The WIR: Big Tech Antitrust Investigations Ramp Up, the UK Government Reviews the Licence Fee, and the Coalition for Better Ads Cracks Down on Mid-Roll


In this week’s Week in Review: Both the US and EU ramp up their antitrust investigations into Google and Facebook respectively, the UK launches an consultation into decriminalising non-payment of the licence fee, and the Coalition for Better Ads launches new standards for short-form video. To receive an update on the industry’s top stories every Friday, sign up to the weekly Video Round-Up.

Top Stories

Big Tech Antitrust Enquiries Ramp Up in US and EU
Antitrust enquiries into the ad industry’s dominant tech players ramped up on both sides of the Atlantic this week. Firstly on Wednesday, the WSJ reported that the US Department of Justice has begun reaching out to over a dozen companies for its investigation into Google, focusing specifically on Google’s ad tools. According to those the WSJ spoke with, the department has been asking increasingly detailed questions about how Google’s ad tech stack interacts with publishers and advertisers, and how it may have consolidated its power in recent years.

Then on Thursday, the Journal reported that the European Commission’s antitrust investigation into Facebook has pressed ahead too, as investigators have sought out internal documents relating to allegations that Facebook has attempted to systematically identify and squash potential competitors to its businesses. Facebook is accused of cutting off access to user data for companies which it sees as a potential threat to its own business, deliberately trying to stifle competition.

UK Government Launches Consultation on Optional Licence Fee
UK culture secretary Nicky Morgan this week launched a public consultation on whether non-payment of the licence fee should be decriminalised. The licence fee, which largely funds the BBC, is currently mandatory for anyone who watches or records live TV, or uses the BBC’s catch-up service BBC iPlayer. But the model has been questioned by the UK’s current Conservative government, and the eight week consultation will consider alternatives.

Hard words have been exchanged between Morgan and the BBC following the announcement. Morgan warned that the BBC could go the way of defunct video rental service Blockbuster if it fails to embrace change. The BBC in its response highlighted how previous attempts to evolve had been stymied by regulators.

Coalition for Better Ads Cracks Down on Mid-Roll on Short-Form Videos
The Coalition for Better Ads, an industry group which seeks to eliminate annoying and intrusive ad formats, this week announced a new set of standards specifically for ads on short-form videos in desktop, mobile web and in-app environments. The standards block the following ad formats on videos which are eight minutes or less in length:

  • mid-roll ads;
  • pre-roll ads or pods longer than 31 seconds that cannot be skipped in the first 5 seconds; and
  • non-linear display ads that are in the middle 1/3 of a playing video or are larger than 20% of the video content.

The standards are based on research involving nearly 45,000 consumers, according to the coalition. And while publishers and tech companies can choose not to comply with the ads, Google has said it will start enforcing them on its Google Chrome browser. Google will not run any ads at all on any sites which are found to contravene these rules, starting August 5th this year.

The Week in Tech

JW Player Taps Oracle Data Cloud to Provide Contextual Advertising, Brand-Safety Solution
Video platform JW Player this week announced an integration with Oracle Data Cloud to strengthen JW Player’s video ad targeting solution, specifically boosting its contextual targeting abilities.  Oracle Data Cloud’s machine learning-based video context tools we be integrated with JW Player, helping pick out videos’ content for contextual targeting, or for brand safety purposes.

“I think there have been a lot of missed opportunities,” said Michael Schwalb, co-GM of advertising at JW Player. “If you’re an advertiser who wants to reach people who are cooking enthusiasts, and the cooking video they are watching happens to live on USA Today, you might not reach those people if the text content on the page doesn’t include the right keywords or terms. As the number one source of video views on the web, powering billions of views every month across the digital media sites worldwide, JW Player has unrivaled insight into digital video consumption. We’re excited to be working with Oracle to provide solutions for video targeting and brand safety that advertisers have been missing.”

TVSquared Launches Global Cross-Platform, Multi-Touch Attribution Solution
TV attribution specialist TVSquared this week launched a new platform which it says powers always-on attribution across all forms of video advertising. The company says the solution combines robust coverage of streaming publishers and media owners with household-level data, helping to join the dots between linear and digital TV advertising. “Together, linear and digital is giving the TV industry the greatest scale and reach potential of all time,” said Jo Kinsella, president at TVSquared. “We have strategic partnerships across the advertising ecosystem to create the most robust closed-loop attribution solution in the world. This means we can power independent TV measurement for advertisers and publishers – from direct streaming services to DSPs and MVPDs.”

AdEx Launches its Advertising Platform to the Public
AdEx Network, an ad tech company working with blockchain, announced this week it has opened up its advertising platform to all users following 300 successful campaigns in private beta. AdEx claims to have been the first startup to release an open-source protocol for decentralised advertising in 2018, and the first ad network storing information about ad delivery on the Ethereum blockchain. In AdEx’s platform, information about ad impressions is stored on a public ledger, and both publishers and advertisers transact directly on that platform, which AdExc says increases transparency and cuts the risk of ad fraud.

Samba TV Makes Data Available on AWS Data Exchange
TV data and audience analytics company Samba TV this week announced a collaboration with Amazon Web Services (AWS) to make its TV data available within the newly launched AWS Data Exchange. The collaboration gives AWS customers access to Samba’s comprehensive linear and OTT viewership insights and ad exposure data, aggregated at a DMA level, from more than 20 million households.”This latest collaboration allows customers to seamlessly access Samba TV data in the cloud, enabling them to build advanced analytics, services, and tools using our aggregated data within AWS. This will bring Samba TV’s dataset to new verticals, creating new opportunities to see our insights in action,” said Aden Zaman, SVP at Samba TV.

605 Launches New TV Measurement and Analytics Solution ‘605 PLATF0RM’
605 this week launched what it describes as a next-gen TV measurement and analytics platform, ‘605 PLATF0RM’, a web-based platform which it says enables advanced measurement and analysis of TV programmes and ads across linear, over-the-air, DVR and set-top box VOD. 605 says PLATF0RM’s datasets can be combined and matched with clients’ viewership data. Using what 605 describes as an Identity Layer (or the highly specific attributes of the 21 million households it measures) 605 PLATF0RM users can select, activate and target first- or third-party audience segments or datasets.

The Week in TV

Disney+ Reaches 28.6 Million Subscribers Since November Launch
Disney’s new subscription video on-demand service Disney+ has gained over 28.6 million subscribers since its launch on November 12th last year, the company announced this week. This is the first update into subscriber figures that Disney has given since revealing that Disney+ had ten million subscribers on the day of its release. Hulu meanwhile, which is also owned by Disney, has 30.7 million subscribers.

To compare Disney’s figures to its biggest rival, Netflix had 167 million subscribers worldwide in Q4, and 60 million in the US. Most of Disney’s current subscriber count is likely coming from the US, since the product is only available in a few international markets (New Zealand, Australia, the Netherlands and Canada). The service is likely to get further boosts as it launches in the UK and other European markets in the coming months.

Vivendi to Appeal Mediaset Decision
Vivendi has said it will appeal a Milan court’s rejection of its attempt to block Mediaset’s plans to build a pan-European broadcasting giant. Mediaset wants to fold its Spanish and Italian businesses together under one Dutch-based holding group, but Vivendi, a shareholder, disapproves of the plan. The two have been involved in a turbulent legal battle for years, and on Monday, the saga took its latest turn as a Milan court rejected Vivendi’s request to block Mediaset’s plans. But Vivendi looks unlikely to give up its efforts any time soon, and will contest the decision.

Fox Reports $600 Million Ad Revenues from Super Bowl
Fox, which aired this year’s Super Bowl, claimed this week to have brought in $600 million in ad revenue from the NFL’s annual showstopper. Sunday’s game was watched by an average of 99.9 million viewers on Fox’s television network according to CEO Lachlan Murdoch, with a further three million watching online and on Fox’s Spanish language channel.

The Week in Publishing

Google Breaks Out YouTube Revenues for the First Time
Google revealed YouTube’s individual income for the first time in its financial results this week, showing that its video sharing platform brought in $15 billion in ad revenues in 2019. Google had previously declined to show YouTube’s specific contribution to overall income, instead rolling YouTube’s figures into total Google revenues. Nonetheless, the revealed figures were roughly in line with what others analysts had expected (though some had thought revenues might be more in the region of $20 billion). YouTube subscription revenues meanwhile were bundled in to Google’s ‘other’ revenue stream, which brought in $5.3 billion. But the ‘other’ category also includes hardware, and other subscription services.

Snapchat Adds Users, but Revenues Disappoint
Snap’s Q4 results this week showed that the app-maker managed to grow revenues and its subscriber count in the quarter, despite increased competition from rival video app TikTok. Snap’s daily user count was up eight million from the previous quarter, reaching 218 million, while revenues were up 44 percent year-on-year to $561 million. Snap also had its first profitable quarter on an adjusted basis. But analysts were disappointed that Snap forecast it could return to a loss in the current period, with Snap’s stock down ten percent since the results were announced.

Spotify Agrees Deal for The Ringer
Spotify announced this week that it has agreed a deal to buy pop-culture and sports focused publisher The Ringer for an undisclosed fee. Spotify spend around $400 million buying podcast companies as it seeks to own more podcast content itself, and The Ringer fits this strategy as it produces a mix of audio and written content. Spotify says users who listen to podcasts and music are more likely to subscriber than those who just listen to music, hence the focus on podcast content.

The Week for Agencies

Publicis Q4 Results Meet Expectations
After several disappointing quarters, holding group Publicis Groupe’s Q4 results were in line with expectations. Underlying sales in Q4 were down by 4.5 percent year-on-year, and full year underlying sales grow was down 2.3 percent, but these results were expected by analysts and in line with forecasts. And Publicis confirmed its outlook for 2020, expecting underlying sales to lie somewhere in the range of two percent down to one percent up. CEO Arthur Sadoun said that 2019 had been a year of transition for the business, and that the changes it has made are “already delivering concrete results that make us confident for the future”.

Accenture to Stop Media Auditing
Accenture is winding down its media auditing arm to avoid a possible conflict of interest with its media buying business, the company confirmed this week. Accenture’s media auditing business had been picked out as a key concern when Accenture launched ‘Accenture Interactive Programmatic Services’ back in 2018. While Accenture did not comment on allegations of conflicts of interests, a spokesperson said that the company has “decided to ramp down the area of our business that performs media auditing, benchmarking and agency pitch services by the end of August”.

UK’s Financial Authority Launches Probe into M&C Saatchi
Britain’s Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) announced this week it’s launching a probe into M&C Saatchi following an accounting scandal which has plagued the company over the past year. Several units of the agency had been found by M&C to have overstated income and receivables, errors which have been confirmed by a PwC audit. The scandal has seen M&C’s share price plummet by 70 percent, and led to the exit of co-founder Maurice Saatchi.

Hires of the Week

ITV Names Sanjeevan Bala as Chief Data & AI Officer
ITV has chosen Sanjeevan Bala as group chief data and AI officer, the broadcaster announced this week. Bala joins from ITV, where he is currently head of data science, and will be tasked with transforming the group’s AI and data strategy.

George Cheeks Appointed CBS CEO
ViacomCBS has chosen George Cheeks as CEO of CBS, where he will oversee all CBS-branded assets following the company’s merger with Viacom. Cheeks joins from NBCUniversal, where he most recently held the role of VC of its Content studios.

Schild and Knegten Join Beeswax
Ad tech vets Bill Schild and Paul Knegten have joined Beeswax as chief revenue officer and chief marketing officer respectively. Schild has previously worked for WeWork and Viant, while Knegten has held roles at MediaMath and Yahoo!.

This Week on VAN

Brands Are Still Sitting On the Fence with Women’s Sports says GiveMeSport’s Benny Bonsu, read more on VAN

Will TV Manufacturers Finally Take Their Place at the Advertising Table? read more on VAN

How Will Brexit Actually Affect Advertisers and Agencies? read more on VAN

Should Brands be Wary of ‘Wokewashing’? Q&A with Good-Loop’s Amy Williams, read more on VAN

VAN’s Top Three Picks of 2020’s Super Bowl

Jeep, Groundhog Day

Microsoft, Be The One

Rocket Mortgage, Comfortable


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