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The good, the bad and the ugly of distributed content strategies

2015 was the year in which distributed mobile media platforms rose to the top of many media exec’s ‘to investigate list.’ Experimental launches from Facebook, Apple and Snapchat were followed by an announcement by Google that it intended to speed up the mobile web by offering its own platform.

This year the debate has moved on. Many publishers are already sensing the opportunities offered by the platforms, while at the same time are very aware of some of the compromises they might have to make. 

Ralf Kaumanns ()

Some media pundits have already predicted doomsday scenarios with publishers having to fundamentally alter their business models to accommodate the platforms.

In one of many sessions about social platforms at the Digital Innovators' Summit, Ralf Kaumanns took a long look at the platforms highlighting their strengths and weaknesses for publishers, but also looking at monetisation options and how the platforms might evolve.

Facebook and Google

Kaumanns explained that there are are now a host of platforms available from Facebook’s Instant Articles to Google’s recently launched AMP. He began by focusing on what he thought are the good things that the platforms offered.

He describes Facebook’s Instant Articles as a push model with content that comes into newsfeed. The content is housed in a closed environment, and has a standardised approach. In many ways Facebook is being very controlling about the content that appears on the platform. It decides what to publish to whom on the basis of an algorithm that considers relevance for readers and user experience, in other words visual elements and interaction.

Kaumanns then looked briefly at Google’s AMP, describing it as a pull model of placement of articles on mobile search. The main advantages for publishers are quality mobile traffic and a significant increase of inventory through the feature’s carousel. Like Facebook though, Google decides what's shown. The format is less sophisticated than say Instant Articles or Snapchat Discover.

Kaumanns then touched on Apple News, which he believes is a Flipboard clone that is a pull model built around a pre-installed mobile app. As he explained, it is largely an aggregation of RSS feeds of publishers.

One of the core features of both Facebook and Google is that they are offering 100 per cent of the revenue to the publisher which can be sold via their own sales teams.

As Kaumanns pointed out, the monetisation options are “nice, but the big money from content distribution is not in the articles themselves, but outside of them.”

Future options for monetisation

He then took the audience through the future ad formats which he believes will deliver better yields and higher revenue for publishers. He began by looking at the new Facebook ad format Canvas. 

Kaumanns said that he thinks the ads “take the style of Instant Articles to an ad format, with very similar integration of video, animations, etc.” He reported that feedback from the ad industry to the format has been very positive. 

Canvas ads are likely to be placed in the five elements slider in Facebook news feeds. They are also optimised for for video too. As for revenue share from video ads, 55 per cent goes to Facebook with the publisher taking 45 per cent. 

Google AMP hypothesis

Kaumanns then introduced his hypothesis as to how Google might monetise AMP. He believes it will place an ad unit on the horizontal bar - similar to the Facebook Canvas ad format. Kaumanns pointed out though that “no one knows if Google will share revenues from these ads with publishers,” and that no revenue for Adwords is shared with any content providers. He predicts that the format will go live in the next 12-18 months.

The bad

Kaumanns then talked about what he saw as the bad elements of social mobile platforms, saying that “publishers are junior partners in an ecosystem controlled by super distributors. There could also be stringent restrictions on storytelling, data gathering and content distribution.” 

He also noted that the gatekeepers decide all the rules - for example keeping users on platforms rather than sending them to publishers’ websites and controlling the standards. He concedes that the economic basis of publishers is threatened - as there is an erosion of own offerings

However he adds “it is unlikely that publishers can ignore distributed platforms completely,” but added “why should brands go to publishers if they can sell directly to the right user at the right time?”

Ugly

Finally Kaumanns focused on what he calls the ugly - namely the fact that if the platforms are successful, individual news apps and individual brands aren't the primary option for contact for news any more.

He made the point that if “distributed content becomes the norm, publishers could lose control the value chain.”

Editors could be forced to create content that fits with the platform, the importance of media brands will be eroded and companies may only have limited access to data.

He then asked “how can you create a new media brand where they don't really have visibility or meaning?”

He added that the gatekeepers will have the primary customer relationship - knowing which user is consuming which information, and that publishers could struggle to influence the evolution of the platforms. 

He finished his presentation by suggesting a way in which the dominance of the gatekeepers could increase in the future.

“Digital assistants (Google Now, Facebook Notify, Apple Proactive Assistant) are the ultimate field of competition,” he argued. “They aggregate all relevant info into one feed, e.g. flights, hyper personalised local data. They also incorporate content recommendations. For Facebook, Instant Articles could be layered in the digital assistant without any publisher ads.”

He then profiled Facebook’s Notify platform, which takes events, notifications and more and incorporates all the information into a very personalised news feed.

Kaumanns concluded by saying “you cannot ignore distributed social platforms, but be aware not to feed the borg! The potential of reaching audiences and new monetisation options are promising, but pull the plug if you lose too much. Publishers need to get together to speak with one voice.”

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