While there has been much discussion recently about Web advertising fraud, and several solutions have emerged to detect the most basic instances of cheating, it's clear that the online ad industry still dramatically underestimates the problem.
ComScore recently estimated that "50% of Web traffic is non-human and mostly malicious," meaning that over $25 billion in digital ad spend was wasted globally in 2012. As users and advertising migrate rapidly to mobile platforms, the problem only gets more severe — mobile is a very complex environment with far less standardization than desktop web and more vulnerable than ever to ad fraud.
While it is a step in the right direction that the ad industry has embraced 'viewability' as a key metric to ensure ad budgets are not wasted, this is just a small step that needs to be taken much further and continually improved upon. Why? Because viewability is only one metric of hundreds that need to be measured, and the perpetrators of fraud have already developed ways to engineer around solutions that check for viewability.
Take for example “bots” — computer software designed to specifically mimic online human behavior and programmed to browse, click, register, and even sometimes makes purchases (with stolen credit card numbers) just as a real human being would. These bots are now so sophisticated that they do take the time to ‘view’ Web sites and ads, fully rendering them in a browser window before clicking or moving on. This type of behavior easily overcomes viewability measurement tools and has allowed fraudsters to rack up billions in earnings.
The increase in social media activities like registration, voting, commenting and sharing have only made the matter worse as these are all typical human behavior that are easy for bots to mimic. In fact, the ease with which botnets can mimic real Twitter and other social media accounts unfortunately allows them to easily establish credibility for their ‘users’. (Do an experiment as you read this article and type in “buy Twitter followers” into Google … how many of those followers do you think are real and how many are bot accounts?)
Bots typically begin as some form of malware that users "catch" from a site they visited or comes bundled with a free application or video they download. Millions of users have infected browsers and never know it, unwittingly taking part in botnets. In other cases, bots could in theory be banks of computers that were set up for the sole purpose of mimicking human browsing behavior. However, actually operating a computer is a more expensive option than is secretly taking over an existing one that someone else is operating.
Botnet or fraudulent behavior could also come from ‘click farms’ — quite literally human sweatshops overseas where employees are paid or forced to browse Web sites, click on ads, and register for product offerings. This type of activity easily defeats viewability standards (since humans are actually looking at sites) and even defeats tools that check for USA-based IP addresses since the fraudsters use VPN’s (virtual private networks) to act from within USA-based addresses.
A comScore vCE study, which measured validated ad campaign delivery against human audiences, showed that just 2.8% of ads co-occurring with malware processes running on user’s machine were viewable to an actual web user. Moreover, a study last year found that for very small sites -- those with fewer than 2,500 monthly visitors - 83% of their traffic comes from non-human sources (bad bots and good bots -such as search indexing) with bad bots accounting for 49 percent of traffic.
What can we do to prevent ad fraud if basic tools like viewability metrics and geographic/IP restrictions don’t work? We have to stop treating the issue like an advertising problem and realize it’s a cyber-security issue.
Cyber-security companies have been fighting issues with spam, malware, viruses, and even botnets that target e-commerce sites for years. The key difference here is that, unlike most ad agencies, security companies realize that this is an arms race, a competition that will never end but always evolve. The digital ad industry has to continually invest in new solutions, both through internal engineering and by using third-party vendors, and realize that as soon as a new solution is launched there will be a “blackhat” attempting to reverse-engineer and defeat the solution.
While this may sound like a grim prognostication, it is also realistic and positive in that we can see a road map to a solution. Once we stop viewing ad fraud as a problem that will go away once the right, single solution is found the sooner we can get on to winning the ad security arms race.
While the history of website publishing and Web content management (WCM) is relatively easy to explain in the context of desktop computing, the future of WCM will be based on a rapidly evolving mobile ecosystem that will level the publisher playing field in a converged world.
Netscape’s IPO in 1995 is certainly the event that kicked off the dot-com boom, but it also highlighted a huge problem. With the ever-expanding population of Web users came the need for publishers to rapidly build and deploy websites, and with non-technical staff instead of the specialized HTML developers that at the time were required to hand-code each Web page.
This led to the birth of WCM platforms and some very successful “boom-time” IPO offerings for two of the leading players (Vignette and Interwoven) in 1999.
Two key criteria for WCM platforms emerged back then that held true for quite some time: They were the ability to separate content from design, and the capability to allow non-developers to publish content and make basic design changes.
Despite the massive changes and new developments that emerged in Web publishing from 1995-2005 (among them content syndication capability in the form of RSS and XML feeds, changing ad formats and the dominance of a few key ad serving platforms, along with the emergence of email newsletters as a way to push content), these two core ideas defined the best WCM platforms and allowed them to evolve with changing industry needs.
At the time, text and images were the basis of Web publishing and ideas like video streaming to mobile platforms were still just blips on the horizon.
But the ability for these two criteria to guide WCM development changed in February 2005 with the emergence of YouTube, and it has only accelerated since the iPhone release in 2007 kicked off the long-awaited mobile wave.
What changed? First, video publishing requirements were (and are) so specialized that the idea of an “all in one” system to allow non-technical users to publish text and video with the same process became obsolete. Secondly, the massive number of mobile platforms (and display formats needed as a result) has now made it impossible to truly separate content from design.
To illustrate these issues, while it’s fairly standard for different website sections to have vastly different layouts and, for instance, the weather anchor at a TV station to be allowed to edit the weather section separately from the home page or sports page, most publishers are still forced to utilize a separate online video platform (OVP) from their core WCM platform and lockdown their video player design across their site due to the complexity of video publishing workflows and video syndication (ingest and output).
While responsive Web design has received much publicity as a cure-all for publishing to any mobile or desktop platform, it still can lead to poorly displayed content or premium ads that don’t appear where they should at times.
For the time being, publishers with a strong video production workflow and history of producing video for distribution across platforms have an advantage over those that don’t. So TV stations may still be ahead in the video and mobile video arms race with newspapers, the newer entrants to video publishing, in this rapidly converging world.
This may not be true for long. Newspapers and other players traditionally weak in video publishing are now making huge investments in video production. Note, for example, U-T San Diego, which is launching a video syndication network and building its own customized WCM/video platform to support its needs.
Convergence, a time when the definition of a media company is no longer associated with a specific legacy newspaper or TV format, but rather with content channels and user engagement across all platforms, is fast arriving.
What will change in the accelerating WCM space that will finally realize this trend to convergence?
All WCM and OVP players will provide access to their publishing interface through at least three channels: desktop Web, mobile Web and mobile app. Where the editor is publishing from will no longer be a meaningful distinction.
A true “mobile first” platform will emerge, not limited to simply providing the capability for an editor to utilize responsive Web design to ensure front-end compatibility across devices. End-to-end mobile first strategies — the back-end interface, syndication, editing and publishing (responsive design) — will be the standard in WCM.
The mobile space will standardize greatly in the next 12-36 months. Currently, the mobile Web is still the Wild West with insufficient standards for ads and content publishing to govern publisher behavior and fully gain user trust. Indeed, Apple only recently banned the use and capture of UDID numbers.
Fortunately, all leaders of the top local media WCM platform companies realize this and are pushing their teams to adapt rapidly to the converging world. Which WCM platforms will be successful in this effort and which will fail will be based, as always, on who follows user behavior most closely and enhances, rather than dictates, the audience experience.
Editorial originally published on http://www.netnewscheck.com/article/27371/cmss-will-need-to-adapt-as-media-converge#.Ud615imhpVg.facebook
Hulu's recent announcement that it would buy out investor Providence Equity for $200 million coincided with an announcement this past week that it would require viewers to prove that they have a Pay TV subscription to get Hulu content. This would block cord-cutters (people who have cancelled their cable TV subscriptions and instead get their TV and movie content through a combination of web-based delivery channels such as Netflix/YouTube/Amazon/iTunes and free over the air network TV received with a digital antenna) from getting Hulu content.
While not directly acknowledged by Hulu and Providence in any of these discussions, what's most interesting about these announcements is that they show not only how concerned Hulu's owners (major networks and cable companies) are about the possible negative effects that cord-cutting will have on their revenue streams going forward, but how disconnected these owners are from savvy investors such as Providence Equity who clearly see tremendous upside in pure-play web delivery of content.
To put this more clearly in perspective, Providence invested $100 million in Hulu in 2007 (almost exactly 5 years ago). So doubling their money to $200 million in 5 years is certainly not a bad thing (it actually works out to a roughly 15% internal rate of return on their investment), but it's nowhere near the type of return a private equity or venture firm would like to see on this type of investment. A 40% internal rate of return would be more like it from a private equity perspective (and a venture investor would have gone for a "10 bagger" and wanted back 10x their money after 5 years, or a 60% internal rate of return).
Providence clearly saw that Hulu was willing to potentially kill its own growth potential in order to protect traditional cable subscriptions and opted to get out as soon as possible to protect its investment gain. If Hulu does opt to restrict its viewing in this manner, it will only be good news for Netflix and Amazon and the millions who have cut the cord already will migrate to these services away from Hulu.
What this means for BIM's local broadcast clients is that free, over the air TV is a vital complement to online video delivery in the world of cord-cutting and it should be supported and promoted as such. Stations would do well to promote www.antennaweb.org and their local channel guides as prominently as possible on their sites and over the air to ensure consumers are aware of this choice.
With the literal explosion in all facets of mobile video — the number of device types to take into account, the number of video delivery platforms for publishers to choose from, and the emergence of new monetization models — it's never been easier for a publisher to become unintentionally locked into a system that leads to a missed revenue opportunity.
Today's video publishers need an open system capable of delivering video and integrating with virtually any 3rd party platform, as well as a video CMS that comes immediately integrated with a monetization platform. Unfortunately, the complexity involved in integrating video ad networks has left many publishers stuck on video platforms that lag behind the technology curve.
Tablets, smartphones, Flash vs HTML5, iOS, Android, MRAID vs VPAID, OTT devices like Roku and Boxee -- after the incredible pace of change over the past 12 months, who knows which factor or platform will be most important 12 months from now? Having the ability to publish HQ video to any existing device and the flexibility to integrate with emerging platforms is a critical factor for success and survival in today's market.
These are exactly the types of publisher needs we focus on addressing with our BIMvid solution. Any client launching on BIMvid is guaranteed to generate revenue from their very first video stream delivered, no matter the platform or format. The BIMLocal network (ranked in the top 2 in ComScore News & Information) serves just that function for the BIMvid platform and keeps our developers on the ball when it comes to new monetization requirements. This includes requirements for mobile, online, in-exchange, in-app, and live streaming applications.
I was recently impressed as I read about current BIMvid client, Fisher Communications, and how they are utilizing their existing system videos in a new platform for connected TV apps. (You can read the full release here: http://tinyurl.com/bl5um2v.) This perfectly illustrates the extreme levels of agility and adaptability publishers require if they expect to continually be able to adjust with the shifting technology terrain.
Though unlocking the full value to video content may seem like a guessing game to some, with an ad sales team to act as an internal customer driving our product innovation, BIMvid remains in a position to help our clients evolve with this industry, which is something not all video cms providers can say.
While it's obvious that technological evolution continues to accelerate in virtually every area of local interactive, it's also obvious that mobile is likely the single strongest area of revenue growth and product evolution for the next several years. Mobile devices (smart phones, tablets, even some forms of OTT devices) are exploding in terms of usage. This is good news for Broadcast Interactive Media (BIM) and for our clients as mobile (in all of its various facets and aspects) is native to and a key part of every product line and product roadmap decision that we make here at BIM.
As you review BIM's product lines as a prospective partner or customer, it's important to note that mobile is prominently featured or core to the product in every case.
• BIM CMS (mobile web): our content management system features BIM's sMobile templates as a native part of the feature set offered to our publishing clients. Since we can auto-detect what type of device a user is viewing your site from (desktop browser, smart phone, tablet device, etc…), BIM can serve up the correct version of your site to the appropriate user. This includes all forms of text, images, video, and mobile ads for revenue generation. See notes below for more specifics on video and ads.
• BIMVid (video CMS for mobile video): our video content management system automatically includes the ability to serve up video to various mobile devices based on our ability to transcode to any video format. So you're covered for video delivery to iPhone, Android, Blackberry, iPad, and other mobile/tablet devices. And because BIM has been the first local-media focused network to pioneer delivery of high quality video in 1080p, you can even deliver your content to OTT devices with no problems.
• MediaStar Suite (scheduling and data for mobile DTV channels): BIM's MediaStar Suite of program management tools are designed to handle schedule updates for both traditional broadcast lineups and mobile DTV channels. The mobile DTV channel information is then seamlessly published and transmitted within the ESG spectrum, allowing for convenient, streamlined schedule administration. Schedule updates can also be simultaneously published to a station’s TitanTV Mobile Guide, available on their mobile-optimized site or on most local news application platforms. (see next bullet below).
• TitanTV Mobile Guide (mobile EPG): our web-based, electronic program guides (EPG) include a mobile format so users can see what's airing on your live channels, no matter which type of device they are checking from. As our partnership with ThinkOptics/Remotec and the iWavit TVAid app shows, BIM can deliver extremely accurate TV listings in any format, including a configuration capable of powering iPhone or Android apps.
• BIMLocal Digital Network (mobile revenue and ad campaigns): currently ranked #3 on comScore News and Information with steady growth in mobile users and impressions, BIMLocal can help monetize mobile impressions for all of our publisher clients. We can also deliver targeted and effective campaigns for agency partners seeking to reach mobile users for client campaigns.
Chances are, whatever you're looking to do on the mobile front is already baked-in to an existing BIM product. Connect with a BIM sales manager or your existing point of contact at BIM and let us know what you need. We’ll be happy to set you up with demos, examples, testimonials or success stories.
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About Timur Yarnall, CEO Broadcast Interactive Media
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