If you want millennial TV viewers, it’s interact or bust

Zane is CEO and cofounder of Watchwith.
It’s pretty much taken as gospel these days that millennials are cord-cutters, eager to abandon television as we know it — torch broadcast and cable business models along the way.
The reality, though, is a lot more nuanced. Yes, millennials are more likely to opt out of subscriptions to traditional cable-TV bundles. But they’re cord-cutting in only the most narrow sense—substituting one delivery system (linear TV) for another (on-demand streaming) and one type of hardware (cable-fed TVs) for others (mobile devices, and TVs and PCs rigged with over-the-top solutions).
They’re still watching TV shows — lots of TV shows — and consuming plenty of programming generated by the “traditional” TV industry. They’re just doing it on their own terms.
At Watchwith, our team of entertainment, technology, and advertising experts have been studying video consumption patterns since 2012. We’re particularly interested in understanding the psychology of what works and what doesn’t for the new generation of TV viewers, particularly when it comes to advertising messages. That said, here are three broad findings we’ve found to be true…

Mobile pre-roll feels like a personal violation for millennials

All of us tend to be deeply connected to and dependent on our mobile devices, but for digital-native millennials, omnipresent smartphones are almost like an extension of their bodies — and of their personalities. That’s why pre-roll and mid-roll advertising that might be acceptable (or at least tolerable) in a desktop setting becomes absolutely rage-inducing on mobile.
We’ve heard again and again from millennial consumers about their incredible feeling of frustration while watching pre-roll on a phone. There’s a profound mismatch between the pre-roll experience and a personal device like a smartphone. Pre-roll advertising in a desktop browser tab comes off as interruptive, but the same pre-roll on mobile feels domineering, like viewers have been temporarily deprived of the sense of control they take for granted when using their beloved devices.
According to a study just released by eMarketer, “young adults ages 18 to 29 are more likely to own a mobile phone or smartphone than a desktop or laptop, pointing to how mobile is becoming an all-purpose device that users are increasingly relying on.” But in a phenomenon that MaryLeigh Bliss of youth-market research firm Ypulse calls “ad A.D.D.,” millennials are turning a blind eye to traditional ads on their favorite platform. According to Ypulse research, says Bliss, “when we ask young consumers which type of advertising they usually ignore or avoid, 62 percent say online ads, like banner and video ads, and 68 percent say mobile in-app ads. In other words, online marketing — you’re doing it wrong. It’s not enough to be where they are. You have to be where they are, and match your message to their behavior.”

‘Interactive TV’ is entirely intuitive on mobile for millennials

Many digital-native millennials grew up, or at least came of age, thinking of media consumption as a tactile experience. It’s entirely natural — indeed, second nature — for them to feel their way through media on mobile devices. And that’s even more true for post-millennials, aka Generation Z; witness the various videos on YouTube like “Baby Works iPad Perfectly,” and “9 Month Old Baby Using iPad.”
All those years of people fumbling with remotes to navigate through cable guides and various iterations of “interactive TV” have given way to being able to touch, tap and swipe — in the process instantly controlling their content-consumption destiny. That’s part of what’s behind the explosive growth of millennial-favorite streaming-gaming platform Twitch, which Amazon acquired last year for $970 million as well as prioritizes real-time interaction on its mobile apps.
The very culture surrounding streaming video itself on both mobile and desktop engenders seamless interaction. Consider the billions of shares, likes/dislikes, and channel subscriptions in just the YouTube ecosystem alone.

Millennials are poised to interact—in context, in program

Millennials are incredibly distracted consumers of content. They’re media multitaskers. So, programming that allows them to multi-task in-program helps them satisfy their natural desire to touch, tap, and swipe their way through their content-consumption journey.
In a recent study Watchwith conducted in collaboration with Magid, we found that more than half of 18- to 24-year-olds are more likely to watch more episodes of a show if it has in-program (i.e., non-interruptive) ads. We also found that in-program ads have higher levels of unaided recall compared to traditional TV ads. The point is to let the show continue flowing, but still get the ad message across.
In other words, while millennials may be inveterate multitaskers, when they’re actually in the flow of content-consumption, they’re ready and willing to interact with brand messages on their own terms.

Why ‘ad-free’ YouTube Red will actually be filled with ads

Zach is a media analyst at Fabric Media.
YouTube Red, Google’s $10 per month ad-free subscription tier, has finally arrived. And when you look at the pure volume of content and consumer demand, it’s easy to see that Red is justifiably the sensible next step in the video service’s evolution.
The move to launch YouTube Red, however, is also about a viewer’s preferences for how that content is consumed, according to Juan Bruce, CEO of Epoxy, which helps YouTubers market and measure video across social channels. “Every platform entering the video space gives viewers another option for how they want to interact with content, whether it’s traditional YouTube, live streaming, a Vine feed, Facebook’s social experience or paid services.”
It’s also a potential cash cow, is it not? There’s an OTT land grab right now, so why wouldn’t the platform with (arguably) the most loyal video community on the web make a go of it?
In addition to its new premium features, Red will offer premium content, created specifically for the platform and available only through its service. Creators like The Fine Bros, PewDiePie, Joey Graceffa, Lilly Singh, and Rooster Teeth are just a few of the individuals committed to creating original material for the newly launched service.
The alleged draw of the new premium content from PewDiePie and others will be twofold: 1) the subscription revenue will help pay for content exclusively produced for Red customers; and 2) the content will be uninterrupted, or ad-free. The problem with the latter is can you truly call it uninterrupted ad-free content if you have native advertising involved?
Call them native ads, brand sponsored content, or what you will, the point is, ads are pervasive and baked into the actual creative of so many top tier YouTube channels. Even the TV industry is incorporating native ads in-program, so are we to expect the YouTube market to change when it has been incorporating branded content into videos for years?

‘Ad-free’ threatens YouTube’s business model (and consumer trust)

The above calls into question two things: what does ad-free mean to creators and digital networks on YouTube who rely on brand deals? And, assuming YouTube doesn’t bite the hand that feeds it, is Red really delivering consumers an ad-free service?
Considering the economics of legacy YouTube — YouTube channel sponsorships, in-video brands integrations — there’s a lot of questions surrounding how the existing native advertising model fits into a premium “ad-free” YouTube subscription service. For YouTube creators and multi-channel networks (MCNs), integrating branded content natively in videos is a key revenue driver. In fact, we’re seeing these types of branded integrations popping up all over the Internet — from the gaming industry and its sponsored levels in Zynga to the music industry and its branded pop-up stations like the Halo 5: Guardians station on Dash Radio.
Frank Sinton, CEO of Beachfront Media, knows the industry intimately, having worked with over 100 YouTubers to deploy apps across connected TVs and mobile phones. He points to a specific YouTube native advertising example from Dude Perfect, saying: “The ads in his content are part of the video. If it’s supposed to be an ad-free platform, it should be completely. But how does that happen?”
YouTube is saying it’s sharing new subscription revenue with creators, but what about brand deals? Where does YouTube stand on native brand integrations being a part of YouTube Red?
There’s no need to guess. Google-owned YouTube already informed the market where it stands earlier in the year. More specifically, it happened when YouTube made moves against brand-sponsored videos, requiring creators and MCNs to work Google’s sales team for deals.

Go forth, and question

At an initial glance, the premium features of YouTube Red are enough to sway a portion of the population over to the subscription-based model. Especially with the promise of premium content from top creators in the not so distant future, but the term “ad-free” has been brushed over, and applied to the platform without any real concrete details. With all of the new features YouTube Red is offering, it’s definitely worth a shot,  just don’t be disappointed when “ad-free” turns out to be “pre-roll ad free” and a lot of branded content.

Mobile video ads are poised to explode—So what’s holding it back?

Josh is chief executive officer at AerServ.
Video has always been one of advertisers’ most powerful engagement tools. And as digital video in general has become a regular aspect of our daily media consumption, advertisers are looking for new ways to leverage it to boost results and gain an advantage over competitors.
Enter mobile video. Last year, a study from digital ad firm Undertone and market research company Ipsos ASI determined that high-impact ads deliver the best brand recall. Not exactly a revelation, but this year, those firms tested the  theory on mobile devices and discovered that the same was true: High-impact ads still deliver the highest engagement and brand recall, regardless of screen size. This is good news for both publishers and advertisers, who need not worry about banners and other traditional formats on mobile; they can still grab attention on a small screen by leveraging targeting technology and compelling video content.
Not only that, but mobile also affords advertisers the ability to target specific users at specific locations like no other medium can. Using device ID, coordinates/ location data, demographic data, browsing behavior and more, advertisers can target at an extremely granular level to hone in on the most qualified audiences to boost efficiency and overall results.
So with all those capabilities and benefits, why hasn’t mobile video spending exploded? Why aren’t advertisers, who are constantly looking for new ways to engage today’s ever-connected consumer, absolutely desperate to get into the mobile video game?
Well, like any emerging technology, mobile video still faces certain challenges that need to be overcome, or at least mitigated, before risk-averse agencies and brands will be eager to take the plunge. A fairly common concern about mobile video is its newness; even the industry old guard is learning about it along with everyone else. And that lack of familiarity among the experts and decision makers, as well as its relative lack of field-testing, is enough to keep it off the budget for another year.
Another key challenge associated with being a relatively recent innovation is the fragmentation of the mobile video market. Creative formats vary across devices and platforms and there is a general lack of standards and best practices for both advertisers and publishers. TV buyers want to reuse their TV spots and desktop buyers want to reuse their desktop videos, neither of which is going to seamlessly fit a mobile platform. Desktop Flash VPAID creatives don’t work in mobile environments either. Mobile VPAID, while standardized via IAB, is still emerging and actually varies wildly per vendor.
And boy are there a lot of vendors. And a lot of devices. The mobile space is getting more complex with every release of a new phone, tablet, operating system or feature upgrade. For advertisers and agencies, it becomes extremely difficult to plan for every possible combination of device, OS and ad format, and it can cause significant hiccups in deploying creative.
Further challenges arise with regard to targeting; while mobile offers highly advanced targeting capabilities, it does also lack transparency with regard to context. Specifically, advertisers cannot necessarily be certain that their ads are not running alongside inappropriate or irrelevant video content. Context is extremely important when it comes to brand integrity and getting your money’s worth out of the ad buy, and some advertisers want to see improvement in this area before investing.
Anyone who has been working in the ad-tech space for more than a few years won’t be surprised by what is perhaps the largest hurdle that mobile video must overcome in order to establish itself in the marketer’s standard arsenal: measurement. Measurement challenges have plagued every traditional and digital advertising medium for years, but mobile engagement actually can be tracked through multiple metrics including clicks, views, leads, installs, purchases, foot traffic, etc.
That said, mobile video measurement is not always a piece of cake. Viewability is the industry’s current favorite metric, but advertisers and publishers alike struggle with what it actually means — at what point is the video ad considered viewable or count as an impression? Some define a viewable impression as three seconds onscreen, but there is still no industry standard. A concept that seems so simple is still being debated due to new technologies like in-feed or “native” video. In addition, common analytics vendors from the desktop space are not yet mature in the in-app space.
For agencies and marketers concerned with justifying their ad spend with tangible, understandable results, the murkiness of mobile video measurement is a significant stumbling block. For vendors and solutions providers, the chief concern is attribution, or making sure they are appropriately credited and compensated for each conversion. It’s not easy for anyone to take a risk on an emerging tech solution when you don’t even have a clear, validated way of gauging its effectiveness and communicating it to the holders of the purse strings.
Mobile video absolutely can be an advertiser’s secret weapon; it is just crucial for those issues to be addressed and clarified if possible. Luckily, there are several ways forward and a plethora of mobile tools available to help get there. Utilize those tools, like the rich interactive video experiences of VPAID and custom video and, if viewability is a concern, many vendors have in-app viewability tools to offer comfort and peace of mind. To deal with creative challenges, it can be useful to partner with a company boasting a solid history of mobile campaign execution, such as Telemetry or Sizmek, and data providers and DMPs such as Neustar and Factual are working every day on ways to improve targeting accuracy and contextual transparency.
Any nascent technology has its growing pains, but the benefits of mobile video are well worth the effort of overcoming those challenges to be at the forefront of an important shift in the industry. More and more tools are emerging for advertisers and publishers to handle the challenges of navigating the still somewhat murky waters of mobile video, but soon enough, consumer response will dictate the industry’s rate of advancement in this area. Your consumers have cut the cord — to the TV, to the desktop — and they are holding devices in their purses and pockets capable of delivering the same positive user experience and even better engagement results. The mobile market is ready, you should get ready, too.

Facebook beefs up its video platform to take on YouTube

Facebook wants people to watch more videos on its platform, even if those videos aren’t discovered within your news feed. In other words, Facebook wants to be more like YouTube. And today the company announced a set of video-related updates aimed at doing just that.
Facebook’s interest in video consumption first ramped up nearly two years ago when it began auto-playing video within a person’s news feed, and recently expanded to include live video streams from celebrities as well as immersive 360-video. That worked fairly well in terms of serving interesting content you’re likely to enjoy, but the engagement on those videos doesn’t really compare to YouTube. Part of that is because people don’t come to Facebook to watch videos, making viewing times shorter or limited to a single video at a time.

Facebook's new Suggested Videos feed.

Facebook’s new Suggested Videos feed.

Today’s updates want to fix that with the debut of a new “Suggested Videos” feature, which is already being tested for mobile users. When you open a video on Facebook, you’ll now see it playing as part of a new video discovery feed. Once you finish, the basic idea is that you’ll scroll through and perhaps watch a couple more related videos. It’s sort of like how YouTube is successful in getting me to watch 10 minutes of puppy videos when I only intended to consume a single 30-second clip. Whether people will actually find Facebook’s version useful is another question entirely.
If Facebook can increase the amount of time people are spending purely watching videos in a single sitting, it’ll help drive revenue from video advertising. It’ll also help justify the video ads Facebook plans to run in between the suggested videos.
Facebook also announced that it’ll soon give people more options for how to watch video content on its platform. You’ll soon be able to navigate to a new video section that keeps track of any video links you’ve saved for later. And on the opposite side of the viewing spectrum, Facebook is catering to the casual crowd of video watchers, allowing them to push the video player into a smaller floating window that continues playing while you navigate other parts of the social network. I could see this being extremely valuable, as people spend lots of time just lounging on Facebook during the day. (This is already how I watch most linear TV.)
But of course, Facebook’s success in stealing people away from YouTube will largely depend on the quality of content being uploaded. Therefore the company is also rolling out a new set of tools aimed at helping publishers target and grow its audience. In the past, web video creators have criticized Facebook for the poor level of legitimate engagement it brings to their uploaded content. My guess is these new video-related updates are intended to fix that.

Reddit’s Upvoted is about humanizing the community, not (just) ads

There’s a ton of discussion being had about Reddit’s recent launch of Upvoted, the company’s new news site focused on adding more to stories made popular on Reddit proper. Much of it has to do with either the ethics of Reddit becoming its own news publication, or the impact Upvoted will have on the business of news.
Why? Well, Reddit has a massive audience but has never been very good at making money. The same is true for news businesses, although for the last several years news publications have heavily relied on producing articles derived from content aggregators like Reddit — which drove lots of traffic and, in turn, ad revenue. Therefore, everyone is watching Reddit’s Inception-like* plan to produce news coverage of itself. However, there are some generally accepted conclusions about Upvoted’s launch that merit deeper analysis — three, to be more specific.

Comment sections & ‘stealing’ traffic back

The first is that Reddit’s decision not to allow commenting on stories published on Upvoted is somehow indicative of comment sections branded as useless and no longer valuable enough to justify managing. This is dead wrong. If anything, the move only strengthens the argument that comment sections are extremely valuable, at least to Reddit. If people do want to comment on a story from Upvoted, Reddit certainly doesn’t want to dilute the original submission on Reddit proper by creating a new forum for discussion elsewhere, one that ignores original submission/comment page. I fully expect popular Upvoted articles to get submitted to Reddit proper**, just like news articles from other publications. The same is true for voting on a story — Upvoted doesn’t want to take anything away from the main site, so you can’t vote on anything unless you submit to that site. Upvoted’s main purpose is to add value to Reddit, which has the added and equally beneficial bonus of also making Reddit’s content more attractive to advertisers. (More on that in a bit.)
The second, and less discussed topic about Upvoted is that it was created in large part to “steal back” some of the traffic being sent to digital publications that often translate top Reddit submissions into listicles or features — such as what’s been done on sites like BuzzFeed, Distractify, and many others. I can say with near certainty that Reddit really isn’t concerned with driving traffic back to its main site, which has seen near regular traffic growth for the last several years.
Reddit the company, however, is highly motivated to produce a version of those listicle-like posts that actually compels people to click through to the original source on Reddit. And the best way to do this, according to Reddit, is to provide added value by reaching out to original submitters of that content and providing further explanation if necessary/valid/helpful. That’s something most millennial-targeted publications don’t do, nor have they really needed to. The content that gets voted to the top of Reddit is often compelling enough on its own, so news publications don’t really need to try much harder to add more value when covering it. (Although if Upvoted is successful, it’ll force other publications to step up their game, making more of an effort to include information about Reddit users who first submitted or produced the content being written about.)

It’s the community, stupid.

Lastly, and probably most in need of further discussion, is that Upvoted will become a potentially important source of advertising revenue to Reddit proper. This one is absolutely true, but possibly not in the way you’d think. I don’t expect Upvoted’s traffic to come anywhere near the numbers of Reddit’s main site, limiting its ability to make money from advertising. (Smaller audience, less lucrative.) But if this strategy works, it may create a safer path for advertisers across all of Reddit’s properties.
Right now, Reddit is viewed by advertisers with caution. The reasons for this are well-documented. But there’s no denying that Reddit is popular enough that you’d be crazy not to try and get in front of its audience. The problem is that it’s often hard to predict how the discussion will form on Reddit by its community, and that’s a risk many advertisers aren’t willing to justify should things go sour — deserved or not.
Upvoted can soften those fears by enhancing the top submitted content on Reddit proper (as explained above). On other news sites that may credit a Reddit user for submitting a piece of content that gets written up in an article, usually there’s no desire to go beyond the user name. But doing so could help humanize the submitters, which might help advertisers overcome some of the negative characterizations of the overall Reddit community. But to do so will also require Upvoted to exercise a journalistic set of ethics for the times when it cannot ignore something toxic or controversial.
It’ll be on Reddit to make sure the site acts like a news organization in that regard, but more than likely I can’t see that being much of an issue. Reddit users as a whole produce so much interesting and compelling content that you could easily focus coverage on without ever touching the controversial stuff. I love a thorough media circus as much as the next guy (actually, no I don’t) but the tech press is doing a thorough job of covering the controversies and negative aspects of Reddit. To me, that alone would justify Upvoted to leave the controversy to others, while having the company itself address criticisms publicly — just like it has done in the past.

What Upvoted means for the future of news publications, (if anything)

Since plenty of words have already been written about what Reddit’s Upvoted strategy may mean for the future of the news and media business, I’ll be brief. Reddit is an aggregator that realized its community was producing content on par — or better than — professionals at news publications. Now, Reddit is finally trying to do something to utilize that content without taking away from the people responsible for producing it to begin with.
For other sites like BuzzFeed and Upworthy, the decision to shift from content aggregators to full-on news production was much different. (Both began primarily as aggregators, but later saw value in expanding into original news/content.)
Neither of those organizations were able to develop and sustain a community of regular users. I can’t really think of many digital publications that have on the scale of Reddit. (No, having a huge social media following doesn’t count. If you don’t own your distribution channels, you don’t really own the comments or discussions.) Original content production was the only alternative for Upworthy and BuzzFeed. But for Reddit, this is just what comes next.
* Upvoted: A Reddit within a Reddit…
**…within another Reddit = Reddit Inception?!?

AdBlock Plus’ list of acceptable ads to be run by independent board

Eyeo has been accused of extorting large companies in exchange for placement on a list of advertisers whose promotions aren’t hidden from consumers by AdBlock Plus, a popular tool which promises to make browsing the Web easier by hiding most ads. Now it’s planning to give control over the controversial list to an independent board that will decide the requirements which must be met by its prospective members.
Details about the independent board remain scarce, but an Eyeo spokesperson told Gigaom that the company is “tentatively hoping for early 2016” and that it doesn’t “have a concrete timeframe” for the board’s establishment. The Guardian reports that the company is seeking “representatives from advertising, publishing and the public” for the board, but it hasn’t yet revealed any specific membership candidates.
Eyeo has been criticized for its revenue model since the Financial Times revealed in February that companies like Taboola, Microsoft, and Google pay to be on its list of acceptable advertisers. A digital media company told the Times that Eyeo asked it to pay “a fee equivalent to 30 per cent of the additional ad revenues that it would make from being unblocked” in exchange for having its advertisements placed on the list.
At the time, I argued that Eyeo’s revenue model was another example of a Silicon Valley company hiding behind lofty ideals, such as improving Web browsing, while covertly using its software to suit other purposes. The company didn’t offer a free ad-blocker just so it could improve the Web; it also used the tool to personally profit based on the sheer number of people who trusted it to block any ad they might see.
That criticism was stoked when the Wall Street Journal reported that Dean Murphy, the maker of the popular Crystal ad-blocker for iOS, would be paid to use Eyeo’s list of acceptable advertisers in his own application. This would provide Murphy with two revenue streams — Crystal’s a paid application — for a software tool that belongs to a category that many believe could prove disastrous to ad-dependent publishers.
Here’s what Murphy said in a blog post about his decision to use this list:

[B]y blocking all advertising with brute-force, it doesn’t promote a healthy mobile web that is sustainable and allows publishers to make a living from the free content they provide. By including the option for a user-managed whitelist and Acceptable Ads, I’m hoping to empower users to be able to support the mobile web in any way they see fit. […] In the long term, I’m hoping this convinces advertising agencies and publishers to reassess the kind of advertising they are using and bring them inline to a either the Acceptable Ads (or similar) criteria.

Arguments about whether or not it’s acceptable for ad-blocking companies to accept fees aren’t likely to be resolved now that Eyeo plans to set up an independent board. Here’s what a spokesperson said in response to my question about how Eyeo will make money when the independent board takes control of the list of acceptable ads:

We will continue to receive compensation from the larger entities on the whitelist. That’s about 10 percent of them all. However, those companies first have to uphold criteria (as do the 90 percent who don’t pay). It’s just that now an independent board made up of representatives from all over the map (figuratively and literally) will alter, update and enforce those criteria. Big, big change.

Big change indeed. I suspect it won’t change much about the conversation around the list, though. Even if it’s managed by an independent board, and even if all its members have to meet stringent requirements about ad quality, there will always be people upset that their favorite ad-blocker is making money by letting ads through. Eyeo could be in the right on this one, but it’s going to be criticized all the same.

Watchwith aims to help TV advertising evolve for the digital era

Say what you will about commercials, but TV video ads managed to generate upwards of $173 billion last year. The problem is, there are fewer pairs of eyeballs to watch traditional linear television these days thanks to a multitude of options to view instead on tablets, smartphones, and set-top box apps. Combine that with the rising preference for OTT (over the top) content, and TV programmers now have a growing conundrum on their hands — how do you keep generating advertising dollars as viewing habits become more fragmented and TV commercials lose effectiveness?
That’s an issue media startup Watchwith wants to do something about. The company came on the scene in 2013 with the launch of a platform allowing TV programmers to insert engaging, second-screen content while the show is playing, (sort of like a Pop Up Video). It uses meta data, information about the audience itself, and a few other sources to do this — either baking the integration directly into mobile app platforms or utilizing the ACR (automatic content recognition) capabilities of smart TVs to trigger perfectly timed engaging content regardless of where a program is being watched (cable, broadcast, on-demand via an app). Today Watchwith announced that it’s translating its technology for advertising, and has already forged many partnerships including CBSi, FOX Broadcasting, NBCUniversal, and Viacom.
More specifically, Watchwith is now giving TV programmers the ability to insert interactive ad spots while a show is playing. The ads themselves will take up a portion of the screen (I’m guessing either bottom corners or a banner across the bottom), and likely be similar to those animated promos TV networks use when watching linear broadcast/cable TV.
This is significant because it creates an opportunity for new forms of ads to be sold that are specific and unique to each moment of a program. And when you introduce audience data, you can get a much more relevant ad targeted at the right people. That’s the idea, anyway.
“What we’ve built is the perfect intersection between data and creativity [in TV advertising] that people have been talking about,” said Watchwith CEO Zane Vella in an interview with Gigaom, adding that the capability to insert contextually relevant in-program ads (perhaps not at scale, though) has been possible for years with the available technology. But, he explained, it took the TV industry a while to catch up.

A WatchWith ad pops on screen at a specific moment during Bravo's Best New Restaurant reality show.

A Watchwith ad pops on screen at a specific moment during Bravo’s Best New Restaurant reality show.

Watchwith ads can prompt viewers with a question, poll, or factoid related to a specific moment during a program, while featuring an advertiser’s logo. In this sense, the company (as well as many TV networks) are betting that people are far more accepting of these types of ad spots than the typical commercial break that lasts several minutes. I’m inclined to agree, especially with Hulu — the premiere ad-supported premium TV service — recently deciding to give its customers the option of paying more to eliminate commercials.
Vella explained that the TV industry landscape is much different now compared to even five years ago — in that programmers now have more sophisticated digital ad strategies as well as ad technologies at their disposal. That means they aren’t tied to the traditional practice of matching advertising based solely on the content of the show or the audience demographics — and hoping it has the desired affect of giving advertisers a ROI.
Watchwith essentially gives programmers the ability manage their advertising efforts directly, handling both sales and the delivery of those ads without involving a middle man. Of course when that doesn’t make sense, Watchwith ads can also be automated to run programmatic network ads. However, the main benefit remains that programmers have more control.
“We’re at a very interesting time in television, especially with Tim Cook’s recent proclamation that the future of television is apps,” Vella said. The Apple TV CEO’s statement was made in reference to the company’s new tvOS, a brand new operating system that will finally allow third-party developers to build apps for the company’s Apple TV set-top box.
If Cook’s prediction does hold true, then it puts Watchwith at the forefront. With more TV-specific apps being created for people to consume content, TV programmers and advertisers alike will be faced with an even more fragmented ecosystem — meaning, it’ll be harder to target the same audience across multiple platforms.

With Peace’s removal, Ghostery leaves some unanswered questions

Peace had a good run — in the rock ‘n’ roll “live fast die young” sense, anyway.
The ad-blocking app received a lot of press coverage, thanks partly to its creator’s other projects; it climbed to the top of Apple’s App Store’s list of paid apps; and it seemed to make mobile web browsing just a little bit more private. Then it was unceremoniously pulled from the App Store just two days after its debut. Still, there are some unanswered questions about Peace and how the company that provided the list of scripts it should block, Ghostery, will move forward.
The app’s creator, Marco Arment, said in a blog post that Peace “doesn’t serve our goals or beliefs well enough” and that a “more nuanced, complex approach is required” for the app to effect the positive change he wanted it to bring about. (Arment has said he is declining press interviews about nixing Peace; I chose to respect that choice instead of badgering him with unwanted emails or tweets.) So far as pulling something from the App Store goes, Arment has been more than fair. He’s offered to refund people who bought the app, and it seems that more than 10,000 people have taken him up on the offer. Peace will also keep working for anyone who downloaded it; it simply won’t receive any updates. It’s hard to fault Arment for how he’s decided to — pardon the pun — find his peace.
Ghostery chief executive Scott Meyer said in his own blog post that Peace was an “eye opening experiment” and his company will “continue to work on these issues with our other Ghostery products to the good of the entire ecosystem” after Peace’s fall.
Meyer said that he and Arment decided at the same time that “the way Peace was being used compromised the neutrality that Ghostery is built on.” At issue was the fact that Peace, unlike the Ghostery extensions available for desktop browsers, made ad-blocking an all-or-nothing proposition. That was too black-and-white for a company that wants its users to find their favorite shade of grey.
But if that was the main issue, why did Peace need to be pulled from the App Store? Arment himself said in a previous blog post that the ability to control what advertising services (among other things) are blocked by Peace was cut from the first release just so it would be ready when iOS 9 debuted. He added that he would “likely add [this level of granularity] in the first update” to Peace.
Combine this with the ability to whitelist certain websites — thus removing the perceived threat to small-to-medium-sized publishers — and it seems that Peace could have offered a shred of privacy while addressing its creators’ concerns. That begs another question: Did (or would) Ghostery oppose Peace not because of its indiscriminate ad-blocking, but because it imperiled Ghostery’s business?
Ghostery makes its money by telling website owners what trackers are run on their sites. To do this, it asks everyone who installs its desktop extension to opt-in to a service that collects information while they browse the web. People have their privacy, website owners learn something, and Ghostery gets paid. It’s a win for everyone except the people whose advertisements are being blocked.
That isn’t an option with Safari’s content blockers. Apple doesn’t allow them to collect information about what’s blocked. They set the parameters, Safari uses them to improve consumers’ browsing experiences, and that’s the end of it. While that’s good for privacy — what’s the point of blocking trackers only to have someone else gather similar data? — it’s bad for Ghostery’s business.
Arment has said that there are “many juicy theories out there of people pressuring me or buying me off. They’re entertaining, but untrue. It’s what I wrote, nothing more.” That explains his motivations, but that still left the question of Ghostery’s. Why support the pulling of an app that many people obviously wanted when its next update was supposed to fix its biggest issue?
Ghostery isn’t saying anything beyond its first blog post. A public relations contact pointed to that post when I requested comment this morning, and has yet to respond to an email containing further questions about whether or not it’s also refunding money or if it’s just Arment; whether or not my theory is remotely correct; and what it has planned for iOS now that Peace is no more.
Maybe I’m just reading too much into things. Perhaps Ghostery’s blog post is just as transparent as Arment’s. But when a top-selling application is pulled for reasons that were supposed to be addressed within its first update, and it posed a threat to one of its creator’s business models, it’s hard not to feel that there’s something else going on. Only with answers to those questions will Peace rest.

Top iOS ad blocker ‘Peace’ gets yanked from the App Store

While the debate over the ethics of ad blocking tools rages on, the developer of Apple’s top mobile ad blocker app has decided to take a big step back by removing it from the App Store today.
Peace, the ad blocker app that is the subject of all this attention, debuted in the App Store just days ago with a $3 price tag, and quickly rose in popularity. Despite this, Peace’s developer Marco Arment elected to stop support for it and end further sales, which may seem a bit odd considering that he’s still in favor of ad blocking for a variety of reasons.
“Ad blockers come with an important asterisk: while they do benefit a ton of people in major ways, they also hurt some, including many who don’t deserve the hit,” Arment wrote in a blog post about his decision. “Peace required that all ads be treated the same — all-or-nothing enforcement for decisions that aren’t black and white.
“This approach is too blunt, and Ghostery and I have both decided that it doesn’t serve our goals or beliefs well enough. If we’re going to effect positive change overall, a more nuanced, complex approach is required than what I can bring in a simple iOS app,” he added.
There are numerous reason for blocking advertising via a web browser — better privacy, faster page load times, more pleasurable web browsing experience — but, there are also some consequences. One of the biggest is that smaller web publishers (news and media sites in particular) are likely to take a financial hit, as Gigaom’s Nathaniel Mott pointed out previously.
Arment is confident that those who already purchased Peace will be able to use it without problems for the foreseeable future, even without developer support. He’s also offering to refund the purchase, and lists instructions for doing so on his website.
There is no shortage of ad blocking tools available, and with Apple coming out in support of the practice, there’s likely to be plenty of activity in this space going forward. That said, Peace will probably still be missed but web users shouldn’t have any trouble finding a replacement. The bigger issue will be in getting web publishers and advertisers to change how they operate, with greater considerations for privacy, ad obtrusiveness, and the like.

Safari’s content blockers: Good for privacy, bad for publishers

You’ve probably heard that Apple’s new content blocking tools will lead to the slaughter of countless publications, to Tim Cook walking through the desiccated remains of the countless writers who will starve as ad revenues dry up while laughing at all those too foolish to work with Apple News.
All right, so the claims aren’t that hyperbolic. But there is a lot of hand-wringing about how the content blocking tools, which became available with yesterday’s release of iOS 9, pose a threat to small-and medium-sized publishers. How will these companies survive on dwindling ad dollars?
This isn’t a theoretical issue. It’s clear that at least some people are interested in content blockers. One, the Peace app made by Overcast developer Marco Arment, already reached the top of the App Store’s list of paid software. Others (Crystal, Freedom, Blockr) have also become popular.
Some have already pointed out the perceived irony of a developer asking consumers to pay for software that limits the amount of money publishers can make from advertisements. Others have wondered how crowded the App Store might be with these simple, easy-to-develop apps in the coming months. But, for the most part, it all comes back to fretting about publishers. And these developers have varying responses to complaints about how their software might affect small media companies, with it mostly boiling down to content blocking being the only way for people to enjoy browsing the Web.
One of the main draws is being able to visit a website without having to wait for unwanted assets — the ads — to load. Crystal developer Dean Murphy says web pages load 3.9 times quicker with his app enabled than they do when browsing the web with a fresh-off-the-homescreen version of Safari.
Reducing the number of things a site needs to (or can) load also eases some of the concerns about using wireless data. Many people can only use a few gigabytes of data each month, and the fees incurred by going over that limit can be high. An ad-free web isn’t just faster; it can also be cheaper.
There’s another benefit to using these tools: privacy.
Many websites use tools that track people across websites. Sometimes these tools are used to serve advertisements, other times they’re sending information back to Facebook and other social networks. The end result is the same — people are being followed without knowing, let alone consenting.
To get a feel for how often people are tracked, I installed Ghostery, a tool that identifies/blocks trackers and advertisements, and visited some popular news sites. Here’s what I found:

  • Venture Beat — 51 trackers
  • The New York Times — 39 trackers
  • The New Yorker — 37 trackers
  • The Verge — 37 trackers
  • Gigaom — 34 trackers
  • TechCrunch — 28 trackers
  • The Washington Post — 27 trackers
  • The Wall Street Journal — 27 trackers
  • The Awl — 26 trackers
  • The Guardian — 10 trackers

Most of these sites are using the same trackers. There’s Google Analytics and Chartbeat to measure traffic; Typekit to offer nicer typography; and various services devoted to serving advertisements, such as DoubleClick and Quantcast. Other popular options come from social networks like Twitter or Facebook, let people watch embedded videos, and so on.
It’s worth noting that these figures are from desktop sites, and that another content blocking tool, uBlock Origin, gave slightly different counts for the number of trackers. I used Ghostery’s because it provided a detailed breakdown of the trackers it blocks along with what they’re supposed to do. (These figures collected with all ad-blocking turned off; the number of trackers shown when ad-blocking is on vary wildly in both number and scope.)
Which brings me to the funny thing about Ghostery — it’s in the business of telling website owners what trackers are on their sites. As Arment explains in a blog post about Peace:

Third-party ad networks and analytics are so common, and their standards for embedded ads are so unenforceable (since they’re letting third parties execute arbitrary code), that web publishers need someone else — Ghostery — to tell them what’s being served on their own sites and what problems it might be causing for their visitors or potential customers.

How are people supposed to trust websites if many of them don’t know what they’re doing themselves? Forget everything about making web browsing faster or less resource-intensive; I downloaded Peace (and use some combination of ad-blockers on my desktop browsers) to help get some of my privacy back.