Taboola News Wants to Own the Minus 1 Screen on Android

Adam SingoldaTaboola’s business started off selling links to third party content on publishers’ pages, but over the past few years it’s focussed much more on applying its content recommendation tech to those partnered publishers’ own content. In Taboola News, the company has created an Apple News-like news discovery service – but with a focus of sending audiences onto publishers’ owned and operated sites, rather than keeping them within Taboola’s own ecosystem. With Apple’s updated Apple News + reportedly proving unpopular with publishers, can Taboola’s model serve them better? VAN spoke with Taboola CEO Adam Singolda to hear about Taboola’s strategy.

What is Taboola News, and how did it evolve out of your traditional business?

The best analogy is probably Apple News. On an Apple device, if you swipe right you get to the ‘minus 1’ screen, and you see a feed of content which in this case Apple has aggregated and syndicated. With us it’s a similar thing, but we’re very global and we have content in over thirty languages around the world. So wherever you go you’ll see local and national news, including things like sports and finance, presented to you primarily on that minus 1 screen. In terms of analogies, you can think of it as if Apple News outsourced their product to all Android devices – that would be Taboola News.

It’s essentially the first time that Taboola is going outside of the open web into the physical world, integrating ourselves into various devices. The concept is that we’ve spent the last decade building our recommendation engine which is integrated on publisher websites, and now over the next decade we have to expand that business to help our publisher partners essentially become pre-installed and surfaced across billions of devices, and hopefully help drive traffic back to them. And we also have to create a great experience for consumers, helping them discover whatever is new and interesting, through a system which is personalised to them.

How does Taboola News choose which content to recommend?

It works pretty similarly to what we do today. We learn about people’s behaviour through their location, things they’re clicking on, how they interact with content while they’re on the content. And we may have some cookies and things of that nature which help us have some idea about what you’ve been looking at.

So it’s similar to how we do what we do today, just in a different world. It’s not on a publisher site, but it’s on a device.

What’s in it for publishers?

The idea is that we’re aiming to be integrated on one billion devices, and then to be as big as search or social for driving traffic to publishers. So they’re getting traffic, and they are loyal and engaged audiences because they’re beginning their internet experience on these publisher sites. Before they go to Facebook, before they open different apps on their phones, the first thing they’re doing is clicking onto these publisher sites, so they’re very fresh.

We also give publishers reporting about how many people came in via Taboola News, click through rates, and things of that nature. And then they can marry that with their Google Analytics and measure the display and video revenue they’ve generated from that traffic.

And how does the monetisation side work for Taboola, and for the device manufacturers/carriers you partner with?

The device manufacturer can choose to have some promoted posts within their feeds, but most choose not to do that. The main way it generates revenue is that users land on sites where Taboola exists, so we make revenue through those clicks. Then we use that revenue to pay the device manufacturer. The publisher gets to keep all the revenue outside of the Taboola revenue just for those clicks, and the revenue we generate is used to pay the carrier for hosting us.

Why is Taboola News placed on the ‘minus 1’ screen, rather than within an app?

The reason we don’t want to be an app is because we’re not a consumer business, we’re a B2B business. So we don’t want to compete with anyone who is in the business of getting consumers to download an app, that’s not the market we want.

But we want other devices to have an Apple News like experience, which comes as part of the device. And I think that the future growth for device manufacturers in general will come from providing different services – so news services, healthcare, payments, all these things will become add-ons which will drive most of the growth over the next ten years. And we want to power one of those services for everybody.

We hope the minus 1 screen involves a very different mindset from an app – we don’t expect consumer to click to open our service. We just want to be part of what they do all the time. And that’s a big advantage for user engagement, because we don’t need them to open an app.

Unlike Apple News, Taboola News sends audiences to publishers’ own domains – why have you chosen this strategy?

Our goal is to help drive growth for publishers on multiple fronts, like revenue and engagement, and audience.

When I think about the future of journalism, I think it’s critical to build direct relationships with readers and make them loyal, and to own the user experience on your own sites. Especially in an era when attention spans are short, users want to relate and belong to certain brands they love, and you can only create that connection if you own the user experience and have a direct relationship.

So I think it’s critical to drive audiences to the open web. And our future is attached to the future of publishers, so we’ll never become our own destination because of that.

Looking ahead, what’s the roadmap for Taboola News?

Firstly we’re trying to get from 60 million devices to one billion, which involves working with the carriers and OEMs [original equipment manufacturers]. And secondly we want to go beyond just phones – you should expect Taboola in your fridge, in your smart home, in your car. Literally any place that is connected where you have that moment of ‘next’, where you’re open minded to discovering something.

So if I open my fridge – it could tell me cool recipes for Friday night guests, or it could also be one top news story from the day, we’re open minded about what it could be. And in cars, in five years I think when you’ve got a one hour journey, you’re going to be asking what you’re going to do on that journey. The car has to be better than just getting you from A to B.

So I believe many new companies will get into the business of interacting with consumers in ways we can’t really think about right now. And I think many companies will get into the recommendation business, and I think it’ll go way beyond Google and Facebook and so forth.

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