact with it…

“We needed to figure out a way to embrace rich media on our home page, especially with the growth of impressions and more than 11 million unique users visiting the U.S. home page daily,” said Zal Bilimoria, product manager for the home page at YouTube. “On average, these rich media masthead units have 14% interaction rates, compared to the industry average noted by DoubleClick for similar-size units of just under 5%.”

YouTube has already sold and run mastheads in 12 countries…

sources:  Why Free-Ride YouTube is Finally Winning Ad Dollars.  Michael Learmonth.  Ad Age.  April 13, 2009.
Sprint Takes Over YouTube Home Page With UG Human Clock.  Laurie Sullivan.  Online Media Daily.  May 8, 2009.