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.

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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Obama’s Campaign Data Wizardry Is About To Hit TV Ads

Civis Analytics founder and CEO Dan Wagner

Civis Analytics founder and CEO Dan Wagner

From my Forbes blog:

By many accounts, President Barack Obama handily won the 2012 election partly thanks to his campaign’s use of data to supercharge voter outreach, fundraising, and TV ad buys.

Now, the two-year-old company formed by the campaign’s chief analytics officer and some of his team, whose operation was known as “the Cave,” is bringing that data science to bear on the cloistered world of television advertising. Today, Chicago-based Civis Analytics, which helps non-profit companies and corporations corral and analyze their disparate data, is announcing what it calls the first ad planning software that uses big data analytics to apply to television the kind of precise ad planning and targeting used to target online ads. …

Civis founder and CEO Dan Wagner says the company, which counts Alphabet (formerly Google) Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt as an investor, chose television for its new market not just for its sheer size but also because it works on relatively fuzzy data. “The underlying science in media planning hasn’t changed since the 1970s,” he says. “Chief marketing officers are fed up with the lack of credibility and accountability over a channel that accounts for a huge proportion of their budgets.” …

Read the rest of the story.

Billions Of Online Ads Are About To Die A Well-Deserved Death

From my Forbes blog:

Businesses that run annoying ads on your smartphone and laptop are about to get a rude awakening.

Not only are online ad blockers quickly gaining in popularity, now two very big companies will soon offer us new ways to avoid in-your-face video and animated ads, pop-ups, and other intrusive ads that plague our online existence.

Today, Sept. 1, Google will start blocking ads that use Adobe’s Flash software, employed widely by video advertisers, in its Chrome browser. And as early as next week, Apple is expected to release its new mobile operating software for iPhones and iPads that will allow the installation of apps that keep ads from appearing in its Safari Web browser.

These developments suggest a new era in which you’ll finally be able to zap annoying ads like those in the video above. For a variety of reasons, it’s unlikely that ad blocking alone will cause advertisers and publishers a big problem. But the fact that the two biggest forces in mobile phones are both cracking down on annoying ads means the online ad business is about to change in a big way. …

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A Deeper Look At The New Google

From MIT Technology Review:

Before Apple’s Steve Jobs died in 2011, he told Google cofounder and CEO Larry Page that his company was trying to do too much. As Page later told the Financial Times, he replied, “If we just do the same things we did before and don’t do something new, it seems like a crime to me.” Yet Page also acknowledged that Jobs was right in one sense: he could manage only so many things before too many would get lost in the shuffle.

Those twin desires—to do new things regardless of how weird and unrelated they seem to Google’s core search and advertising business, and yet still find a way to manage them to fruition—explain Page’s surprise announcement Monday that he was creating a holding company called Alphabet. It will separate Google’s lucrative ad-related businesses, including Android mobile software and the video site YouTube, from the company’s wide-ranging efforts on self-driving cars, human longevity, Internet access balloons, the Nest connected-home devices, and more, each of which will probably become discrete subsidiaries.

But the move, while cheered by investors, is just the first step to fulfilling the company’s long-standing goal to “make Google a long term success and the world a better place.” In the view of several management experts, Alphabet will be successful only if the individual projects and companies can be successful enough on their own to be spun off into freestanding companies eventually. The new corporate structure enables that to happen, but it surely doesn’t guarantee it.

First, it’s important to dispel the assumption that Page and cofounder Sergey Brin have created something like the Berkshire Hathaway of the Internet, an updated version of Warren Buffett’s conglomerate. “The comparison is silly,” says Michael A. Cusumano, a professor at MIT’s Sloan School of Management. Buffett, he says, invests in existing, undervalued companies, a bit like a mutual fund—precisely the opposite of Alphabet’s VC-style focus on risky new ventures like Calico, which wants to somehow fight aging. ….

Read the complete analysis.

Spelling It Out: The Real Reasons Google Will Become Alphabet


From my Forbes blog:

Google CEO Larry Page never fails to surprise. Google just renamed itself Alphabet, creating a holding company that includes the search company (Google) and a bunch of others that no one could figure out why it was doing. Page will be CEO of Alphabet, Google cofounder and executive-in-charge-of-cool-stuff Sergey Brin will be president, and senior VP Sundar Pichai becomes CEO of Google.

It sounds like a big deal, and in a sense it is always a big deal when a company changes its name and corporate structure. But in other ways, not much has changed, because Google has essentially run its far-flung collection of businesses, from its Calico human longevity company to its X lab that’s working on Internet balloons, self-driving cars, and drone product delivery to investment arms Google Ventures and Google Capital, pretty independently already.

Either way, the move raises a few questions:

* What’s the big idea?

Well, it’s probably not just one idea, but let’s start with one: This will keep left-brain investors happy, or at least happier. They’ve always been wary of all the non-search, non-advertising businesses Google has entered, and their inevitably uncertain prospects have no doubt weighed on the shares if only because they’re much more of a cost for years to come rather than significant revenue generators.

So this is a way for the company, which will now report the core Google business results separately in earnings reports, to make the company’s various businesses clearer to investors. It worked, at least for now: Google’s shares rose more than 6% in extended trading after a nearly flat day today. As Pivotal Research Group analyst Brian Wieser put it in a note to clients, “Perhaps there will be incremental value assigned to the totality of the new Alphabet because, undoubtedly, real value exists within the company’s emerging ventures.”

But given that Google rarely seems to make big decisions to please investors, it’s probably best to take Page at his word that the main impetus was to make each business able to operate more independently–and thus more likely to succeed or at least to get the chance to succeed without needing to be related to the core ad business. …

* What’s with the name?

With a funny name like Google, you certainly have to come up with something for the holding company that’s at least a bit whimsical (the URL is or you will look lame. So that’s one. Another interpretation from an esteemed analyst (my wife): “Are they going to control everything from A to Z?” I wouldn’t bet against their trying.

But as Page puts it in his blog post, the name also fits:

We liked the name Alphabet because it means a collection of letters that represent language, one of humanity’s most important innovations, and is the core of how we index with Google search! We also like that it means alpha-bet (Alpha is investment return above benchmark), which we strive for!

Yeah, he’s still a nerd at heart. (And can you tell he’s stoked?!) …

Read the complete post.