May 2015: Facebook announces the upcoming launch of its “instant articles”, allowing readers to load content faster in the Facebook application. August 2015: Adblock experiences user growth of 41% and is only accelerating. October 2015: Google launches its accelerated mobile pages (AMP) to facilitate the reading of content on mobile. February 2016: Médiamétrie refuses to integrate audiences for instant Facebook articles with conventional audiences …
What is the relationship between these four developments? The great difficulty of media sites, caught by a scissor effect between lower revenues (Adblock, instant Facebook articles) and increased costs (AMP pages from Google, proliferation of social media networks – Snapchat, Pulse LinkedIn …). A difficulty that questions the very interest of media sites. Explanations.
Precision : By “media site” we mean here content sites in general and content sites that live on advertising in particular. These sites can be press sites, but go far beyond this single spectrum (brand sites, institutional sites, association sites, etc. all having in common the production of regular content).
Funding of media sites, nibbled by Adblock (but not only)
Adblock Dries Up Primary Source Of Media Site Revenue
In 2015, losses due to Adblock were estimated at $ 22 billion. In concrete terms, this means that site publishers have lost $ 22 billion in revenue in a single year. And these losses will be increasing: according to the same estimate, it is 41 billion dollars that publishers will see soar in 2016!
Admittedly, these losses do not only concern media sites: in practice, all sites are affected by losses due to Adblock. However, this figure provides a perspective on the extent of the damage to sites that fund themselves through the sale of space on their sites to display advertising.
To add to this first observation, let us add that advertising is often an important source of funding for media sites, if not the first (I confess that I did not find any quantified information on this point: if a reader has some information to do , do not hesitate! 😉). Adblock therefore inevitably causes a significant drop in revenue for media sites (so much so that some sites now block Adblock users).
Social Audience (Instant Facebook Articles) Worth Nothing To Advertisers
In February 2016, Médiamétrie refused to integrate Facebook’s instant article audiences with mainstream media audiences. As a reminder, to benefit from this functionality, publishers must host their content directly on Facebook (which is not without its problems).
Médiamétrie’s decision will have a potentially very significant impact on the funding of media sites: publishers will sell their advertising cheaper compared to what their total audience could allow them.
Médiamétrie’s decision is not trivial for publishers of media sites: it will have a potentially very significant impact on their funding. Why ? To understand this, it is necessary to stop for a second on the functioning of the advertising market. Basically, “advertisers”, and therefore brands that buy advertising, are offered purchase prices based on audience research, including that of Médiamétrie. Concretely, as a media, I sell a space on my site for X euros because my audience is Y. The higher the audience (and the richer this is – CSP + for example), the more expensive the spaces and the more the media site earns money.
We understand then why not integrating the audience of instant articles with site audiences can have an impact on their funding. If this audience is not taken into account by Médiamétrie, it is because it does not exist in the eyes of advertisers since they rely on these studies to assess the benefit of advertising on such and such media site . In fine, publishers of media sites will therefore sell their advertising cheaper compared to what their total audience could allow them.
Production costs explode (because the factory with standardized content no longer exists)
In addition to this structural drop in revenues, media site owners are facing increased costs. These additional costs are, after the drop in revenues, the second blade of the scissor effect suffered by media sites.
Google’s AMP pages force publishers to code their content twice: for desk and for mobile
Since Google launched its accelerated mobile pages (AMP), that is, web pages designed for mobile to speed up their loading time, publishers are faced with a choice:
- Abandon classic HTML to produce only AMP-HTML
This choice will, according to the original Google announcement and especially the comments of readers who follow, a disappearance of embeds other than Google products and some partners. Google would therefore favor its products above all. Concretely, a YouTube embed (property of Google) will benefit from the fast loading time, but not the competing services (Vimeo, for example). To which must be added the disappearance of analytic trackers, interactive pages such as datvisualizations … and perhaps even impediments to propel certain advertisements (this point is not entirely clear at the moment)!
It is unlikely that a media site will agree to abandon the entire interactive and analytical dimension of its site. However, it is just as improbable that these same sites refuse the benefit of Google’s AMP pages.
- Code each page twice: once in HTML and add-ins, as usual, and another in AMP-HTML
This choice is obviously theoretical. In reality, it is very unlikely that a media site will agree to abandon the entire interactive and analytical dimension of its site. However, it is unlikely that these same sites refuse the benefit (obviously real) of Google’s AMP pages. It will therefore be necessary to code each page twice: for desk and for mobile, which represents an obvious additional production cost for the editors of media sites.
The audience for media content is increasingly social (and therefore often requires costly production ad hoc)
The increase in costs is also explained by the fact that the web audience has become fragmented: the content of media sites is now consulted by audiences (Pulse, Instant articles, Snapchat, etc.), parallel and complementary to the audience. who goes to the site itself. In other words, the pipes (Twitter, Facebook…) no longer go towards the media site but become the media site.
A trend that can be found everywhere:
- Facebook opens its instant articles that allow you to capture content directly rather than just offering links to third-party sites;
- Twitter launches its 10,000 character tweets which can also be used to capture audience at source;
- LinkedIn offers Pulse, its content publishing platform;
- Google+ allows very long posts (like Facebook with “notes” and soon Twitter therefore) on its social network, which can be very well referenced on the search engine;
- Instagram does not allow integration of external links (except for advertisers);
- Snapchat also does not offer the possibility of integrating external links, which obliges producers to produce in an ad hoc manner for this network.
As diverse as they are, all of these initiatives pose a single question: as a content producer, why hinder the reading of my content by an unnecessary step (migration to my site from a social network) if I can reach the audience at the root, especially since this audience is massive?
Investing in platforms like Snapchat is no longer really an option, but an obligation to survive. This obligation is nevertheless paid for in production cost: the Wall Street Journal devotes, for example… 5 full-time people!
On the occasion of the 1 year of “Discover”, its functionality created for media sites, Snapchat claimed 5 billion videos viewed per day … Another argument and not least: the audience of Snapchat is young while the audience of some installed media is aging (more than 50 years on average for French news!). By this yardstick, investing in platforms like Snapchat is no longer really an option, but an obligation to survive. This obligation is nevertheless paid for in production cost: the Wall Street Journal devotes, for example… 5 full-time people!
This example illustrates the problem of increasing costs for media sites: not only must the content produced be treated to win the famous war of attention, but in addition the content must be readapted for each platform. Thus, for a single subject, a media will no longer create ONE content distributed on several social networks, but DES content specially designed for Snapchat, for Instagram, for YouTube, etc.
In other words, the reasoning which consists of designing content for a media site and then relaying it on social networks is an outdated model for anyone who wants to reach a large audience, simply because it has fragmented between the different platforms.
Should we still invest in a media site?
The elements detailed above might suggest that not. Objectively, the advertising-funded media site model is clearly floundering: the value that media sites create, when measured financially by advertising, is phagocytosed by social networks (with the agreement of publishers, of course, who see in these tools audience acquisition supports).
Whereas in the past, media sites made money from their content (through the sale of advertising space), not only did this revenue collapse, but the content became doubly more expensive: more expensive for production because of the proliferation of social spaces (which require ad hoc productions) and more costly for dissemination since publishers are forced to buy advertising to be visible on these social networks!
With possible exceptions, content published on a social network does not belong to the producer, but to the social network in question. Whenever we post something there, we choose to allow these platforms to do whatever they want with that content.
… abandoning “owner” sites (whose content belongs to you since they are hosted on servers for which you pay to rent or buy) in favor of social media can have very problematic consequences for publishers. Why ? With possible exceptions, content published on a social network does not belong to the producer, but to the social network in question.
This fact has practical (and harmful) consequences: each time we publish on Facebook, Snapchat or Vine (or others), we choose to allow these platforms to do what they want with this content. Harmless? Not so much when you know for example that Yahoo! saw its Discover channel on Snapchat close overnight, a closure obviously decided by Snapchat.
Beyond that, the problem also arises for analytics: these social networks communicate only, in terms of KPI data, only what they want to communicate. In other words: you can never know completely how well your investment works and will have to do with the only KPIs that these social networks want to release.
In these two cases, property of the content and sources of analytics, the problem does not arise with a “classic” media site: you implement your analytics tools and you are entirely decision-maker on the future of your content. These advantages may seem minor in view of the potential offered by social networks (especially in terms of audience), but they should nevertheless encourage brands not to put all their eggs in one basket – or at least to keep some of them – a few for their media site.
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