Close doesn’t count in database advertising

I’m constantly preaching the value of targeted advertising, and here’s a humorous exactly from today’s Web surfing. The image below is from YouTube, owned by Google. A little over a week ago, I did a Google search for “tall nightstands,” because I was in the process of a bedroom remodel. I found what I needed at Amazon, and they’re sitting in the bedroom today.

So YouTube/Google served me an ad today for tall nightstands, which is targeted specifically to that search. It’s very sophisticated, except for one thing: I don’t need them anymore.

So nice try, Googs, ol’ buddy, but close doesn’t count. Of course, I suppose it’s just a matter of time before they get this one right, too. It is, after all, a simple matter of connecting shopping behavior with actual purposes.

The ad I was served this morning via YouTube.

Goodbye, Google; hello, Google+

Google PlusBy now, you most likely have heard about Google+, Google’s new entry into the social networking phenomenon. I was fortunate enough to get an early invite, so I’ve spent the last week playing in the application. I think this has the potential to reshape Google’s entire business in ways that will be very, very hard to ignore. It all begins with the name, Google+. It’s not merely a new application, it represents a complete shift in the company’s strategic thrust. It’s THAT significant.

Check your company’s analytics, and you’ll see that, in 99% of cases, Google is the top referrer of eyeballs to your website. Why is that? It’s all about search, and Google owns search. Everything they do is important in that regard, and while most people are comparing G+ to Facebook and/or Twitter, I think that misses the point. Google+ is far more than “just another social network” or a “Facebook killer” (yeah, right), because it incorporates all that is Google.

My search results, for example, are now personalized and presented within the plus framework. I like this very much, because the first organic result often reveals the website most recently visited by me that addresses the search query. This is incredibly useful for those “I read that somewhere” searches.

The two things I find most intriguing for news are both found in the service’s Android app (an iPhone app is coming, but I don’t know if it contains the same abilities as the Android app). One, I can set it so that any picture I take is immediately and automatically uploaded to a folder on my G+ account. This type of application — where a picture I take on earth is automatically distributed to the cloud — is game-changing for the real-time news industry, and I fully expect to see similar applications applied more broadly to the news business. However, G+ is first out-of-the-box with this, and it is powerful. Next will be video. You can count on it. Try to imagine online news with this feature. It will be amazing.

The second Android function involves the information stream of Google+ itself. Since every one you “follow,” gets placed immediately into a circle of your choice (friends, family, coworkers, etc.), you can choose what stream to follow at any given time. It’s a great way to use connectivity, and the infrastructure is all drag-and-drop simple. You can deliver posts to any group as well, including making them “public,” where anybody can see them. This is significant, for it mimics Twitter in that sense.

The mobile app allows you to make your location known to Google (it’s off by default) and then read a stream of posts “nearby.” This has staggering implications for spot news coverage, where geolocation is important. Want witnesses, photos, video? No hashtags necessary, if you’re on location, for if everybody’s using G+ (a big question), a simple swipe of your Android phone gives you everything automatically. This is another innovation that will expand beyond Google, but the reality is that it is Google that brought this to the table.

Jeff Jarvis admitted yesterday that his school, City University of New York (CUNY), is going to have to begin teaching Google+ in its journalism program, and I certainly agree. His views of G+ include many thoughts about its application for news, and I recommend reading this piece.

But the most important thing to note is that Google has the clout to actually force businesses (of their own free will) into its “plus” cavern, and that is a big game-changer. Firstly, Google has announced that Google+ for business is coming, and I’m sure it will incorporate everything of Google’s already stout toolkit for businesses. Secondly, everybody will need a Google profile in order to be fairly “seen” by the search engine. What business would turn that down? It’s free.

And if businesses will use it, we need to know everything about it.

Social media consultant Jay Baer wrote this week that Google’s history is entirely built around the ranking of “Pages” on the Web. It developed PageRank to provide searchers with the best possible results. However, personal publishing via social media has changed everything.

Philosophically, Pages with more and better other Pages linking to them must be better content, and each link counts as a “vote” for that Page. But when the dominant form of expression became something smaller than a Page, and our votes of content confidence became expressed by social sharing and other behaviors that differ from “I’m going to link to this website from my website,” Google found itself trying to play web page ranking poker with less than a full deck of cards. It was trying to do a very difficult job with incomplete information.

This explains, in part, why Google had to make a move like this. The world of information is simply changing, but Baer adds that it is the integration of G+ content into its search algorithms that makes it so potent, especially for businesses. Remember, he points out, Google owns the top two search engines in the world. YouTube is number two.

Google has inserted so many tentacles into so many crevices of our digital lives, that they can compel us to use Plus via integrations and reminders in (just a starter list):

  • Gmail
  • YouTube
  • Picasa
  • Maps
  • Android (the app for Plus is fantastic)
  • Chrome
  • Analytics
  • Blogger

…Here’s the scenario I see unfolding before the end of 2011, and possibly before Labor Day. Google opens up business pages on Plus to Adwords customers. Any clicks and +1 (Google’s version of Facebook “like”) your business content receives on Plus has a direct impact on your organic search engine rankings, while your Facebook activity continues to have no impact.

Go read Jay’s article, for it’s really quite good. Then, if you don’t already have one, create a Gmail account, which will lead to a Google profile, which will lead to Plus. The company has announced that the service will be completely open to everyone by July 29th.

Most observers are writing about how Google+ will impact the news industry, and that’s important. I think its greater shock to the media ecosystem, however, is its potential to once again influence advertising, and that this is what should interest us most. It’s true that the two have always gone together for media companies, but they are increasingly disconnecting, and we must pay very close attention to what’s happening in this space.

This is why my best advice for any media company is still this: don’t leave to geeks what rightly belongs to upper management, especially sales. There’s still far too much ignorance about all of this stuff at the upper management level. Google+ will be a critical element in local advertising downstream. Will people shift from Facebook or Twitter? That’s the wrong question, for in the end, it really doesn’t matter.

Like a great many other things, it’s all about the money. Money doesn’t require mass anymore, and nobody knows that better than Google.

In defense of Google TV

There are a lot of broadcasting executives who breathe a sigh of relief when they see headlines like With TV, Google Stumbles (again), Rescheduling Google TV May Be a Smart Move, and Google TV: Snatching Failure From The Jaws Of Success? Broadcasters, cable companies and the program providers who have a cozy and prosperous business model all know that Google TV — and applications just like it — will deliver a crushing blown when consumer content is separated from its source via the Internet.

But I’d be very careful in reading too much into those headlines. Just because the networks have decided not to play ball (right now) with Google TV doesn’t mean an end to the concept. It may slow it down, but there are trends at work that are ideally suited to a Google TV experience. Those trends are growing and accelerating, and no amount of legal maneuvering or business strategizing is going to stop them.

I’m talking about J. D. Lasica’s “personal media revolution (pmr),” outlined in his seminal book Darknet, Hollywood’s War Against The Digital Generation. The industry of making movies and TV programs is facing a bottom-up challenge to its century-old business model. Ever look at the credits of a film? That’s what the pmr disrupts — the cast of thousands “needed” to create quality content. New tools have made their way to local and network television, and, union “bargaining” notwithstanding, it’s just a matter of time before the same happens with entertainment.

Michael RosenblumMichael Rosenblum is the father of the video journalist (VJ) movement, a man who saw the handwriting on the wall many years ago. He’s been teaching people - those who used to work with crews of two or three — to work by themselves, and the results have been getting better and better. He told me in an email that the key to content today is creativity and the ability to express it at bargain rates. We’re in the midst of an explosion of creativity.

When it comes to content, the driver here is a) a really limitless appetite for content, b) increasingly smaller budgets as platforms multiply and revenue is shattered, and c) the technology that makes it increasingly easier and cheaper to make great content. HD quality films can be made with about all the difficulty of word processing — and the expense. What we saw in news, we now see percolating into fiction and that’s a basic change.

Those who make films outside the studios’ walled garden will want the easiest distribution available, and that will default to whoever has the best search for Internet TV. Can you say, “Google?”

So while people are fawning all over Netflix and suggesting that Google learn how to “do lunch” the Hollywood way, there are powerful forces at work that favor Google over the long haul. Greg Sandoval wrote for CNET that Google needs to learn how to make relationships over lunch, but I suspect it’ll ultimately be the other way around.

…Google TV was launched before it was ready. If it was fully baked, why did the company appear so unprepared by the rejection of the platform by broadcasters?

Some in Hollywood suspect the reason is that Google didn’t know it was coming. After two years wooing the film and TV sectors, Google is still not very tuned in to the industry, said two film sector insiders who spoke to CNET.

These same executives cautioned against naming Netflix the winner of Internet distribution, adding that there’s a long way to go in this contest. But both sources acknowledged that Netflix has had more success acquiring content thanks to the company’s big head start in the sector as well as adopting a smarter approach to Hollywood.

All of that grossly underestimates Google, but that’s understandable, because the perspective comes from the side of tradition. Google does not.

People who’ve had the advantage of monopoly on their side for decades are the ones most endangered by technological disruptions, because they can’t — or won’t — see things any other way. They want and expect Google TV to fail, but we’ve heard this before. The copyright industry’s biggest weakness is its assumption that only they can make “quality” entertainment, just as traditional journalists insist they alone have the market on “real” journalism. Poppycock!

I often think that our greatest problem is oxygen deprivation atop the pedestals we’ve built for ourselves. You’d think the view would be clear, but it’s not, because all we see are each other.

Make no mistake. Unbundled television is upon us, and search will be the governor. Google’s essential role in the video disruption is to provide tools that so-called amateurs can use, and usually for free. Years of subsidizing YouTube’s vast and improving library of videos will have its day, and we must not miss it in the arrogant belief that we will always own the video creation and distribution business.

Now is the time for action, not guffaws.

Viacom rolls the dice on every media company

The decision by Viacom to continue its pursuit of a lawsuit against Google and YouTube is the last, dying gasp of the old guard. Viacom can’t win, and that means the old guard can’t win, which has ramifications far beyond Viacom. The risk you take when you vow to pursue your position to the end is that you will, in fact, reach the end — your end.

A much better strategy would be to work with Google to craft something that’s workable for everybody. That would require compromise, and rather than do that, Viacom is putting the golden goose on the chopping block. By choosing to push its view that YouTube violated its copyrights, Viacom risks those copyrights in ways it can’t even imagine today. I say that, because Viacom cannot win this war. Even if they did get a favorable decision — they won’t — it wouldn’t stop the fundamental disruption to media. It would, in fact, accelerate it, because people are simply fed up with being milked and squeezed at every turn in the road by the copyright-as-property industry. History is filled with incidences of laws wearing out their welcome on cultures, and the downstream revolt after a favorable Viacom decision would make the current one seem like child’s play.

Maybe Viacom actually wants a Supreme Court ruling, but from where I sit, the only people who gain by this are the lawyers.

We have met the enemy, and he is “pureplays”

Walt Kelly's famous quote from Pogo2010 is starting out to look like a fairly good year for some media companies, especially those with television station groups. In addition to a booming political year, there are signs pointing to a rebound in radio and TV advertising. According to a report in Media Daily News last week, we’re looking at three years of growth.

Media forecaster BIA/Kelsey says local advertising revenues for television and radio will reach $34.3 billion in 2014, up from $29.9 billion in 2009. That’s a 2.8% compound annual growth rate. Digital revenues for local TV and radio are expected to soar nearly 18% over the same period.

The same report shows that, by 2014, local TV digital ad revenue (mobile and Web) will reach $1.2 billion and represent 6.5 percent of the segment’s total $18.3 billion in revenue, up from 3.1 percent in 2009. Wow, sounds great, huh?

The problem with reports like these is always the assumptions behind the numbers. Here BIA/Kelsey has defined the market for local TV digital ad revenue as that which is produced and maintained by local TV stations. In this world, the competition for that $1.2 billion is the other TV stations in town. This is a myth, folks, because the real market is actually much bigger, and unless we wise up, our failure to act is going to hurt more than just local media. Local economies will suffer, as real local dollars quietly slide away to people who realize that — at least online — “local” is nothing more than a cash register for them. They don’t have to worry about employees, their families, and the many services that cater to them.

In the real Web world, for example, the pureplay Web companies are our enemy (competition), not the other media companies in town. Our barometer for success is measured against them, not the poor guy down the street with his own antenna, although those pureplays are very happy to have us think otherwise. Champagne corks pop when Google executives read a report like this the one from BIA/Kelsey, because it’s the distraction they need to not only pick our pockets but the local communities in which we live and work.

I’m increasingly coming to believe that this is a problem for the same local business communities that are using the tools of these pureplays to enable commerce. How?

Below is the latest graph from Borrell Associates depicting the market change between 2008 and 2009 in money that originated in the local marketplace and was spent on local online advertising. Note that the pureplays share of the market — a $13.2 BILLION dollar market — is now 51.7%.

Share of local money spent online

The market is growing. Borrell projects it’ll be very close to $15 billion in 2010.

What is the impact to your community’s advertising economy as a growing chunk of cash disappears? What impact does that have on the whole economy of your region? Local media companies employ real people and provide real dollars to the community, but that’s not the case with the pureplays. They are parasites, draining sustenance from markets in the name of enabling commerce. To whom will local merchants sell, if their money ultimately goes to Mountain View, California or hundreds of other places where these companies employ real people?

It’s not their fault; they’re just trying to do business. It is the fault of the local advertising economy — including all of the local media companies — who think they’re playing soccer when the game is really basketball.

Here’s the first line of a chilling article from Forbes:

National advertisers spend more than $120 billion on advertising in local markets and Yahoo wants it.

Of course they do. Local is THE target for the big boys now, because local is where online advertising is growing.

Can any local media company beat the pureplays like Yahoo and Google on its own? I don’t think so. And let’s be clear about one thing: companies like Reach Local and Yodle are Google in disguise, but Google just the same. They’ve found creative ways to use the tools of Google to make it easy for local merchants, and they’re very good at it. But every dollar that goes to them leaves the market. Let’s not forget that.

Here’s another Borrell chart that shows how the pureplays are making their money. The bar on the right hand side has Google written all over it.

pureplays use search listings

So perhaps we can’t beat Google on our own, but we can beat them by working together. That concept is becoming more rational with each passing day. I’m not suggesting it will be easy, but we all have a much bigger enemy that each other. Who will step forward and lead the way? If you want to know how I would do it, just drop me a line.

Originally published in AR&D’s Media 2.0 Intel newsletter.

Google’s local revenue pursuit

While local media companies continue to ponder the next content move to stay “current,” whether that’s online, mobile or both, Internet pureplay companies continue to eat their lunch where it matters: growing local revenue opportunities. That’s what’s really behind news today that Google is in talks to acquire popular local business review site, Yelp.

Michael Arrington at TechCrunch spells it out.

Google is building out their own directory of local businesses with its Place Pages, which can be accessed via Google Maps and local search. They are encouraging local businesses to put Google-branded stickers in store windows and recently added their own ratings summaries to business profiles. Yelp, of course, already has all of this data, along with a growing and active audience of consumers who are used to finding (and rating) businesses on Yelp.

Knowing that consumer reviews are an ideal mobile platform for commerce, Google will pay a reported half-billion dollars and, in concert with its other local applications, will have a lock on perhaps the biggest potential local online and local commerce enabler in the world.

This will suck more dollars from local media companies (Yelp’s annual revenue is already in the $30–50 million range, and some of that money merchants used to spend with traditional media companies), while we’re still busy trying to figure out the best way to get our content out to everybody.

Let me repeat: the business of media is advertising, not content.