2017 has seen some pretty interesting developments at the frontline of digital media. Earlier this month, Google unveiled its premium subscription based YouTube TV service; and shortly after, The Wall Street Journal reported that Facebook, as well as announcing its set-top box video app, is open for pitches for TV-like shows across various genres. So it’s not unreasonable to assume that TV-like advertising is also in their plans. And when you consider the depth of data available to such digital giants, the prospect for advertisers is immediately quite enticing……until you look at the industry headlines.
The trust issue
As we’re sure everyone knows, Google’s been under intense scrutiny of late, and Facebook hasn’t escaped unscathed either. The UK Government, The Guardian and various other household brands have all pulled campaigns off YouTube in the last month. There have been plenty of discontented murmurs about untrustworthy data in the past, but now there’s a deal-breaking trust issue with content itself. The source of this controversy is an investigation by The Times earlier in the year, which revealed that big name brands were appearing on YouTube alongside extremist content. The report estimated that such advertising could generate tens of thousands of pounds per month in revenue for “the most popular extremists”.
Google’s official line is that they ‘only allow advertising against videos which fall within our advertising guidelines”, but that didn’t prevent videos from Combat 18 or Islamic State effectively finding sponsorship from brands like Disney, Argos, Mercedes-Benz, Waitrose, Marie-Curie, Honda and John Lewis. Last year, reporters even found ads for US presidential election candidates next to ISIS propaganda videos (which, in retrospect, might not have been an innocent accident!). Google have issued various formal apologies – but no offers of substantive solutions as yet.
And, of course, when you add the recent YouTube Pewpewdie controversy (where the popular gaming vlogger’s ‘anti-semitic comments’ lost him his Disney sponsorship) it’s quite clear the ‘logistical oversight’ excuse just isn’t good enough.
Facebook’s also been hit with similar accusations, following revelations that offensive and inappropriate imagery of minors had been published. The company’s response was also questionable – asking to be shown what the offending images were, then filing reports about the journalists who then provided them. Damian Collins, Chairman of the Commons Media Committee, expressed “grave doubts” about Facebook’s ability to moderate its own content, questioning “how can users make effective complaints to Facebook about content that is disturbing and have confidence that it will be acted on.”
Risk -v- reward
It all points to a more fundamental risk inherent in the concept of user generated content. On one hand, the prospect of running grand and impactful TV-style campaigns on YouTube or Facebook looks like it will be a viable option in the future; potentially made super-effective by pushing further into programmatic strategies than traditional broadcasters might allow. It’s an enticing prospect, applying bold, creative concepts with enhanced targeting models that can be dynamic with the audience they address.
On the other hand, if there are already failures in moderating the user-generated content they are built upon, which advertisers will take that risk? Because without trust: that a programmatic campaign will be consistently delivered in the correct context, the proposition won’t carry any benefit over and above what ‘normal’ TV advertising already offers and could even prove quite damaging.
That’s why, for the time being at least, we may simply see these platforms play out exactly the same ad streams as their traditional broadcast counterparts. We’ll certainly be keeping a keen eye on developments and what this all spells for TV advertising in the future.