The WIR: Comcast Brings Google Complaints to Congress, Vice Buys Refinery29, and Zuckerberg Plans to Fend Off TikTok

In this week’s Week in Review: Comcast brings complaints against Google before US congress, Vice completes its acquisition of Refinery29, and leaked conversations hint at Mark Zuckerberg’s plans to fight off TikTok’s challenge. To receive an update on the industry’s top stories every Friday, sign up to the weekly Video Round-Up.

Top Stories

Comcast Accuses Google of Unfairly Restricting its YouTube Access
Comcast has told a congressional task force that Google has unfairly used privacy concerns as a pretext for limiting its advanced advertising unit FreeWheel’s ability to sell ads on behalf of its clients YouTube channels, according to a Reuters report. Google has historically allowed media companies to sell ads on their YouTube-hosted content via FreeWheel rather than YouTube’s own tools, but last year cut off FreeWheel’s access in Europe citing privacy requirements imposed by the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). In the US, while FreeWheel still has access, Google is now saying media companies using FreeWheel will have some data access cut off, according to Reuters.

In response, Comcast is now adding its voice and lobbying might to ongoing antitrust investigations into Google. This marks the first time a company of Comcast’s size and lobbying influence has taken sides in these investigations, according to Reuters.

Vice Closes $400 Million Deal to Buy Refinery29
Vice this week secured a deal to buy fellow digital native publisher Refinery29 for a reported $400 million, which Vice says creates a publishing business worth $3.6 billion. Both companies grew quickly in their early days, funded by venture capital, but have faced difficulties in recent years in a testing advertising market, with both having cut jobs as revenues have stalled.  Vice CEO Nancy Dubuc was brought in last year to help oversee a turnaround, and she believes Refinery29 will add considerable value to Vice’s proposition.

Dubuc told the FT that several ideal were floated for acquisitions, but Refinery29 was seen as the best cultural fit thanks to its young, mostly female audience – a demographic which Vice has struggled with. “As other parts of the sector consolidate, I think we have to march in step”, she told the FT.

Leaked Facebook Conversations Show Zuckerberg’s Plans to Beat TikTok
Leaked transcripts of internal meetings at Facebook this week outlined CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s plans to counter the threat of viral short-form video sharing app TikTok. The transcripts, obtained by The Verge, show that Zuckerberg considers TikTok to be a legitimate threat in how it has managed to overtake Facebook’s own Instagram app in some markets. And he hinted that Facebook could create its own rival app, which he called ‘Lasso’, to combat the threat. “That’s a standalone app that we’re working on, trying to get product-market fit in countries like Mexico, is I think one of the first initial ones,” Zuckerberg is quoted as saying in the transcripts. “We’re trying to first see if we can get it to work in countries where TikTok is not already big before we go and compete with TikTok in countries where they are big.”

The transcripts demonstrate the challenge faced by emerging social platforms like TikTok. As VAN has reported, the incumbents like Facebook are often able to replicate these new apps’ unique features – it’s often said that Snapchat’s struggles have come from Instagram launching its own versions of Snapchat’s key features.

The Week in Tech

Taboola and Outbrain Announce Merger
Taboola and Outbrain, two Israel-based content recommendation companies, have agreed a merger, it was announced this week. The deal will see Taboola pay $250 million in cash in order to acquire Outbrain, which will then hold 30 percent equity in the combined entity. The move brings together the world’s two largest content recommendation businesses, which both specialise in promoting external (as well as internal) content alongside publishers’ own articles. Read the full story on VAN.

MediaMath Launches New Transparency Initiative SOURCE
Demand-side platform MediaMath on Wednesday announced the launch SOURCE, a new initiative which the company says aims to bring “full transparency” to the digital media supply chain by the end of 2020. The company is painting SOURCE as an industry initiative, having signed up a number of partners from across the ecosystem, and says the effort will smooth TV’s transition towards programmatic trading. As part of the effort, MediaMath says it wants to rework the economics of digital advertising as it stands, in order to better incentivise industry players to share data. Read the full story on VAN.

Samba TV Acquires Wove
Samba TV this week announced that it has acquired Wove, a data integration platform that it says will strengthen Samba’s advanced data onboarding and activation capabilities. Terms of the deal were not disclosed. This is the third acquisition for Samba in the past year, following Screen6 and Axwave. Samba says that with these combined technologies, it has bolstered its ability to enable clients to utilise its real-time TV viewership data, TV spot analytics, and identity resolution against first-party data for attribution and activation.

Verance Brings Watermarking To HbbTV
Verance, a provider of standards-based watermarking, today announced plans to bring its Aspect watermarking technology to Hybrid Broadcast Broadband TV (HbbTV), providing a solution that it says will significantly expand the reach of interactive television services in markets worldwide.

Aspect uses Verance’s implementation of the standards-based watermarking technologies sanctioned by the HbbTV Association in their recently published “Application Discovery over Broadband” specification. It enables consumers to access HbbTV services on their television sets, even when they receive TV service through a legacy set-top box. Because Aspect watermarking is compatible with all distribution environments – cable, satellite, IPTV and OTT – Verance says it significantly increases the household reach of these services.

The Week in TV

New Broadcast Season in US Shows Continued Steep Drop in 18-49 Viewers
Premiere Week in the US, where the new broadcast season kicks off and networks launch new seasons of new and returning shows, saw a continued steep drop in the number 18-49 year-olds tuning in, according to Nielsen data. Premier Week saw viewing figures for 18-49 year-olds drop by twelve percent year-on-year according to AdAge. Over the past five years, Premiere Week deliveries have now fallen 43 percent for the 18-49 age group, AdAge reports.

Pluto TV CEO Says Streaming Wars Will Boost AVOD Services
Tom Ryan, co-founder and CEO of ad-supported streaming service Pluto TV, said that he sees the ‘streaming wars’ between big subscription video on-demand services as a business opportunity for his own company. Speaking on stage at Adweek’s Advanced TV Summit, Ryan said that the big SVOD services may spend big to advertise on platforms like Pluto as they fight for market share, Adweek reported. And Ryan believes the streaming wars will drive up interest in ad-supported services too, as consumers reach the limits of what they’re willing to pay for extra content.

SVOD Fragmentation Risks Driving Piracy
With the proliferation of subscription video on-demand services splitting in-demand content across multiple paid services, consumers might react by pirating more content according to survey from UK comparison site Broadband Genie. Of those surveyed, 37 percent said they would consider using illegal sources to access content if SVOD fragmentation continues, with 60 percent saying they might pay for a VPN to hide their identity while doing so.

The Week in Publishing

Twitch Announces Ad System Overhaul
Amazon-owned live streaming platform Twitch used its annual conference TwitchCon to announce a series of updates to how advertising works on the platform. CEO Emmet Shear, speaking on stage at the conference, announced that Twitch will stop running ads on channels which don’t receive a cut of the revenue (i.e, those which aren’t partnered with Twitch). In the coming months, the ability to take a cut of revenue from advertising will be extended to ‘affiliates’, a type of partnership which has a lower threshold for entry than full Twitch partnership.

Those who do run ads will now have the ability to turn off pre-roll ads entirely, and to opt only to run ad breaks during their stream. And these mid-stream ads will have a new ‘picture-in-picture’ format, where the live stream will be visible in a smaller screen separate from the ad.

Facebook’s News Tab Will Only Pay a Minority of Publishers
Facebook’s planned news section will only pay a fraction of the publishers whose work ends up featured on the News tab, according to a report from the Wall Street Journal this week. Facebook is currently in negotiations with a wide range of publishers around licensing their content to appear within Facebook’s own news section, but will only pay the larger and more valuable publishers according to the WSJ’s sources. The sources say overall around one quarter of publishers whose content appears within the News tab will be paid.

Teads Launches Campaign for Real Media
Ad tech company Teads this week announced the launch of its ‘Campaign for Real Media‘, which it describes as an “ongoing drive to showcase and celebrate why professionally-produced content is better for advertisers, publishers, their audiences, and even society at large”. The campaign was launched alongside a Teads survey of 100 CMOs which found that 54 percent believe premium digital media has the greatest return on investment, and 49 percent believe premium digital media is the media platform most aware of brand safety.

The Week for Agencies

CMOs Expect Budget Growth Despite Economic Uncertainty
Despite rising fears of a possible incoming recession, 61 percent of chief marketing officers in North America and the UK expect their marketing budgets to grow in the next year, according to a Gartner survey. But this comes after a period of marketing budget reduction – Gartner’s survey found that this year marketing budgets on average fell to 10.5 percent of company revenue, down from 11.2 percent last year. This marks the first time average marketing budgets have dipped below eleven percent of revenue since 2014.

Vodafone Returns Returns to In-House Media Buying
Vodafone has revived its efforts to bring programmatic media buying in-house, according to a report from Digiday this week. The telecoms company has previously attempted to run an in-house ad buying unit but found doing so was more complicated than expected. But Vodafone is having a second attempt – it currently has twelve employees who plan and buy ads programmatically, and is looking to fill nine more roles according to Digiday.

AA Chief Woodford Warns of No Deal Brexit Impact
UK trade association the Advertising Association’s (AA) chief executive Stephen Woodford warned this week of the impact of a no-deal Brexit impact on the advertising industry, describing it as “the most pressing thing at the moment” in an interview with Prolific London. Woodford said a no-deal Brexit would pose a number of challenges for the UK ad industry, specifically around data, warning that “if there isn’t a deal, and there isn’t recognition of the UK’s data adequacy – even though we’ve taken all the relevant GDPR provisions into UK law, requiring the EU to recognise that the UK is an adequate place for data – we’re into uncharted territory about how firms can send data to and fro.”

Hires of the Week

WPP Appoints John Rogers as CFO
WPP this week announced it has appointed John Rogers as its new chief financial officer. Rogers was most recently CEO of Sanisbury’s Argos, and before that worked as CFO of J Sainsbury plc between 2010-2016.

Reprise Names Dimitri Maex as Global CEO
IPG Mediabrands’ owned performance marketing agency Reprise this week this week promoted Dimitri Maex to global CEO. Maex replaces Tim Ringel, who left earlier this month for a new role as CEO of creative agency Spring Studios.

Colin Gottlieb Joins LadBible Group’s Strategic Board
Advertising veteran Colin Gottlieb, co-founder of Manning Gottlieb Media, has joined LadBible Group’s strategic board, where he’ll help sell its scale and creative solutions to brands, according to The Drum.

This Week on VAN

If Third-Party Cookies Die, Could “Human Context” Provide an Alternative? read more on VAN

How Header Bidding is Fixing its Video Problem, read more on VAN

MediaMath Wants to Rework Digital Advertising’s Economics to Encourage Publisher Transparency, read more on VAN

Taboola and Outbrain Announce Merger, read more on VAN

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