Tag Archive: Facebook

  1. Amazon is coming for your ad dollars

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    The online shopping platform has streamlined its advertising offering, making it a real threat for Google and Facebook.

    Turning the duopoly into a triopoly

    When we think of major digital ad platforms, our thoughts naturally turn to the giants, Google and Facebook. There is no doubting that for many years the ‘big two’ have had a duopoly of advertisers’ digital budgets across much of the world. Google’s ad revenue in quarter two of this year was a huge $28 billion, while Facebook’s was a smaller but still very sizeable $13 billion, of which 15% was generated by Instagram. We’ve discussed in our blog before how Facebook seems to be struggling to grow in the face of privacy scandals and user stagnation and, conversely, how Google appears to go from strength to strength.

    However, there is a third player that’s turning the duopoly into a triopoly. A report published by eMarketer in September revealed that Amazon will more than double its US digital ad revenues this year, meaning it will overtake Oath and Microsoft to become the third largest digital advertising platform. This news came as Amazon revealed that it had streamlined its somewhat messy advertising offering into a single brand, Amazon Advertising.

    Amazon’s key advantage is its deep understanding of consumer purchasing habits

    Amazon Advertising’s model is based on the fact that around 49% of product searches in the US start on Amazon – and that offers invaluable insights into the minds of purchasers. While Google can store your implicit shopping intention, Amazon knows your actual purchasing behaviour – what you bought, when you bought it, how many clicks it took you and what other product categories you bought or considered at the same time. These insights can be used to create intelligent retargeting campaigns that showcases products that the consumer is more likely to buy at a specific time. With the drive towards Amazon Prime and the purchase of Whole Foods, those insights can become even more pertinent. Furthermore, ads on Amazon can be optimised within a matter of hours, allowing advertisers to drive a much higher return on their investment.

    Advertisers are moving budgets from Google search into Amazon ads

    It is these razor-sharp insights and real-time optimisation that are the headache for Google and Facebook, particularly the latter. Media agency executives have revealed that some

    advertisers are moving more than half the budget that they would normally invest with Google Search (an estimated 83% of Google’s ad revenues) into Amazon ads, amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars. The brands in question are almost all from the consumer product goods category, whose products are sold on the Amazon platform, and are attracted by the offering discussed above as well as the seamless shopping experience: there’s no need to set up an account or input card details, as there might be with a Google search ad. Amazon is also unburdened by the fake news problems that have dogged Facebook and, as an apolitical space, it is unlikely to be leveraged as a political tool.

    Will the lure of profit be at the expense of user experience?

    It’s possible, even likely that Amazon will be bewitched by the huge profits that can be won from advertising, at the expense of the user experience. The purchasing behaviour data that Amazon has at its fingertips means that they can develop much better targeting tools than Facebook – and just as good as Google’s. Highly effective branding campaigns therefore become a reality, and while the consumer could find these at best a distraction and at worst disturbing, it will be difficult for Amazon to resist short-term profit for something in which it is unbeatable.

    Google and Facebook are safe for now – but challenging times are ahead

    Google and Facebook aren’t in any immediate danger. Amazon is a distant third in the triopoly: it commands 4.1% of digital ad spend in the US, compared to Facebook’s 20.6% and Google’s 37.1%. And while Google’s Search revenues may be flattening somewhat, some of the drift is going into other Google properties such as YouTube, and not just Amazon’s coffers. Furthermore, brands from very lucrative advertising categories such as automotive and travel don’t currently have much incentive to move any investment to Amazon as their products are not easily sellable on the platform.

    Challenging times are ahead for Google and Facebook, in this and many respects. Amazon is certainly one to watch in this space.

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  2. Facebook’s woes show no sign of abating

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    A massive security breach is just the latest chapter in a bad year for the tech giant.

    After a bad year, Facebook needed to regain its users’ trust

    The fourth quarter of 2018 started at the beginning of this week, and there are probably few people who are looking forward to turning their backs on 2018 more than Mark Zuckerberg. This year has been something of an ‘annus horribilis’ for the Facebook CEO. Having perhaps thought that the worst was behind him with Russian interference in the US presidential campaign, the social media platform was hit with accusations that it had allowed Cambridge Analytica, a political consulting firm, to harvest data from up to 87 million Facebook users. Cambridge Analytica then used that data in the campaign that helped elect Donald Trump to the US presidency. This, along with the introduction of GDPR in the European Union, was blamed for Facebook losing daily active users in Europe, flatlining in North America and the resultant slow-down in revenue growth in Q2 of this year. The conclusion? Facebook needed to work on regaining its users’ trust in order to guarantee its future prosperity.

    And then, 50 million user accounts are hacked

    Unfortunately, things sometimes don’t go according to plan. Last week, Facebook discovered its most severe security breach to date, impacting 50 million user accounts. The ‘view as’ tool lets users understand their privacy settings: a bug allowed hackers to use this functionality to take over user accounts, meaning they could see everything in the user’s profile and, potentially, in any third party sites that users logged into with their Facebook accounts, for example Tinder, Airbnb and Spotify. Facebook acted to secure these accounts but the damage has been done: Zuckerberg said ‘I’m glad that we found this and were able to fix the vulnerability, but it is definitely an issue that it happened in the first place.’ What’s more, this is the second serious security breach for Facebook in recent months – in June, a bug made 14 million people’s private posts publicly viewable to anyone.

    A test of the EU’s GDPR

    While it is estimated that only 10% of users affected by this month’s breach were in the European Union, it is the EU that is the biggest headache for Facebook in this saga. GDPR requires companies that store the data of European citizens to declare any security breaches of this nature within 72 hours: Facebook notified the Irish Data Protection Commission which is now assessing whether it needs to carry out an enquiry. If it does, and Facebook is found to have been negligent in its duty of care for customer data, it could face a maximum fine of 4% of its annual global turnover – $1.63 billion. This is the first major test of GDPR, but the EU does have form for implementing large penalties to tech companies. It fined Google $2.8bn in 2017 for violating antitrust rules with its online shopping practices, and earlier this year slapped the tech giant with a $5 billion fine for abusing its power to force smartphone operators to pre-install Google search apps on any phone using the Android operating system.

    A battle on many fronts

    Facebook is under fire from many fronts – federal investigations into its privacy and data-sharing practices, the possibility of increased regulation from the US congress following high-profile hearings on the privacy practices of the big tech companies – and now this latest fiasco.

    Regain trust to keep advertisers

    The priority for Zuckerberg as he looks to 2019 and beyond must be to regain the trust of users around the world. Consumers are increasingly wary of the big tech companies and how they use their data, and if they start to log off in their droves, advertising dollars will follow them.

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  3. In the news this week: Comcast wins Sky bid, and Instagram founders resign

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    There’s never a quiet moment in the media industry, and this week was no exception, with two major pieces of news that could have major ramifications for advertisers, albeit in very different ways.

    Comcast gains full control of Sky

    On 22ndSeptember, it was announced that Comcast, the American telecommunications giant that offers digital cable TV, internet and telephony services, had won the bidding for Sky, at a cost of $38.8 billion, beating 21stCentury Fox. Four days later it emerged that Fox would also be ceding its pre-existing 39% ownership to Comcast for $15 billion, giving full control of Sky to Comcast.

    A year of mega-deals

    This is the latest in a series of ‘mega deals’ over the last 12 months, where content distributors and creators are merging in an attempt to confront the existential threat posed by the rapidly growing streaming companies such as Netflix, and the tech giants who are ‘scope creeping’ into TV; in June, AT&T acquired Time Warner for $85 billion, and the following month Disney beat Comcast to buy 21stCentury Fox for $71 billion. In an industry quirk, it was then Comcast who effectively beat Disney, as 21stCentury Fox’s new owners, to the purchase of Sky; Sky was originally going to be part of the deal that sold 21stCentury Fox to Disney.

    A global footprint and more original content for Comcast

    Comcast’s purchase of Sky will be a major boost to their global footprint: Sky has 23 million subscribers in the UK, Ireland, Germany, Austria and Italy, and has launched an over-the-top service in Spain and Switzerland, meaning Comcast will be better equipped to fend off the likes of Netflix and other tech giants. The acquisition also bolsters Comcast’s original content capabilities: Ovum’s chief entertainment analyst, Ed Barton, said ‘they could look at licensing content on a combined basis, which would lower the cost on a per-subscriber basis, if you have something you can show to a European and US audience.’ This merging of content would also mean a larger library to leverage as they roll out into other markets globally.

    Combining technical know-how

    The cultural affinity between Sky and Comcast could also be important for advertisers; it is likely, even inevitable, that they will combine their technical and data assets to forge ahead with an addressable advertising offering which will make TV as targeted as online.

    Instagram founders announce their resignation

    The other big news for the media and tech industries this week was the departure of Instagram’s co-founders from the company, which they announced on Tuesday and which sent Facebook’s share price tumbling. Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger founded Instagram in 2010, before selling it two years later to Facebook for $1 billion – an almost unprecedented amount for a two-year-old start-up. It has since become the jewel in Facebook’s crown and its fastest growing revenue generator.

    A snub to Zuckerberg?

    Sysrom and Krieger said that they were leaving the company to explore their ‘curiosity and creativity again’.  That is being seen by many as a veiled snub to Facebook and its founder Mark Zuckerberg, who have made a raft of unpopular changes to Instagram, in many cases in an attempt to boost traffic to the core Facebook platform. Sysrom and Krieger wouldn’t be the only ones to leave following differences with the Facebook CEO – last year, WhatsApp founder Jan Joum quit over privacy disagreements with his bosses, who were keen to monetise the service.

    Monetising the jewel in Facebook’s crown

    As discussed at length in the press and in previous ECI Thinks posts, Facebook has in recent years been battered by criticism of its approach to data privacy, fake news allegations and for allowing foreign interference into national election campaigns – and its user base is showing signs of disengagement as a result. Instagram has largely escaped these problems: it has more than a billion active monthly users and successful updates such as its stories feature, messaging and IGTV have seen off competitors from the likes of Snapchat. In this context, it’s unsurprising that Zuckerberg and his team are so keen to squeeze as many ad dollars as possible out of Instagram; Lynette Luna, a principal analyst at GlobalData, said “Facebook’s strategy has been to allow companies it has purchased to operate independently to garner growth, and then monetise. When they start monetising that’s when there’s a little conflict with the founders.” Systrom and Krieger may well have wanted to retain the independence to run Instagram as they wanted.

    It is not yet known who will replace Systrom and Krieger, but it will be interesting to see if changes to Instagram, particularly to its revenue model and integration with Facebook, accelerate in the wake of their departure

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  4. The march of the tech titans on live sport

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    Facebook, Amazon, Google, Twitter and others are leveraging the power of live sports to help them grow.

    People are watching sport online

    The FIFA World Cup earlier this summer and other major sporting events have confirmed what everyone has long suspected: that an increasing number of fans are streaming matches online instead of watching them the more traditional way, on television. This is very good news for tech companies such as Amazon, Twitter, Google and Facebook who are looking to leverage the passion of live sport viewers and its appointment-to-view nature as a way of reaching new users and increasing ROI on existing ones.

    Facebook has been looking for ways to super charge its growth

    Facebook in particular has upped its live sports game, aggressively pursuing the rights to air football and other sports across the world. At the end of June, the social network announced disappointing results for the second quarter: this was in part down to issues surrounding GDPR in Europe and the Cambridge Analytica scandal, but also, ironically, due to Facebook’s huge success – it has reached near-saturation point in mature markets in North America and Europe. Its future growth strategy therefore relies on two things: increasing revenue on each existing user in these mature markets, and attracting more users in countries where Facebook is less ubiquitous, particularly Asia and Latin America.

    The answer: live football

    The latter part of the strategy is already well underway, with live sports playing a key role – this was evident when they hired Eurosports CEO Peter Hutton to lead the push. Last week, it was announced that La Liga had signed an exclusive three-year deal with Facebook to live stream all its 380 matches for free to Facebook users in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Bhutan, Nepal and the Maldives. The platform has 348 million users across these markets, with 270 million of those in India. India is a key growth market for Facebook: it already has the largest Facebook user base in the world (270 million versus the US’s 210 million) but, with a population of around 1.3 billion and a projected 500 million internet users by the end of this year, there is huge room for growth for Facebook. Increasing smartphone penetration, relatively affordable mobile data and a passionate football fanbase means that the La Liga deal is a smart move from the platform. This move is in addition to Facebook’s plans to roll out its video platform, Watch, into India – it’s currently only available in the US.

    La Liga isn’t Facebook’s only move into live football streaming: just a few days after the La Liga announcement, UEFA confirmed that Facebook had bought the media rights for certain Champions League live matches in Spanish-speaking Latin America for the

    2018-2021 cycle. The matches they have the rights to include the final and Super Cup games, and the number of top international players involved in the tournament means that it is a huge deal across the continent.

    Other tech companies are also snapping up live sports rights

    Facebook’s activities in the live sports space are matched by its competitors’: Amazon in particular has been signing deals to attract more customers to its Prime platform, including a five-year deal for the exclusive broadcast rights of the US Open tennis tournament in the UK, the rights to screen 20 Premier League football games each season, also in the UK, from 2019 to 2022 and streaming rights for Thursday night NFL games in the US. Meanwhile, Twitter works closely with the NBA, partnering with them to help people keep up with the latest news and developments and watch the games, no matter where they are. YouTube has the rights to Major League Soccer games, including the Seattle Sounders and Los Angeles FC, for which it has both streaming and broadcast rights.

    The future of live sport and entertainment looks dramatically different

    There are concerns amongst consumers, particularly in India, that slow broadband speeds will affect their enjoyment of games, and that it will take something away from the camaraderie of watching games as a group on television. This is perhaps mitigated somewhat by the fact that the games will be free to view. From an industry perspective the arrival of tech platforms on the live sports scene is a seismic shift. For advertisers, concern about TV live sports strategies being adversely affected will surely be offset by the huge opportunities presented by delivering targeted ads to passionate sports fans in real-time. For the major players in broadcasting space, it is the fear of the existential threat that this precise situation causes that has led them to rethink and overhaul how they operate; this has led to some of the huge mergers we have seen recently, including the AT&T takeover of Time Warner and Disney’s deal to purchase 21st century Fox’s film and television assets, which was recently approved by shareholders.

    There can be no denying that the media and technology industries are converging at breath-taking speed, and that the landscape will look very different, very soon. Agility and a willingness to innovate and take calculated risks will be the ways to succeed as this transformation takes place.

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  5. What’s Facebook’s problem?

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    For years, Facebook has been the darling of the tech and media worlds. Is the inevitable conclusion of its latest quarterly report that its star is fading?

    The unstoppable rise of Facebook – until now

    For many years, Facebook seemed unstoppable, unbeatable. Since its beginnings in Mark Zuckerberg’s dorm room in Harvard University, it has grown into a technology behemoth with 1.47 billion daily active users and 2.23 billion monthly active users. Facebook has very efficiently monetised these users’ data, with advertisers flocking to Facebook and contributing to a company value of over $500 billion, and to Zuckerberg’s personal fortune of around $70 billion. But it is Facebook’s handling of its users’ data that seems to be at the root of its recent reversal in fortune.

    What went wrong?

    Facebook’s sheen started dimming two years ago, when it was first implicated in fake news and political meddling. This didn’t seem to have any impact financially until its second quarter 2018 report last week, which made for painful reading for its investors. The report disclosed that the number of users in Europe dropped by 3 million, ending its nine-year streak of quarter-on-quarter growth in numbers of European users (note that this was for Facebook only, and not its other owned properties such as Instagram, WhatsApp and Oculus), and user growth in North America flattened. It gained just 22 million users worldwide in quarter 2 (largely in Asia), less than half of the quarter 1 figure. Worse, in the eyes of investors, was that it missed revenue forecasts for the quarter, bringing in $13.2 billion versus the $13.4 billion that analysts had projected. All this led to $120 billion being drained from Facebook’s value and a 20% decrease in stock price in after-hours trading on Wall Street, as investors were spooked further by Facebook’s predictions that its revenue growth would continue to decelerate.

    Scandals, data, addiction and saturation

    With the problems that have beset Facebook over the last few years, it was perhaps inevitable that this point would come. The first and perhaps most serious headaches for its leadership have been the twin issues of political interference – notably in the US presidential election and the UK’s Brexit referendum – and fake news. This culminated in the Cambridge Analytica scandal of earlier this year. Facebook was fined $656,000 – the maximum possible – for breaching UK data protection act, but has had to spend much more to offset the negative press. It exacerbated Facebook’s increasingly toxic reputation as a company that interferes in and affects society and politics, and it is likely that many users deleted their accounts in disgust, particularly in the UK where Cambridge Analytica was based.

    Another challenge for Facebook this year has been the implementation of GDPR in the EU, which set guidelines for the collection and processing of the personal information of individuals within the European Union. It is believed that GDPR was directly responsible for the loss of 1 million of Facebook’s monthly active users in the EU, with many possibly choosing to opt out instead of confirming assent to Facebook’s new data collection practices.

    Facebook, as with all media largely consumed via mobile phones, has of course been affected by the growing concern among consumers of the effect that spending a lot of time on smartphones and social media is having on their mental health and concentration. Across the world people are choosing to cut down on the amount of time they spend on their phones.

    Scandals, data protection and switching off aside, it may be that saturation is Facebook’s most serious long-term issue. Of the 3.5 billion internet users globally, 2.5 billion use at least on Facebook app, which means that user growth in many places, especially in mature markets, has naturally stagnated – there simply aren’t many people who don’t use Facebook, at least occasionally. This means that the business model must focus on increasing revenue per user, which Facebook has struggled with – newer initiatives such as Stories (Facebook’s answer to Snapchat) have proven difficult to monetise compared to the Newsfeed. And compared to Google’s parent company Alphabet, Facebook appears to be over-reliant on ad revenue: $13 billion – over 98% of its overall second quarter revenue of $13.2 billion – was from advertising, compared to 86% of Alphabet’s. This is thanks to Alphabet’s more diversified product offering, which includes hardware, the Google Play Store and Cloud services that are non-ad revenue. This discrepancy could be part of the reason that Google appears more resilient than Facebook, despite the fact that its record isn’t squeaky clean either.

    All is not as gloomy as it seems

    Despite the recent doom and gloom around Facebook’s latest financial reporting, the future isn’t too bleak for the social network. While the financial and user growth figures didn’t meet investors’ expectations, they’re still extremely healthy, particularly considering the storms that it has had to weather. The furore around its Q2 report is rooted in the fact that its growth has slowed, rather than in any actual crisis. Facebook has announced that it is investing billions into safety and security initiatives; these will future-proof the company but do eat into profit margins in the shorter term. Perhaps Facebook’s real problem is that it has been the subject of – and purveyor of – too much optimism and exuberance in recent years: it’s now time for it to settle down and accept its responsibilities as one of the world’s major technology companies.

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