Brands Look Far and Wide for a Niche in Virtual Reality


From my story in The New York Times:

Even in virtual reality, it seems, there will be no escape from advertising.

The Oculus Rift, which is owned by Facebook, won’t be available until early next year, but many of the two billion consumers worldwide who own smartphones can already try out virtual reality on the cheap with Cardboard, a device from Google that folds into a viewer with a slot for a smartphone. As more devices come to market with the aim of making virtual reality more commonplace, advertisers and agencies hope virtual reality will be the next great medium for persuading consumers to buy stuff.

For now, marketers are producing mostly eye candy in their own apps and on YouTube’s #360Video channel. But with virtual reality movies, shows and stories coming soon, the question is what kind of ads, if any, will work on the platform.

Companies including Coca-Cola, Volvo and HBO are struggling to figure that out. So are publishers like Facebook, which introduced 360-degree ads on Thursday, including video ads from AT&T, Nestlé and other brands. …

Read the rest of the story.

SF App Startup Cola Creates ‘Slack For The Rest Of Us’


message thread 1

From my Forbes blog:

There’s no end of messaging apps that let you exchange texts, photos and videos with friends–Whatsapp, Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook Messenger and so on. There are also a lot of business-oriented apps such as Slack, HipChat, and Yammer.

But what about a messaging app that lets you address the space in between entertainment and work, which is to say coordinating and planning activities with a few friends or coworkers? That’s what Cola aims to do.

Today the San Francisco-based startup is launching a limited, private beta test of an app that uses messaging as the basis for a wide variety of common things people want to get done, from figuring out where and when to meet with friends and creating joint to-do lists to tracking expenses at work and even engaging in multi-player games. The idea, says cofounder and CEO David Temkin, is that messaging has emerged as the most important function of a smartphone and even the foundation of many apps on the smartphone, from Uber to DoorDash to Venmo. “We are entering an era when messaging is the central app, like the browser was for the Web,” says Temkin.

Indeed, Temkin hopes to make Cola the first “messaging OS,” a platform on which activities that need to be coordinated among a small number of people can get done using messaging as the essential delivery mechanism. …

Read the rest of the story.

Pandora Eyes Offline Mode For Its Music Service


From my Forbes blog:

Despite the widespread and growing popularity of the streaming music service Pandora, it faces one big obstacle: If you’re offline, you’re out of luck.

But it’s clear that Pandora wants to fix that situation, especially since rivals such as Spotify and Apple Music have ways you can listen offline. Today at the M1 Summit mobile conference in San Francisco, a Pandora executive’s comments suggested that Pandora is seriously considering an offline mode.

The comments came in response to a question posed to several mobile companies on a panel, including Pandora and the mobile sports ticket service Gametime. “It’s something we’re looking at,” said Lisa Sullivan-Cross, vice president of growth marketing at Pandora. “It’s on our minds.”

Asked after the panel for more details, Sullivan-Cross declined to add much. “We know our customers want it,” she told Forbes. “I don’t know if or when.” …

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Turkeys + Dinner Plates = Thanksgiving: Google Tries to Make Machine Learning a Little More Human

From my story in MIT Technology Review:

Google CEO Sundar Pichai told investors last month that advances in machine-learning technology would soon have an impact every product or service the company works on. “We are rethinking everything we are doing,” he said.

Part of that push to make its services smarter involves rethinking the way it’s employing machine learning, which enables computers to learn on their own from data. In short, Google is working to teach those systems to be a little more human.

Google discussed some of those efforts at a briefing Tuesday at its headquarters in Mountain View, California. “We’re at the Commander Data stage,” staff research engineer Pete Warden said in a reference to the emotionless android in the television show Star Trek: The Next Generation. “But we’re trying to get a bit more Counselor Troi into the system”—the starship Enterprise’s empathetic counselor. …

Read the full story.

This Number In Facebook’s Q3 Earnings Should Scare TV Networks


From my Forbes blog:

Eight billion.

That’s how many videos people watch on Facebook every day, according to company comments after it reported third-quarter earnings today–and it’s double the number just seven months ago. More than anything–Facebook’s 45% ad revenue growth notwithstanding–that’s why companies that make their money on television advertising should be worried.

Granted, it’s easy to put too much stock into even a figure as eye-popping as 8 billion a day. Facebook counts any videos watched for as little as three seconds. And nearly all those videos are nothing like television shows or movies. Instead, they’re short videos of your child’s first steps along with trailers for actual shows and movies. So this is not yet prime time advertising as brand marketers think of it.

But what the 8 billion daily video views shows is that Facebook has arrived as a place where people are happy to watch videos of almost any kind–some 500 million people daily, in fact. Not only that, they’re doing so on the mobile devices where advertisers know they need to reach people–especially the younger people with disposable income–who have begun drifting away from linear television. …

What that means is that people on Facebook will now view video ads, the most lucrative kind of ad online or off, as a natural if not universally loved complement to the videos they’re already watching. At some point, ad spending on television–still the largest single place for marketers’ budgets–seems bound to shift at least in part to video ads. …

It’s clear that Facebook is now a force to be reckoned with in video advertising, something that seemed unthinkable just a couple of years ago.

Read the complete analysis.

The One Somewhat Bright Spot For Embattled Twitter: Advertising

From my Forbes blog:

On a day when Twitter’s stock got hammered in after-hours trading, it’s hard to find a bright spot for the embattled company. But if there is one, it would be advertising.

It’s certainly not user growth, which rose only 8 percent from a year ago–the slowest yet, and one of the big reasons shares fell 13 percent in trading after the market close. That was the key takeaway in Twitter’s third-quarter results reported today.

And even on the advertising front, the news wasn’t all good. In particular, Twitter’s revenue guidance for the fourth quarter came in substantially below what analysts had been forecasting, though comments from Chief Financial Officer Anthony Noto on the conference call for analysts implied the company is being conservative about what is customarily a very strong December.

But while Twitter’s main focus remains getting more users and getting them to use Twitter more often, the bottom line ultimately is how much advertising revenues Twitter can generate. And few investors were complaining about the 60 percent jump in ad revenues, to $513 million. It would have been 67 percent if not for currency exchange rate changes. “Overall, the existing platform remains sufficiently differentiated and valuable to a sufficiently large group of advertisers,” Brian Wieser, an analyst with Pivotal Research Group, wrote in a note to clients. “We think investors should focus on the company’s revenue enhancement initiatives such as the growing use of video units” and other advertising opportunities.

Today, Twitter cited a raft of other promising signs around advertising. …

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Why Apple Pay’s Slow Start Doesn’t Mean It’s a Failure


From my opinion piece in MIT Technology Review:

A year after Apple Pay was announced, the mobile wallet built into the iPhone doesn’t look as if it will “forever change the way all of us buy things,” as Apple CEO Tim Cook said it would.

Only 13 percent of people with phones that can use Apple Pay have tried it, according to a June survey by consumer research firm InfoScout and the payments industry site The survey also found that only a third of iPhone 6 consumers who were in a store that takes Apple Pay actually used it, down from almost half three months earlier. On top of that, Apple Pay still accounts for only 1 percent of physical store transactions in the U.S.—a “microscopic” amount, says David S. Evans, founder of payments consultant Market Platform Dynamics.

What happened?

Exactly what we should have expected, actually. It was never a secret to those close to the payments and retail businesses that usage of Apple Pay would be slow to build. … But it’s too early to write the post-mortem on Apple Pay. In the space of a year, Apple has managed to make more headway than any other mobile wallet contender has to date. And several developments suggest that in the next couple of years, Tim Cook might be proved right after all. …

Read the rest of the piece.