How Ad Targeting Reinforces Bias – AdMonsters

It’s a harrowing time.

First, we were hit with the COVID pandemic, and in recent weeks, protests and discussions about racial inequities in America have taken the main stage.

Businesses are questioning their operating practices (or sometimes being called out for them and canceled) and uncovering how unconscious biases might play a role in everything they do—from recruitment to product development to marketing. The world of digital media and advertising has long been fraught with its own set of diversity challenges, but maybe now is a time where actionable plans and strategies can be put in place to bring about actual change.

Earlier this week, in our Wrapper newsletter, I brought up the topic of ad targeting bias, nudging the industry to start thinking about a solution. On a visit to Twitter later that day, I discovered that I wasn’t alone.

Right in my feed, Gizmodo’s enterprise reporter, Shoshana Wodinsky asked the question: “are there any concrete digital ad rules wrt racially targeting/tracking a given user? outside of fb’s 2018 settlement, i’m not seeing…………….. much of anything.” To which she added, “genuinely asking here, bc after doing 20 minutes of digging into the ways data orgs infer (or explicitly pull) racial data from……………………. all of us, i’m kinda getting genuinely concerned.”

Her question prompted deep conversations about weblining and digital redlining, which relate to how personalization can lead to discrimination and bias in terms of exactly which advertising is presented to an individual based on demographics such as race, gender or location. It’s not something that’s illegal, but it’s closely related to the practice of redlining—explicitly denying services based on race or zone pricing—which most certainly is.

These are some instances where personalization can go all the way wrong.

AdMonsters friend, Aram Zucker-Scharff, Ad Engineering Director for RED at the Washington Post, wrote one of the most informed and thoughtful responses to Wodinsky’s question. It was so good, we asked him if we could post his Twitter thread in its entirety, here it is:

Hopefully, you made it all the way through Zucker-Scharff’s full thread. It’s quite the worthy read.

Wodinsky and I also had another conversation that sprang from her original question about racial ad targeting. It’s clear that targeting to the right person at the right time can lead to some terribly bad practices and although they’re not illegal, they can lead to some of the worst cases of injustice.

Here’s a couple of follow-up questions for the ad-tech community at large: Can we have targeted advertising that is also fair and unbiased? And will it require a set of regulations to get us there?


Source: How Ad Targeting Reinforces Bias – AdMonsters

The Ad Performance and Safety Protocol: Cleaner, better, safer ad experiences on iOS – Developer Blog – The Washington Post

The Washington Post is taking a proactive approach to digital display advertising issues with a new project that is set to fix bad code, while saving brands from code errors and cross-platform bugs in ad code. The Ad Performance and Safety Protocol (APSP) focuses on accidentally harmful ad behaviors to ensure a better user experience for all readers on The Post’s Classic iOS App.

Ad safety has become a major issue for publishers over the last few years. Most solutions that have approached the issue have done so with a fundamentally reactive mindset. The assumption is that the majority of ad problems experienced by users are malicious actors in the landscape. This approach is one that is needed, but it does make an incorrect assumption: that users’ bad experiences with ads are only found in malicious events.

While malicious events stand out to users and need to be secured, bad performing advertisements is a highly common experience users have with ads. The advertising technology landscape is filled with badly performant, slow, and malfunctioning advertisement code. While the largest impact this has is on slowing websites down, the issue became far more urgent for our Classic App when we determined users were experiencing two major problems at a high frequency. The first was a flaw in a common iOS package that was causing video to accidentally pop out of the ad frame. The second was a common script used to build ad animations that had a flaw causing an impact on iOS device performance. After testing and review, the iOS and RED teams at The Washington Post determined a fundamentally different approach was in order.

To supplement our existing anti-fraud and anti-malicious-ad measures, we needed a proactive approach that worked with ad code to alter it for better performance. The solution was the Ad Performance and Safety Protocol, a set of checks and responses that actively scanned ad code coming into the app and determined a way to increase ad performance and decrease cross-platform bugs that were causing a worse ad experience for users.

Changes to HTML specification a few years ago encouraged developers to replace common gif-style animation with background video elements. These elements are intended to be part of the ad’s overall presentation but a bug in some of the underlying standard code used to display ads in iOS can cause these videos to ‘pop out’. This is not an experience we or users want and because the video is intended to be background animation it is usually unbranded and strange to users. We resolve this issue with proactive code insertion.

Additionally, a few very common ad scripts used by auto-generating design tools have issues we have diagnosed as causing infinite looping of code functions. These excessively overuse device CPU long after they have completed doing anything for the ad itself. APSP will stop these loops at the point we have decided to no longer allow any type of ad animation, when the scripts no longer have any use for the ad. This should have no impact on well-implemented analytics and viewability tools within the ads themselves.

We have deployed this solution successfully, intervening in ads that would otherwise have negatively impacted reader devices and improving system performance for over a third of ads displayed. The result is faster ads, a better user experience and a safer overall environment for Washington Post iOS users.

Source: The Ad Performance and Safety Protocol: Cleaner, better, safer ad experiences on iOS – Developer Blog – The Washington Post

Who Works Engineering at Skullcrusher Mountain?

Quitting immediately is a privilege, what do we do when we can’t?

Recent events at The Markup have given us a rare public flogging of a management decision. Executive management is America’s highest paid working classification but consequences for when they do a bad job seem increasingly unlikely. This has led to a rise in unions and also increasing pressure for employees to speak up, speak out or quit in order to create consequences for bosses where none exist. But what happens when you can’t?

In my experience, the decision to stop working with a person or organization often feels like an accretion of bad experiences. However, one time with a previous employer it was a single moment. I can remember this moment exactly. It had been a tough week because I already felt uncomfortable with the chain of decisions coming down from upper management: A focus on video I felt would be bad for the long term; a decision to interview someone, we’ll call them M, who was clearly a Nazi but—at the time—hadn’t been fully acknowledged as such by the general media. I was on the Engineering side and I didn’t feel it would be appropriate to object to an editorial decision. To an extent, I felt divorced from it. Even when internal casual conversation tied the decision (at least in part) to questions of traffic, something which felt bad and abnormal in an undefinable way, I was still one step removed.

Later that week, the interview with M was done and it was ready to go up. Executive management felt that this was a big deal, and if we pushed it out to prominent placement on front it would get even more traffic and boost our early video efforts. I had built a tool that allowed us to embed anything into the top slot of the front page, so we used that to embed the video to the front.

I was in a bar, it was after the work day, a Wednesday, and I was meeting up with a friend and had come there straight from work. Just after we sat down, I got a message that the Big Deal Video wasn’t properly showing on the front page, something about the embed code of the video and the embed management of the slot was conflicting and I needed to fix it. So I sat down at the bar, excused myself to my friend for 15 or 20 minutes and pushed out a code fix to deal with the conflict.

After I was done, a thought occurred to me, I was enabling this thing, this incredibly shitty thing, to happen. Though the general media would take months to come around to deciding that M was a straight-up Nazi, I already considered them as such and I was playing a pivotal role in this asshole’s self-promotion. That was the moment I knew I needed to quit.

It took just under a year before I did.

Image: Discussing the ethics of roofing for evil in Kevin Smith’s film Clerks.
“I’m alive because I knew the risk involved with that particular client. My friend wasn’t so lucky. Any contractor working on that Death Star knew the risk involved; if they got killed, it’s their own fault. A roofer listens to this [pointing to his heart], not his wallet.“

“I think what they did is pretty despicable but at the end of the day, I didn’t give a fuck,” one former employee said. “I was engrossed by the technical problems that this afforded me.”

From “The Perks Are Great. Just Don’t Ask Us What We Juliana Reyes at WIRED.

I’m hardly the first to comment on working for organizations that are… less than good. It isn’t even the first time I’ve done so in this newsletter and we’re only on issue three (this has been entirely by accident, I swear). It is no mistake though that this has partly come out of interacting with ad tech. It has put me in touch with people who have come to see their jobs as somewhat of a farce, reorganizing the deck chairs atop a house of cards that could fall down at any second. Often these people operate on a different side of things than engineering, but never has so perfect a window been opened into the cognitive dissonance involved as with Juliana Reyes 2016 WIRED article about the Philly-based engineering-focused operation of a scamware startup, which I’ve quoted above. (Though Digiday’s Confessions series comes pretty close.)

Reyes’s story manages to have people who are completely divorced from the shitty unethical thing they are involved in, alongside people experiencing the horror of understanding their employer’s business model. In many ways, it was ahead of its time. It’s hard to imagine how shocking it was to read in 2016, and prescient, considering the Never Again Pledge was just months away.

We’ve now entered an entirely different age. Not only are some tech workers publicly struggling with the consequences of their code, sometimes successfully, now editorial employees are struggling with how their bylines are used by their employers. We’re all wrestling with not just how to support these public stances, but also how to respond to the blowback.

While workers are not directly responsible for the actions of their employers, they also create the inherent product by which their employers persist. A tech company does not survive without code, a media company does not survive without creators, and so on. Doing that work can be inherently self-satisfying. Many developers or writers may approach their output in a work-a-day manner, which is fine, but some do take genuine joy out of it. It is easy to obscure the overall evil of a company when you love the little corner of it you are responsible for maintaining. That creates a particular blindness. In other words: you shouldn’t have to love your job, but if you do, it makes it particularly hard to spot fault with the system that pays you.

Beyond that, as Jen Lowe states so plainly in the tweet above, there are other factors that keep people working at a place, even as they gain awareness that all is not right. To quit immediately when things become nefarious is a privilege accorded to those with resources and working significant others (or, alternatively, no one relying on them). People who don’t have high rent, who aren’t concerned about money flow, don’t immediately need insurance, don’t have potential emergencies medical, familial or otherwise. It is nice to have that privilege and I definitely don’t begrudge or criticize those who have it and use it.

The rest of us can get stuck in a disconcerting middle area.

I love my current job, but I came to it in part because I try to be strategic about where I work and this means spending the time looking for the next job, like I did after that evening staring at a video of M while using it to test my code fix, at places we no longer feel comfortable being.

I think part of the reason unionization talk is rising is many companies are being more obviously evil with greater consistency, not just in their treatment of labor, but generally. Most people do not have a boss who is so obviously evil as the rogue geneticist of Jonathan Coulton’s “Skullcrusher Mountain”, instead, we find ourselves being asked to do occasional unethical things. In my situation it was occasional bouts of sketchiness while the overall organization mostly did good. These are the liminal situations that we have to be most cautious about.

The dangerous space is where it feels like we are mostly doing good (or at least not evil) and only a little bad. Sometimes that is the case and everything is ok! We can be comfortable staying, or staying there long enough to quietly find the next job. But we could also be running the vents for a supervillain’s body incinerator and not realize it!

the simpsons scorpio GIF

There is definitely a line. It takes work to understand it but I think that work is worthwhile. You don’t need to know how to do accounting to understand the general sweep of your business model. If you do try to understand how your company works it can provide a lot of mental security, the type that can let you sleep at night. At a good company with good people this is something you should be able to discuss.

Without that knowledge it can be very easy to be like the engineer in the Philly adware company, focused on the problems, while scamming grannies and empowering evil.

The other question is: what can you do when you don’t have the privilege available to quit, even if you want to?

I think this situation is creating some interesting results right now. For one, there’s a lot of leaking to the press happening from within the types of tech companies that would normally never leak anything. It’s clear this is an option, and perhaps even a way to push corporate policy away from bad practices.

Depending on your position, and if it would be difficult for the company to hire into it (say if they made a huge public mess of firing someone), you can potentially speak out internally, pushing leadership to act more ethically by being vocal. This option also is more available to those with particular privileges (especially, I’d think, men and expensive engineering hires), but if you can do it you may be able to create worthwhile change, or at least hold off situations where you end up complicit in shitty behavior.

Remember that your consent as labor to collaborate with bad management allows management to force consent to bad behavior on other employees. Perhaps you can start a union? Or at least a walkout. Or perhaps sign a letter in support of the folks doing the good behavior.

Finally there’s always the last resort: throwing yourself in the gears. If you can’t object, organize, or create external pressure, there is some degree to which you can work on the good things and delay on the bad ones. It isn’t the greatest option, but depending on the scope of bad behavior you may find yourself with a degree of moral obligation.

There have been times when I’ve had to put a lot more thought into this than I’d like and in more than one employment situation. There is an obligation to protest being put on labor, for better or worse, as we go deeper into this weird ultra-greed-focused era of capitalism. There is increasingly little choice but to look at the employer/employee relationship as adversarial.

Some employers look for every opportunity to milk every possible second of work out of workers and seek to take every advantage to extract money out of society. If that is the case then employees either have to resist or be taken advantage of, lest they get pulled further down into a realm with less options and a higher likelihood that their labor is put to use making the world a worse place.

Wherever you are, I hope you can find a way to hold the line and, at the very least, avoid making things worse.

Interested in talking more about this newsletter? Join the team to chat about it:

Additional Reading:


Source: Who Works Engineering at Skullcrusher Mountain?

Is Everything on the Internet Fake?

This is an excerpt of a talk that I gave at the CMO Network in England on February 25, 2019.The marketing industry had so many expectations of the digital world. For example, everything would be real, measured, and trackable. But so many of those expectations turned out to be wrong. In short, much of what we see online has turned out to be completely and utterly fake. We hear so many people talking about being “digital first” or “digital only.” But is that just completely and utterly wrong?

First, if you will, a short introduction. In my prior career, I was first a journalist and newspaper editor who later studied and moved into marketing. In my last job, I was director of marketing at a tech company.

Today, I write The Promotion Fix column on marketing and media for The Drum and travel around the world to speak about what I report. I use my dual experiences to discuss the marketing industry with the mindset of a neutral journalist. I have no assumptions. I take nothing at face value. I have nothing to sell except my ideas. I do not accept any fad without evidence. And I write and speak without fear or favor.

For the record, this gathering is under Chatham House Rules. But I hereby give permission to everyone to publish or quote what I say in this specific talk. I always stand by my opinions. And I will publish my prepared transcript on my website’s blog tonight or tomorrow if anyone wants to read it later.

Now, to begin, let’s go back to communications channels before the Internet. Radio reports listener figures that represent real human beings. Print media does the same for readership and uses surveys to calculate how many people on average read a single copy. TV does the same for viewership and we can even take into account the average percentage of people who do not go to the loo and do watch the ads.

And all of these numbers are audited by independent third parties. Sure, there have been instances of — shall we say — “creative accounting.” But by and large, marketers have a good idea of how many human beings we are reaching when we use traditional media.

But I will argue tonight that we do not have good numbers for most Internet-based channels. We do not know whether the numbers in analytics dashboards mean anything real. And companies such as Facebook, Google, and ad tech platforms do not let independent third parties audit their numbers. We just accept whatever they tell us.

So, today, after twenty years of Google, Facebook, and Amazon “disrupting” everything, we now must disrupt the idea that we see online is real — and discuss what the implications might mean.

Let’s start with web traffic in general. You can open platforms such as Google Analytics and see visitors, conversions, sales, and a lot of other information. But do you know where those numbers come from?

Analytics tools put a piece of code on a website. When a browser loads a page, that code places a cookie in the browser and records what the browser is doing. But if you use an ad blocker, it stops the code from working at all. And roughly 22% of people here in the UK use ad blockers. So, 22% of your website visitors don’t even show up in analytics, and you have no idea what those 22% are doing.

It gets worse. Most analysts have found that around 50% of website traffic is bots — not human beings. I could pay money to send a bot to any website and do almost whatever I want. More on that later. So, at least half of the numbers in your traffic analytics platforms are fake.

Here is how Ellen Pao, the former CEO of Reddit, put it on Twitter:

“It’s all true: Everything is fake. Also, mobile user counts are fake. No one has figured out how to count logged-out mobile users, as I learned at Reddit. Every time someone switches cell towers, it looks like another user and inflates company user metrics.”

Web traffic numbers are fake.

On regular radio, getting a number one hit actually means something. But the New York Times recently found that you can buy 5,000 fake YouTube views of videos for as low as $15.

And in addition to those who use bot traffic, there are pay click farms in China that literally consist of people spending their whole workdays rewatching the same videos, revisiting the same websites, and downloading the same apps over and over again. You can find videos of these workers online. Seriously, it is factory farms full of workers who just do those things all day long.

In 2017, the Spanish pop hit Despacito became the most popular song on YouTube with more than 3.4 billion hits. But does that number really mean anything? How many of those “hits” were bots or people paid to watch the video over and over again? We have no idea. But the New York Times again found someone in Canada who made $200,000 in 2018 from selling 15 million fake YouTube views.

YouTube numbers are fake.

There are hundreds of Facebook Groups with tens of thousands of members who want to buy and sell reviews on Amazon. In one example that BuzzFeed News found, you can get $36 for writing a positive review of a pair of headphones. Does a positive review on Amazon by someone you don’t know not using a real name — even if it is a “verified purchase” — actually mean anything?

I increasingly think “no.” And I have the same opinion whenever I see comments on Airbnb, Yelp, and every other website. After all, the Washington Post found that 61% of the Amazon reviews of electronics products are fake.

The New York Times set up a dummy Twitter account and paid the service $225 for 25,000 followers. I also admit that once when I was in the agency world years ago, I did buy Twitter followers for a client who wanted to increase the company’s followers. It is very easy — and very cheap. And it was terrible that I did that.

I can tell you that as a professional speaker, I know that event organizers often evaluate speakers by their Twitter followings. And some people do buy followers to get a high number even though the followers are only bots. Even though it might hurt my speaking career, I refuse to do that.

Research from two universities in America found that 15% of Twitter accounts are bots. I would argue that the number is probably far higher.

The agency Mediakix once created two two fake Instagram accounts. One used images borrowed from a Los Angeles model. The second used free stock photos. Soon, brands offered both of the accounts free products and more than $500. Both brands and followers were duped.

In another example, Points North Group found that the Ritz-Carlton hotel’s sponsored posts have been published by influencers with followings that were 79% fake.

Captiv8 estimates that brands pay $2,000 for influencers with 100,000 followers and $20,000 for those with a million followers. But The New York Times paid $225 to buy 25,000 followers — that is 1 cent each. So, if you do the math, being a fake influencer can make you a lot of money. But it makes marketers look like idiots.

Instagram influencers are fake.

Netflix said that 45 million “accounts” “watched” the movie Bird Box. But what do “accounts” and “watched” mean? Many people share the same Netflix account. And does Netflix consider a “watch” to be one second, the whole film, or something in the middle? We have no idea.

Netflix viewership numbers could be fake. We just don’t know.

First, if you are judging the success of your marcom campaigns by “engagement” or “likes” or “shares,” you have bigger problems than the fake Internet. Still, you should know that there is a vast number of services that sell automated engagement.

The anti-fraud company Sway Ops looked at a single day of Instagram posts that were hashtagged with #sponsored or #ad. What did they find? More than 50% of all engagements were fake and only 18% of comments were made by real human beings.

Engagement is fake and easily manipulated.

Now, remember what I said earlier about bots and web traffic analytics? The same is true for display ad impressions from Google or any other ad network. You might think that the number of “impressions” is the number of humans who saw an ad. But that is wrong. One impression is one web browser — or bot — asking one ad network server to load one ad one time. That is all.

It has nothing to do with human eyeballs. And if half of all web traffic is fake, then at least half of all ad impressions are fake.

The measurement company Adjust looked at a traffic flow sample of 400 million installations over 17 days and estimated that $1.7 million worth of installations were being paid to fraudsters faking the activity.

In 2018, researchers found that 11% of all app installations were fake — and that number increased 30% from 2017.

App installation numbers are fake.

And now, my favorite example. Facebook.

In September 2016, Facebook admitted that it overstated average video view times by 60% to 80% for two years. That same month, an Australian ad magazine obtained Nielsen figures showing a 94% plummet in Facebook video streams in the country due to a correction in how the data was reported.

Also in 2016, Facebook’s VP for Europe, Nicola Mendelsohn, said “we’re seeing a year-on-year decline in text”. Mark Zuckerberg also said “five years to all video”. Now, there are lawsuits that Facebook allegedly inflated video ad views by up to 900%. For publishers, the “pivot to video” seems to have been a big mistake that cost countless people their jobs.

Facebook also reports a “daily active visitor” metric for its Watch product as someone spending at least one minute on the platform per day — but get this! Those 60 seconds do not need to be consecutive. If someone watches one second each of 60 videos, then that is a “daily active visitor.” Seriously.

Remember, TV networks measure a “view” of a show based on whether it was watched for 60 consecutive seconds. Facebook’s metrics and recommendations are fake.

But for Facebook specifically, the issue is more dire. I am sure everyone here knows that Leave won the Brexit vote through an illegal, last-minute ad push on Facebook. And because of the nature of Facebook’s platform, we do not know exactly who bought what ads, what the ads said, where the money came from, and who saw them. But we do know that the last minute ad spend was illegal.

Cambridge Analytica whistleblower Christopher Wylie once put it this way: “When Olympic athletes cheat and win, their victories are taken away.” We know that Leave cheated. So why is the Brexit referendum victory not taken away? I just do not understand.

I will be more blunt. Foreign states and bad actors pushed enough illegal, last-minute winning votes to Leave with fake news, fake pages, fake groups, fake people, and fake advertising — and all primarily over Facebook. The result? The fracturing of the European Union and the destabilization of one of the most important democracies in the West. Brexit would not be happening if Facebook did not exist. And neither would Donald Trump be president of the United States.

One week after Parliament’s landmark report on fake news and foreign interference through social media, one week after Damian Collins called Facebook “digital gangsters,” why is that not the top story in every single newspaper and BBC TV and radio broadcast? Where is MI5 and MI6? Why are people not rioting in the streets? Where is the government? Really, I want to know.

But I’ll leave the rest of the politics do you. Let’s look at the bigger marketing context.

When you look at the amount of fake everything online, is it any wonder that Procter & Gamble cut digital media spend by 50% and saw a 2% increase in sales?

To summarize, I will quote Aram Zucker-Scharff, the director of ad tech at the Washington Post:

“The numbers are all fucking fake, the metrics are bullshit, the agencies responsible for enforcing good practices are knowing bullshiters enforcing and profiting off all the fake numbers, and none of the models make sense at the scale of actual human users.”

He continues: “The problem isn’t just that the internet is full of fakery and bullshit and bad numbers and malfunctioning metrics and bullshitters and fraudsters. The problem is that all the fake shit is layered on top of other fake shit and it just compounds itself.”

He ends: “The internet is full of fake bullshit, run on fake numbers, profitable on fake models, feeding you fake information, supporting fake users. None of this is by accident.”

Now, this is the point in the talk where speakers are supposed to give advice on how to solve the problems they are addressing. Well, I am sorry to say that I have no easy solution.

If I were a CMO giving a report to the CEO or board, I would know that I can do one of two things: Give a report with numbers that I know to be bullshit, or give no report at all. If I do the former, I keep my job. If I do the latter, I get fired.

Still, I do have some suggestions.

First, we need to ask for audited online numbers just as we do for TV, print, and radio. As an industry, we should refuse to accept anything that Facebook, Google, or anyone else tells us unless every single number everywhere is audited by independent third parties. If their platforms are truly legitimate, they should have nothing to hide.

But spoiler alert: I predict that those companies will do no such thing. They just don’t want to spend the money. Because it would cost a lot of money.

Second, we need to use the same metrics for the online world that we have use for the offline world.

Stop thinking about metrics such as “engagement” and think about the tactical marcom metrics that have always existed. After all, digital platforms measure only digital touchpoints.

Marketers are simply doing the same marcom tactics that we have always done — it is just that we are doing them over an increasing number of offline and online channels.

Some examples. Take the tactic of advertising. One metric is brand lift. Target a city with display ads. Measure the brand lift. Target the city with local TV ads. Measure the brand lift. Do the same over radio and outdoor. And then compare the brand lift in the real world to see which channels are the best. (Spoiler alert: I doubt it will be display ads.)

Take the tactic of PR. One metric is brand sentiment. Do that same process over all online and offline channels and compare the results.

Take the tactic of direct response. The main metric is ROI. Do direct mail, e-mail, Google AdWords, or anything else and then compare the results and returns based on the cost. In this one example, I will say that online channels are good in the single context of direct response. If anything, the Internet is efficient. But efficient is not the same as effective.

Still, can I make a request? Can we stop asking for the “ROI” of every single marketing activity? Most times, marketers say “ROI” when they mean “benefit.” ROI is the proper metric only for the tactic of direct response.

Remember: There is no such thing as “traditional” marketing or “digital” marketing — there is only marketing. When you manage your departments, do not segment by online and offline. Segment by tactic. After all, no one ever said that we do “TV marketing” — and no one should say today that we do “social media marketing” or “video marketing.” Those terms are absurd.

Have a team devoted to direct response. They can do that tactic over online and offline channels. Have a team devoted to advertising. They can do that tactic online and offline. Have a team devoted to PR. They can do that tactic online and offline. The tactic, not the channel, should be the focus. And then apply the tactically-relevant metrics to the results. People are generally experts at individual tactics, not individual channels. We should always be channel-neutral rather than believe idiocy such as being “digital-only” or even “digital-first.”

As BuzzFeed News media editor Craig Silverman put it, “digital has ushered in a golden age of delusion by measurement.” And we need to use the right metrics to combat everything that is fake on the Internet.

Thanks for reading! Follow me on Twitter. See my marketing speaker page or marketing workshop page to have me visit your conference or company!

Tags: , ,



Source: Is Everything on the Internet Fake?

The digital-media bubble is bursting. That’s hurting a generation of promising young journalists. – The Washington Post

About five years ago, I was asked to visit the newsroom at Mic, a digital-media start-up backed by venture capital and focused on news for the millennial audience.

As the public editor of the New York Times, I suppose I was seen as an expert in traditional journalism ethics — especially through the eyes of Mic’s reporters and editors, mostly in their 20s, and many in their first jobs out of school. And because I was active on Twitter and writing a frequent blog, perhaps I looked like I knew how to build a bridge from old-school newspapering to the digital-first present.

I remember how smart, engaged and hopeful the Mic staffers were as we talked, in their Lower Manhattan newsroom, about topics such as conflict of interest, objectivity vs. fairness, and possible career paths.

Could this exciting venture — then only two or three years old — thrive long into the future? Could these young journalists build their lives and careers on it?

In 2013, that seemed possible, despite some flashing danger signs.

But last week, Mic was the latest of its ilk to crash and burn. More than 100 employees were fired, amid word that its staffless shell would be sold to another media company.

And because Mic’s demise happened so suddenly and so mercilessly, it seemed like one of the worst.

“A gutting experience,” was how top editor Kerry Lauerman, formerly of The Washington Post, put it. (Along with his boss, Publisher Cory Haik, who also had been a Post executive, he was among those let go last week.)

For former Mic reporter Marie Solis, the gutting experience came last year when the company decided to emphasize video rather than traditional text stories.

The young Vassar graduate, who now works at — an offshoot of Vice — told me a few weeks ago in a phone interview that she lost her job with no warning as the company pivoted.


That move to video didn’t pay off, not for Mic or the many other similar media companies that took their cues from all-powerful Facebook. The promises of more traffic — which turned out to be based on false interpretations of data — never came to fruition and as Heidi Moore wrote in the Columbia Journalism Review, “Publishers must acknowledge the pivot to video has failed.”

Now Mic is being scrapped for parts, as its name and technology are being sold to Bustle for a reported $5 million — a pittance, considering that the company had raised $60 million in venture capital, once boasted 17 million unique visitors and had a (theoretical) valuation of more than $100 million.

“We cannot imagine a move more cynical or perverse than terminating your entire staff, only to cede the ‘brand’ to a new buyer who will presumably pick the scraps from the carcass of a newsroom that we all spent years building,” Mic’s employee union said in a statement last week.


They have every reason to feel sold out and angry.

“When you are a good manager, you bring someone in to do good work, with the understanding that they’ll be taken care of, and will have a future,” said Aram Zucker-Scharff, who writes, teaches and consults about the new economy of journalism. (Also the director of advertising technology at The Post, he made it clear in a phone interview Monday that he is not speaking for our mutual employer.)

“But a lot of venture-capital-based media companies are built with the idea that your fate is to be fired,” he told me, although that reality goes unsaid.

“It’s unethical,” he added. “You’re hiring them to be disposable cogs.”

And, as he wrote in a widely read Twitter thread, “the numbers were never really there. Eventually they were always going to disappear as fraudulent traffic and metrics fell apart.”

What worries him, and me, is the human cost — and the cost to tomorrow’s journalism — when this happens over and over again.

With the tragic demise of local newspapers, places like Mic have become the entry point into the craft for a lot of young journalists. What’s more, their newsrooms have been admirably diverse, a diversity that their journalism has admirably reflected.

As they go under, such entry points disappear. And the journalists who have been through this ugly process — sometimes more than once — burn out.

“They are taking the brunt of this,” Zucker-Scharff said, “and it’s psychologically damaging.”

As these young people search for work among few options, or leave the field altogether, journalism stands to lose a generation of diverse talent.

Maybe I should have told the Mic newsroom five years ago to get out while the getting was good — before the venture-capital bubble burst, before the pivot failed, before their workplace lost its soul.


But I’m (almost) consoled by the words of 25-year-old Marie Solis, who managed to land on her feet, post-Mic: “I can’t imagine doing anything else.”

Source: The digital-media bubble is bursting. That’s hurting a generation of promising young journalists. – The Washington Post

The Washington Post tests Rhapsocord – Business Insider

This story was delivered to Business Insider Intelligence “Digital Media Briefing” subscribers hours before appearing on Business Insider. To be the first to know, please click here.

The Washington Post is testing a new tool, called Rhapsocord, that automatically identifies areas of a podcast where an ad could be placed and then automatically inserts ads into those spots, so that podcasters don’t have to do it themselves manually, AdExchanger reports.

The offering aims to help podcast advertisers serve more up-to-date ads — podcast ads, which are typically read aloud during podcasts by their hosts, tend to be baked into many podcasts, which means they’re often out of date. The Post is currently testing Rhapsocord on just one of its podcasts, but plans to expand the service to its others as listenership rises across the board.

Total US Podcast Revenue Estimates
BI Intelligence

The Washington Post could have an easier time attracting digital audio ad spend with its new podcast ad tool.

  • The publisher will likely find it easier to monetize its podcasts with evergreen content. As the Post expands Rhapsocord to more of its podcasts, brands might flock to spend on popular series that aren’t time sensitive and have high replay value, like “Presidential,” a 42-episode series that profiled each US president. Though “Presidential” was created in 2016, it still received millions of downloads in 2017, per AdExchanger. These podcasts, which might have been less enticing to brands because their ads would go out of date, could now become a common target for advertisers.
  • And the Post could also attract brands looking to advertise on podcasts focused on certain trending topics. The Post is currently testing Rhapsocord on its podcast, “The Daily 202’s Big Idea,” which is a politically focused series. Brands might look to advertise more heavily on these episodes leading up to the midterm elections occurring in November of this year, for example. Or, assuming the tool is opened up more widely, advertisers could also look to run ads on some of the Post’s sports podcasts leading up to the 2020 Olympics as a way of focusing on “hot” areas and reaching a large, but time-sensitive audience.

As traditional radio declines, the number of available podcasts and podcast listener base is growing. From 2011 to 2018, time spent with traditional radio has declined by 8% globally, per Zenith. But, as consumers shift to mobile and the potential podcast audience expands, podcasts are becoming more popular.

The monthly US podcast listener base grew by three percentage points year-over-year (YoY) in 2017, per Edison Research, which is encouraging companies to launch their own podcasts: Apple Podcasts now host over 550,000 active shows, up from 525,000 in April, per TechCrunch, for example. This number will likely continue to grow as consumers devote more time to digital devices. As this occurs, we might see more publishers develop tools similar to Rhapsocord to boost monetization potential.

To receive stories like this one directly to your inbox every morning, sign up for the Digital Media Briefing newsletter. Click here to learn more about how you can gain risk-free access today.

More:BI Intelligence
BI Intelligence Content Marketing
Digital Media

Source: The Washington Post tests Rhapsocord – Business Insider

The Washington Post wants to figure out the best places to put ads in your favorite podcasts » Nieman Journalism Lab

Editor’s note: Hot Pod is a newsletter on the podcasting industry written by Nick Quah; we happily share it with Nieman Lab readers each Tuesday.

Welcome to Hot Pod, a newsletter about podcasts. This is issue 168, published July 10, 2018.

Into the Woods. The rollout for Crooked Media’s first audio documentary, The Wilderness, began yesterday with the launch of a standalone website — which gives a preview of the season’s overall 15-part structure as well as the extensive list of interviewees who will be featured on the program — along with a trailer that was also dropped in the Pod Save America RSS feed, which pushed the podcast feed up the charts. (Tried-and-true pre-launch strategy, this.)

The series will debut on July 16. Two things to note here:

  • Interestingly, The Wilderness is a coproduction between Crooked Media and Two-Up Productions, the shop behind Limetown and 36 Questions. Pretty big get for the latter.
  • Also: What’s always been super interesting to me about Crooked Media is how…hard it is to describe. Yes, it’s a media company, albeit one that’s explicitly political, and though there are certainly media companies with overtly political bents across history — from progressive magazines like The Nation to right-wing outlets like Fox News — there’s something about Crooked Media that feels a little more, for lack of better word, alive. Or to put it another way: openly willing to directly interact with the physical world, where conventional media companies often feel separate and apart from the world. A very smart Hot Pod reader once floated the idea of a world in which a platform like Crooked Media could very well perform functions resembling that of…well, political parties. It’s a curious idea, and I’m further curious to see how The Wilderness extends this thesis.

Democracy dies in dynamic ad insertion. (Sorry, couldn’t help myself there.) The Jeff Bezos-owned Washington Post, which has been pushing pretty hard into the technology platform business alongside its journalistic endeavors, is reportedly getting into the…podcast ad tech game?

AdExchanger reports that the company’s Research, Experimentation, and Development (RED) team has put together a “dynamic ad insertion” tool, called Rhapsocord, that “identifies places to put in ads, automatically inserts them and then sends the file to different podcast platforms.”

Apparently, while advertisers and agencies can still manually buy inventory through sales reps, the tool is taking steps to allow for “a self-serve podcast ads platform or programmatic audio.” WaPo is currently testing the tech on its own podcast network.

So I can’t say that I like this. To begin with, the podcast CMS market is fairly crowded already (see: Libsyn, Art19, Megaphone, Simplecast, PRX’s Dovetail, Spreaker, CastPlus, so on and so forth), and many of those solutions already allow for dynamic ad insertion. Furthermore, I generally have reservations about programmatic ads in podcasting (see here for more on that), and my concerns are doubled should the push come from a company that, up until this point, has primarily operated in a display-ad–first digital world.

Eh, maybe I’m not being generous enough here. In any case, there is one potential positive thing that I’m curious: I wonder how this technology will fit into the Post audio team’s various dabblings with smart-speaker programming.

Meanwhile, elsewhere. I filed two interviews for Vulture last week, one pegged to a beginning and the other pegged to an end.

(1) The first looks at You Must Remember This, Karina Longworth’s fantastic podcast on the secret histories of 20th-century Hollywood, which returned last week. This new season explores Hollywood Babylon, the infamous 1959 book by avant-garde filmmaker Kenneth Anger that traded heavily in scandal and questionable gossip on early Hollywood celebrities, but which has since accrued a complicated legacy in which it is often construed as truth. (A timely topic, indeed.) It’s a pretty long interview, and in addition to discussing the season, Longworth was also kind enough to talk a bit about her process.

(2) The second interview was with Madeleine Baran of In The Dark, who spoke with me soon after the concluding episode of its spectacular sophomore season hit the feeds last week. Baran and her team will continue to cover the case of Curtis Flowers when the next development hits, and they’ll soon be in the hunt for their next story after taking a few weeks off.

I also filed the June update to my Best Podcasts of 2018 (So Far) list. You know what? I like this monthly update format. Good stuff, Vulture.

Maximum Fun broadens its horizons. Last month, Jesse Thorn’s Los Angeles-based podcast network rolled out its first foray into scripted programming. The show is called Bubble, an eight-episode scripted comedy series that — and I’m quoting the pitch I got for it, which is pretty succinct and effective — is “sort of a sci-fi/alternate-universe comedy about a group of friends who live in a town protected by a (literal) bubble.” Having listened to a few episodes, I guess you could also call it a cross between Portlandia and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It’s super zany, is what I’m saying, and if you like Maximum Fun stuff, you’re probably going to like this: It has all the warm, loving, and fun sensibilities that you’ve come to know and love from the network, plus it features a bunch of the MaxFun extended family like Eliza Skinner and the McElroy Brothers.

Anyway, the thing about Bubble that caught my attention was how it presents a case study of a particular challenge that more podcast companies are — and should be — facing: Let’s say you want to push your creative boundaries. How do you think through the business side of that effort? So, in pursuit of that question, I reached out to Maximum Fun’s managing director Bikram Chatterji, and he was kind enough to write at length. I like this interview quite a bit, as he really lays out a good deal of the strategic considerations he deems to be important when breaking a project like this.

Hot Pod: Tell me about how MaxFun came to produce Bubble.

Bikram Chatterji: I think you could say it was entirely organic — Bubble was created by Jordan Morris, one half of Jordan, Jesse Go!, longtime friend of Jesse and the network, and one of the funniest people we know. Jordan had written the pilot for television and had taken a bunch of meetings on it — people loved the concept and the script, but were looking for a more tangible proof-of-concept (which would be tough to film because: monsters). We did a table read of the TV script last year with some friends — little/no production, small black-box theater — and when we released it in the JJGo feed it got a really positive response.

Separately, MaxFun was interested in developing a scripted comedy — as a way of trying some new things creatively, production-wise, and in terms of marketing/business model. We’d had a few meetings but nothing had grabbed us.

Bubble presented a rich and smart premise with hilarious jokes, from a person that we and our community knows and loves, so it was an ideal first step. Also, as a step in a new direction for all of us, I think that the trust that we all had in each other went a long way in making it a smooth and collaborative development process.

Hot Pod: The show strikes me as a little different from what Maximum Fun typically produces. What were the challenges involved in the production, and what were the differences in how you approached development?

Chatterji: It is different! The main assets we had going into development were (1) we know what a joke is, and how to make stuff funny, (2) we have good relationships with very talented people who know, like, and trust us, and (3) we’re nimble and creative when it comes to making stuff sound good.

For some aspects — developing a serialized arc for a cohesive season of the show, voice-directing for drama and comedy, and sound design/audio world-building, for instance — we worked with some very smart and talented folks who have done this before (in the three examples listed: Nick Adams, exec producer on Bubble, who works on Bojack Horseman and story-edited for New Girl, amongst other credits; Eric Martin, director for Bubble, hundreds of audio books, VO, directed Hoot Gibson: Vegas Cowboy for, amongst other credits; Ben Walker, producer/editor/sound design, many credits for BBC Radio that, frankly, U.S. audiences probably don’t recognize).

There were other production/creative aspects that the team worked collaboratively on — a big one being, making a show that is visually rich and involves monsters/many cool fights work in audio. The writers introduced a narrator with some personality and, fortunately, Tavi Gevinson agreed to play this part, so we were able to do the whole “constraints = opportunities” thing.

Hot Pod: Tell me about the revenue end. How did you approach building a business engine around this project?

Chatterji: This was always envisioned as an investment with a long-term, slightly unconventional return profile. That is to say, we started down this road not expecting/needing to make our money back in a hurry. At a minimum, the near-term value was expected to be:

  • Stretching ourselves creatively a bit
  • Making something great that our community would appreciate and enjoy
  • Creating a kind of statement work for people who might not know us all that well, to start broader conversations about our capabilities

We’ve ticked all those boxes, which we feel really good about. That said, we are trying some things out on the revenue side as well:

  • Like all of our shows, we envision Bubble to be paid for primarily by listeners. [Note: For more on Maximum Fun’s audience-supported model, read this column.] Unlike our other shows, it’s a limited-run series, so we’re not asking for ongoing monthly contributions, but listeners can (and have!) made one-time payments at
  • We are talking with some folks about advertising as, midway through the run, we have a solid track record of downloads to pique advertisers’ interest.
  • The show is especially suited to some other revenue channels — for instance, merchandise. So we’re exploring those as well.

MaxFun has always been different from other networks in that advertising is a secondary revenue source for us. We don’t have anything against ads — they help our creators get rewarded for their work, and we sincerely believe that if done correctly, they provide our listeners with a service. One thing we’ve always insisted on is having the option to forego ads if something doesn’t feel right — because, frankly, as listeners we have experienced ads that feel wrong (two common problems: they are so frequent as to disrupt the listener experience, or they’re so subtle as to blur the line between what is content and what’s an ad). We know that there are a bunch of smart folks working on the challenge of making advertising work in service of listeners, and we’re paying attention to that; practically, though, our approach has been to not make anything we do contingent on getting ad revenue, because it’s easy to see that forcing us into an uncomfortable position.

Hot Pod: What else did you learn through this process?

Chatterji: I think the other piece that is fundamentally different from anything we’ve done before is marketing a limited-run series. We have put a lot of time and energy into this show, and we think it’s wonderful. I was (and am) well aware of other limited-run shows that have high production values but limited long-term impact. I didn’t want that to happen here.

Philosophically, you can probably divide marketing strategies between creating a massive event (often at considerable cost in terms of time and resources) and relying on something more sustained/word-of-mouth based. We tried a hybrid approach — a big bang within our community, who we could reach pretty easily and who we know will be responsive to our messaging, and a longer, slower burn for the wider podcast audience. It’s still something we’re working on, and something that is in progress, but so far it seems to be going okay.

The main other thing that I’ve taken away from this is how — this could be obvious, but I find it gratifying — creative people love working on something really good. At the start of this process, I was a little apprehensive about whether we could bring aboard some of the big names to do this thing that was new to us and that, frankly, did not pay much money (relative to TV, etc.). I think the fact that we were successful attests in part to the great reputation MaxFun and Jesse have built up over the years, but also — and members of the cast have mentioned this at a few of the Q&As we’ve been hosting — that the same hunger for good shows that is out there from our audience exists amongst the creative people we work with as well.

That sounds like more of a creative consideration than a business one, but I think it’s something at the heart of our strategy, long-term: Make something great and the rest of your job becomes a lot easier.

You can find Bubble…well, pretty much anywhere you’d find podcasts, aside from those pesky podcast platforms with a big paywall blocking out the sun.

Career Spotlight. You know I love running these. This week, I interviewed Stitcher’s John Asante, who spoke about moving through what seemed to be a “conventional” trajectory, having worked on radio with live elements, and the podcast industry being a producer’s market.

Hot Pod: Tell me about your current situation — job title, role, life plans, etc.

John Asante: I’m a senior producer for original content at Stitcher, based in Los Angeles. Some of the podcasts I work on are released as free, ad-supported shows (we call these Stitcher Originals), while others are made solely just for our subscription-based service, Stitcher Premium. The shows range from longform interviews to scripted comedies and dramas, to documentaries on a variety of topics. For reference, some of the podcasts I had hand in producing are Heaven’s Gate, Dear Franklin Jones, and Gossip.

In my role, I mainly wear three different hats as I develop new podcasts from pitch to production to launch. On some projects, I’m the lead producer who’s editing scripts with the host, sitting in on interviews and taking notes, and then cutting tape to make the final product. On others, I play more of a project manager role, communicating with all the teams (production, marketing, ad sales, content operations, etc.) and assisting with any tasks to make sure all the deadlines are met in order to launch a new podcast. And while I’m actively producing shows, I’m brainstorming new ideas for podcasts and evaluating pitches from writers and producers who are looking to get their podcast picked up by Stitcher.

I also host and produce an independent podcast called Play It Back. It’s a storytelling show where artists, producers, and music lovers talk about discovering the songs that have changed their lives. It’s a concept I thought about executing for years that I hadn’t heard much of in the podcast space. Full disclosure: I took a hiatus from making new episodes with the move from NYC to LA last year and to rethink the format, but the plan is to get it back up and running sometime this year.

Hot Pod: How did you get to this point?

Asante: I’ll admit that on the surface, my journey has been similar to many fellow podcast producers — I was an intern at NPR after graduating college who then worked his way into a full-time job at the network in 2009. But my career arc differs from some people, as I primarily worked on shows with live elements before diving into podcasting — namely Talk of the Nation and Ask Me Another. And while I was working on those shows and thinking of making a transition into podcasting for narrative-driven shows, I got the feeling that my live-show experience was undervalued in comparison to other producers who cut more radio pieces and longform interviews, like All Things Considered or Morning Edition.

After some frustration with my career trajectory and finding some trouble advancing, I actually left public radio in 2014 to try something completely different: marketing. That’s another long story, but the goal was to keep my radio chops up during the career switch. But after a year and a half away, I really missed producing on a daily basis…and marketing was not for me. The more I listened to podcasts — especially those produced by my radio friends who were moving into the podcast industry — the more I realized that there were a growing number of opportunities to produce podcasts. I realized WNYC was investing more resources into podcasts, and I got a temp position producing There Goes The Neighborhood back in 2016. A few months later, I landed a full-time gig on The Takeaway, mainly producing arts and culture pieces, which I had embraced as my forte at that point. Last year, I moved out to Los Angeles to make moves in the podcast industry. Stitcher’s work and mission felt like the best fit, and I’m glad they believe in my ability to create and develop new podcasts.

Hot Pod: What does a career mean to you, at this point?

Asante: A career means being able to work on a variety of podcasts in different roles. I wanted to make the move from producing one show to developing and producing several, and I’m definitely achieving that at Stitcher. From here, I’d like to take on bigger producer and editor roles, working on scripted projects and narrative shows that tell more stories about people of color and those living in underserved communities. It’s really important to me that these stories are told, even in ways I never imagined.

I also want to be in the position of giving guidance and help producers and editors of color make moves in the podcast space. The same goes for those who don’t have the same career path as those of us who came from the public radio world. There’s certainly room for improvement when it comes to diversity. Our voices need to be heard on both sides of the mic.

And with the amount of connections I’ve been fortunate to make in LA, I’ve definitely thought about starting my own production company one day. I know I’m not the only podcast producer who’s thought about this!

Hot Pod: When you started out, what did you think you wanted to do?

Asante: After toying with the possibility of working my way up the ladder as a TV reporter, and simultaneously falling in love with college radio (then shortly after public radio), I graduated college desperately wanting to become a public radio producer. I was obsessed with NPR’s style of storytelling after interning there and formed an even stronger obsession with radio as a medium.

My initial plan was to line a full-time producing job, then do freelance pieces in my spare time, and use those pieces to apply for a job as a member station reporter 4-5 years later. But after getting a few pieces on the air, I realized it wasn’t the right fit, so I focused more on producing. Then around 2011, a few friends and I started making a podcast of our own. We just wanted a way to make use of our interests and telling stories we weren’t hearing on the news or other programs. While the project lasted less than a hear, it made me realize that podcasting was a low-stakes way to experiment, try out new ideas, and see what’s possible. So my trajectory slowly started to shift toward producing podcasts, though it would take a while before I felt confident enough that I could make a career out of that new vision.

Hot Pod: How do you view the podcast industry, such as it is, at this point in time?

Asante: It’s wild, exciting, and moving incredibly fast. Every day, I’m impressed by the number of well-produced and fascinating podcasts I discover or get recommended, as well as the amount of money going into the industry. And I get legitimately excited when friends ask me for recommendations.

I’m glad there are more players in the field, from small production houses to larger media companies. From my experience, this means it’s a producer’s market. More and more companies want to make higher-quality content, which means having the ability to cut tape, write scripts, and develop an idea is so vital.

Also, podcast discovery still needs to be more developed. So many interesting independent podcasts go under the radar due to a number of factors, and I hope these shows don’t get overlooked for personalities with a bigger following.

Hot Pod: What should I be listening to right now?

Asante: Gossip: As I mentioned before, I was part of the production team on this show, so I’m definitely biased. But this show is unlike anything I’ve ever heard or worked on. It’s a scripted dramatic comedy podcast created by Allison Raskin about three women living in a suburban town who meet up each week to talk about all the crazy rumors spreading through their town. Think Desperate Housewives meets Jane the Virgin.

The Nod: I love Brittany and Eric’s dedication to telling stories about elements of black life that you’ve probably never heard of, or didn’t know how they were created. Their unique way of storytelling is playful and informative that has taught me about entertainers and activists like Josephine Baker, and made me think critically about the cultural impact of movies I’ve seen a dozen times, like Coming To America.

Thanks, John.


  • Pour one out for Current’s The Pub. The public media trade publication of choice is shuttering its podcast after 113 episodes and 3.5 years. Executive director Julie Drizin announced the move last Friday through a post on the Current website, citing lack of underwriting support as the main reason for the show’s termination. However, Drizin also noted that The Pub’s closing doesn’t necessarily mean that the publication won’t be dabbling podcasts anymore. She leaves open the possibility of future projects, provided they are able to “secure committed funding.”
  • Filmspotting: Streaming Video Unit, the Alison Willmore and Matt Singer-led online movie-focused podcast in the Filmspotting family, has concluded its run. The long-running show released its final episode last Tuesday. As a longtime listener, I’m pouring another one out for this one too.
  • This is really good: “Using true crime to teach Indigenous history: Reporter Connie Walker on ‘Finding Cleo,’” writes Elon Green for CJR. The CBC podcast wrapped the season last month, and yesterday, host Connie Walker tweeted that the season has now been downloaded over 10.5 million times across its ten episodes.
  • James Cridland has a pretty interesting writeup on some RSS feed chicanery that seems to be going on with CastBox.
  • What an angle: “Amazon Alexa may be better at selling you things, but Google is more likely to understand you, say ad industry insiders,” via CNBC.
  • Tangentially-related, but worth keeping tabs: “Apple Music Just Surpassed Spotify’s U.S. Subscriber Count,” per Digital Music News.

Photo of Amazon founder and Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos by AP/J. Scott Applewhite.


Source: The Washington Post wants to figure out the best places to put ads in your favorite podcasts » Nieman Journalism Lab

The Washington Post creates its own dynamic podcast ad insertion tech – RAIN News

The Washington Post has developed its own internal technology for putting ads into podcasts. Rhapsocord is a dynamic ad insertion tool that can automatically identify pre-roll, midroll, and post-roll spots in a show, then add the spot and update the file. It also stores metadata about each podcast episode, which allows advertisers to target buys by topic. The Daily 202’s Big Idea will be the first of the Post’s own podcasts to test out Rhapsocord. It will later be expanded to the media company’s other shows.

“Because we built an automated system, anyone who complies with the ads API standard could serve ads into the system, whether it’s a self-serve platform or an integration with a programmatic platform,” said Aram Zucker-Scharff, ad engineering director for the Post’s Research, Experimentation and Development team.

Rhapsocord can connect to other content management systems, indicating that the Post may open up the platform to outside podcasters. It complies with IAB standards.


Source: The Washington Post creates its own dynamic podcast ad insertion tech – RAIN News

Washington Post Builds Tech That Dynamically Inserts Ads Into Podcasts | AdExchanger

Inserting fresh ads into podcasts is challenging and time-consuming.

An online article loads fresh ads every time a page loads. But in the podcasting world, readers download content and ads together, which means the two must be stitched together beforehand.

Because of this challenge, many older podcasts run with no ads or stale ones, even as popular shows amass thousands to millions of downloads long after their release.

To make the process of putting ads in podcasts easier for publishers, The Washington Post’s Research, Experimentation and Development (RED) team developed Rhapsocord, a dynamic ad insertion tool that identifies places to put in ads, automatically inserts them and then sends the file to different podcast platforms.

Rhapsocord automatically identifies pre-roll, midroll and post-roll spots, inserts ads and updates the files, so producers don’t have to manually re-edit a podcast.

The tech also stores metadata about each podcast episode so advertisers can buy based on topics such as politics, finance or history.

Aram Zucker-Scharff, ad engineering director for RED, said Rhapsocord opens up new podcast inventory.

While advertisers can still buy podcast ads directly through salespeople, Rhapsocord’s API is a step toward enabling a self-serve podcast ads platform or programmatic audio.

“Because we built an automated system, anyone who complies with the ads API standard could serve ads into the system, whether it’s a self-serve platform or an integration with a programmatic platform,” said Zucker-Scharff.

The Post is testing out Rhapsocord on one of its own podcasts, “The Daily 202’s Big Idea.” It will then expand to other Post podcasts.

For example, the Post created a 42-episode series, “Presidential,” in 2016 that profiled each of the US presidents. The podcast generated millions of downloads in 2017.

“The content is historical data about presidents; it’s evergreen,” Zucker-Scharff said. “If you were to approach that in text, you would get the latest ads. But on podcasts, it’s baked into the content.”

Rhapsocord connects to the Post’s CMS and podcast encoding system, but the tech can connect to another CMS.

By contrast, other podcast technologies require using their services end to end to benefit from automation, Zucker-Scharff said. Many proprietary solutions only offer monetization within their platform, while Rhapsocord updates podcasts across every place listeners access their podcasts.

The tech also complies with IAB standards for counting downloads of podcasts – the metric many advertisers use when buying.



Add a comment


Source: Washington Post Builds Tech That Dynamically Inserts Ads Into Podcasts | AdExchanger

Personalization without people: What happens when no one can track consumers? – Digital Content Next

The alignment of new laws, reader advocacy, and technology has opened up a challenge to user tracking tools. While some express concern that an end to unbridled tracking will hinder the digital ecosystem, this is an enormous opportunity for publishers to take the lead in building the next generation of personalization technology. However, this evolution in personalization will need to be built on a foundation of editorial metadata, which will drive everything from video playlists to targeted advertising.

A new door opens

A new type of personalization that eschews user-based targeting is coming. In part this will be driven by the fact that many analytics, ad tech, and personalization-tech companies will be deeply affected by the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). An AdAge headline once proclaimed that the GDPR will “rip global digital ecosystem apart.” While that may be a bit alarmist, the GDPR will force companies operating within the EU, and the third party tools they use, to adhere to a strict opt-in for all tracking. It will also levy severe penalties on those companies within EU jurisdiction that fail to do so.

The omnipresent motivation behind the law, though, has failed to prompt the development of similar legislation in the U.S. Despite results and sentiment that suggest otherwise, targeting remains central to many marketing strategies. Brands have found user targeting programmatic campaigns less effective than they expected. Consumer groups have formed in protest of the functionality of user tracking in action (such as ads appearing with no regards to the content they appear on). Individuals on social networks find retargeting approaching some sort of uncanny valley — a point at which its very accuracy is becoming deeply discomforting. And we’re even seeing the start of a conversation around user targeting happening in Congress.

A victory for publishers

Publishers have a mission to treat their readers and viewers ethically. The good news is that smart publishers can (and do) run user-targeting related tools on that basis. The personalization of ads and news has become a significant trend, one that many are still chasing. However, the fundamental underlying technology is challenged by the GDPR. Even if publishers never conduct any business outside of the U.S., the vendors who power personalization tools do. We operate on literal reams of data but must face a future where comparatively little is available.

These oncoming shifts in the marketplace shouldn’t frighten publishers. They are likely to hurt the thousands of middleware third-party ad tech companies that have failed to deliver on user targeting for years now while skimming profits. A push to decrease both publisher and advertiser reliance on user targeting is an opportunity.

Metadata to the rescue

Publishers need to take a look at the new generation of tools that can provide the data needed for personalization on-page without ever tracking a user. Metadata standards are improving and adding detail. Our current tools consider article relationships mostly in keywords and categories but new ways of telling the story about a story could bring about a revolution in personalization.

Almost by accident, social media has pushed thousands of sites to adopt Open Graph, an RDF-based standard built to provide detailed site data. Search engines have long supported and rewarded structured data like hCard. Improvement in the project, along with increased support of JavaScript Object Notation for Linked Data (JSON-LD) by a variety of platforms, has made it an increasingly promising standard. Unfortunately, The Schema Project, which is complex and lacking good documentation and in-action examples, has been challenging to adopt. Publishers have also lacked a clear reward for use. However, that is changing with the announcement of support by Google for the use of structured data for fact checking.

Regardless of how successful the fact checking markup project becomes, it demonstrates that page-to-page relational metadata is joining other complex metadata systems as part of the future of publishing. With privacy concerns on the rise, it behooves publishers to start considering these systems as part of the future of personalization.

A structured future

Beyond keywords and tags, there is an embarrassment of new options for metadata that can create a unique experience on each webpage more tailored to the moment the reader encounters an article than following them with cookies ever was. While a reader might have been shopping for shoes yesterday, what they read today may put them in a very different mindset. And the reader of today is a more useful target for personalization than the reader of yesterday.

What can we build on using enhanced metadata? Geographic coordinates could drive a set of recommendations even more relevant than attempting to geotarget the user. Article authorship has worked well for media companies where the byline promises a particular voice. We can build playlist systems that find their next videos through more than title keywords, looking at producer credits, length and related affiliate offers. Types of content or referenced urls in the body of an article can allow personalization tools to recommend other articles that share a particular format, or ads that sell the referenced type.

Planning beyond keywords

Taking advantage of these opportunities will require different ways of thinking about what everyone creates and how it breaks down. It won’t just be up to an SEO expert to drop tags on a page. News organizations will find that optimizing for search, social, or ads will require taking advantage of all the opportunities that complex metadata provides and operating within a larger plan for how metadata should be handled. The editorial and business sides will need to work together to consider the whole of outlets’ output, prioritizing approaches, and building out tools that automate and suggest metadata structures.

Owners of this process will need to consider personalization on a variety of factors that describe form, format, key ideas and digital objects. They’ll have to build out a framework on how articles connect to each other that will describe small universes of content. A site that takes full advantage of metadata structures can promise a richer experience for readers, viewers and listeners than any provided through cookie-based tracking, an experience based on in-the-moment intent.

Our current generation of overly-targeted ads and recommendations don’t just fail to perform, they’re creepy and overpriced. Our audiences deserve more and our ethics require that we provide it. We have the technology and industry pressure to deploy successful alternatives. Understanding, expanding and adapting the use of detailed metadata across the web will build better media companies and a better open and well-connected internet.

Source: Personalization without people: What happens when no one can track consumers? – Digital Content Next