Axios Media Trends

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December 12, 2017

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For your radar: Experts expect Obama-era net neutrality rules to be repealed on Thursday, which has enraged progressive activists and Silicon Valley. Axios' Kim Hart has a quick explainer with everything you need to know here.

1. You can log out, but you can't hide

Reproduced from Ghostery; Chart: Axios Visuals
Reproduced from Ghostery; Chart: Axios Visuals

A new study from Ghostery, an anti-tracking tool, shows that an overwhelming majority (79%) of websites globally are tracking visitors' data — with 10% of these sites actually sending user data to 10 companies or more.

  • Tracking scripts from Google and Facebook are by far the most pervasive. Together, those two companies collect more data than most other companies combined.
  • The U.S., Russia and U.K. have more trackers per page load than the global average, while Germany, France and India have fewer. (Germany and many European countries are known for their culture of strong data privacy.)
  • The advertising supply chain represents the vast majority of tracking companies.

Why it matters: Trackers can collect and sell visitor data in ways that aren't always obvious to consumers. Too many trackers can also slow down website load times. As the trade war for data intensifies, companies that collect the most data through trackers will become the biggest targets of data privacy reform.

  • New regulatory efforts to protect consumer privacy will significantly hinder these companies' ability to collect data via tracking scripts. The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which goes into effect next year in Europe, will require companies to get explicit permission from consumers to collect their data.
  • Too many trackers can often create slower web experiences. A Princeton study earlier this year found that mainstream news websites use more third-party ad tech vendors than any other type of website: sports, shopping, adult, etc. Such partnerships can slow down load times for publisher sites if there are too many trackers dropped on a page, or if they're using certain techniques to capture data.

Our thought bubble: It benefits these ad companies to have as access to as much data as possible, not just for profit, but because they want to provide better advertising experiences for users. (Studies have shown that consumers prefer customized ads.) Some may argue it's the cost of having free access to their tools.

2. Exclusive: Digital vet Jim Roberts joins Cheddar as EIC

Jim Roberts, former Mashable executive editor and veteran New York Times and Reuters digital editor, is joining streaming TV startup Cheddar as editor-in-chief to lead Cheddar's newsroom and editorial coverage. The company is also launching "Cheddar Scoops," an exclusive-news reporting unit. Business Insider's Alex Heath is the first Cheddar Scoops hire.

Why it matters: Cheddar continues to expand amid a tumultuous landscape for VC-backed digital media. These hires are part of a push to strengthen the company’s editorial product to keep up with its aggressive business deals.

  • The company hopes to add five to 10 people to the Cheddar Scoops team next year, many of whom will be experts in hot topic areas within business, deals, tech and media — Cheddar’s specialties. Cryptocurrency, for example, is a “no brainer,” says Cheddar Chief Content Officer Peter Gorenstein.
  • Roberts and Heath will begin December 19 and 18, respectively, and will be the first of several newsroom hires that will work to expand Cheddar’s original reporting footprint. "We will use all of the weapons of distribution to get our scoops out there," says Roberts. "That means breaking things on our air, and pushing scoops out on social media."

Sound smart: Roughly a year old, Cheddar now has 100 employees — 46 of which work in content. But most of that editorial staff works on creating the product, not breaking its own news. Now, Cheddar is investing in original reporting, which it hopes will distinguish itself from other over-the-top livestreamers, like The Young Turks and Barstool Sports.

Go deeper: More here about the new hires.

3. The cost of video fraud

A new study out this morning from 16 publishers, including The Washington Post and Business Insider, as well as Google, Amobee and Quantcast, finds that publishers are losing up to $3.5 million in a single day to counterfeit video inventory — up to $1.27 billion per year.

Why it matters: Inventory fraud has been plaguing the ad industry for years, but for a while it went relatively undetected, so fraudsters got away with it. The largest ad fraud criminal ring in history, the Russian "Methbot," was revealed last year to have stolen up to $5 million in fraudulent ad dollars per day. White Ops, the firm that finally caught it, had been tracking the bad activity for over a year.

Now, publishers are fighting back with an industry-wide initative called ads.txt, which prevents counterfeit ad inventory from being exchanged by forcing publishers to verify businesses that can sell their inventory upfront.

  • It's a supply and demand problem: A lot of these those publishers aren't losing money directly from countereit inventory — just like Rolex doesn't directly lose money from fake watches being sold on Canal Street. But it matters because it falsely inflates the amount of inventory a publisher has available, which decreases the value of their impressions.
  • It also causes performance issues for publishers: "I didn't want anybody to judge The Washington Post based off of performance that wasn't happening on our site," says Jason Tollestrup, director of programmatic at The Washington Post. "It's the industry problem we need to fix. That's why we were early adopters."
  • Google has been helping to get the initiative off the ground, by enforcing ads.txt through filtering out unauthorized inventory on its ad platforms. "Ads.txt only works if buyers actually enforce against the standard," says Pooja Kapoor, Head of Global Strategy for Programmatic at Google.

What's next? Now that publishers are on board, the Interactive Advertising Bureau wants ad buyers to be vigilant too. It's created a program called ads.cert for ad buyers to vet publishers' inventory.

4. Verizon trades exclusive NFL rights on mobile for Yahoo access

Verizon has struck a more than $2 billion deal to show NFL football games on its mobile network as well as its Yahoo, Yahoo Sports and go90 mobile platforms, The Wall Street Journal's Joe Flint reports.

  • "Verizon will make national games on Monday, Thursday and Sunday nights, in addition to the playoffs and Sunday afternoon games from a user’s home market, available on its apps for smartphones and tablets, regardless of a customer’s mobile carrier, company and NFL officials said."
  • The agreement runs for five years, according to people familiar with the pact, and "Verizon’s annual rights and sponsorship fee to the National Football League will rise from its current $250 million to more than $450 million."

Why it matters: "Verizon was willing to give up exclusive mobile rights in return for NFL content for its other platforms. In its previous deal, exclusivity was seen as crucial for Verizon to attract new wireless customers and keeping existing ones. Now the focus is on building its other platforms, particularly since Verizon bought Yahoo earlier this year for $4.5 billion."

5. Why sports rights matter

BTIG's Rich Greenfield tweeted a video that shows what it looks like when networks try to cover NFL games without sports rights for different platforms.

  • In the video, you see a host of ESPN's new SportsCenter Snapchat show poke fun at their lack of NFL rights on Snapchat by demonstrating a Cam Newton play using paper puppets on gluesticks. "Due to content restrictions, we are not allowed to play NFL highlights on Snapchat," he says.
  • Per Greenfield: "What makes it interesting is that ESPN only has NFL highlight rights on its own platforms. On Snapchat, the NFL uses those rights themselves."

6. Brand affinity still strong in the age of tech

Data: Digital Content Next; Chart: Chris Canipe / Axios
Data: Digital Content Next; Chart: Chris Canipe / Axios

New research from Magid Associates, commissioned by Digital Content Next, shows that most people still get the majority of their news and information from Facebook, but that brands' individual websites and apps are still significant gateways of information.

  • Most notably, most consumers, including millenials, say that brands' websites on desktop and mobile are better soures of news than search engines, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and Apple News.
  • Why it matters: Brand affinity has deteriorated with the rise of social platforms distributing news. A Pew study earlier this year found that 10% of consumers, when asked to name the source of the news they saw on Facebook, wrote in “Facebook" as a specific news outlet.
  • To combat this, news organiations have lobbied for more visibilty on platforms to highlight their brands. Facebook has tested breaking news banners and added logos to some articles this year in response.


  • Netflix is getting hit for this tweet that shows how they closely it tracks personal user data.

To the 53 people who've watched A Christmas Prince every day for the past 18 days: Who hurt you?— Netflix US (@netflix) December 11, 2017

  • Comcast says it's no longer reviewing a deal to purchase 21st Century Fox's entertainment assets, per WSJ. "Comcast says in statement it never got the level of engagement from Fox to make definitive offer."
  • Apple confirms it's buying Shazam for a reported price tage of $400 million. Why it matters, via Axios' Kia Kokalitcheva: "It's a natural fit to continue driving downloads to iTunes, subscriptions to Apple Music, and to help with music (and voice) recognition as part of Siri and Apple's upcoming HomePod home speaker."
  • Spotify and Tencent are swapping stakes. The investments could allow each company to expand global footprints. Tencent has made investments in American companies like Snapchat. Spotify anticipates going public through a direct listing. An investment could help convinvce investors it has global appeal.

8. One fun thing: Everyone wants in on the ad biz

Kroger, one of the biggest grocery brands in the U.S., is venturing into retail media, Digiday reports.

  • "Kroger is selling its suppliers ad units and solutions, and it is developing a programmatic platform that will go live next year."
  • "Amazon’s advertising business is worth at least $1 billion, and Walmart has a growing advertising platform, too."
  • "Kroger bought the data analytics piece of agency Dunnhumby (formerly a joint venture between Kroger and Tesco) around three years ago to form its own consumer insights subsidiary called 84.51°."

Our thought bubble: Digital has democratized the advertising business. Any company with a digital audience — a loyalty program, app, etc., — can monetize it.

9. Bonus: TicToc

Bloomberg's new Twitter 24-hour news network debuting next Monday will be called TicToc, Variety reports. The network will be available on Twitter at @tictoc ( TicToc is a "completely separate" product from Bloomberg Television.