Netflix experiments with promoting its shows on the login screen

Netflix is testing a new way to promote its original shows – right on the login screen. A company spokesperson confirmed the streaming service is currently experimenting with a different login screen experience which replaces the black background behind users’ names and profile thumbnails with full-screen photos promoting a Netflix Original series or special, like “BoJack Horseman,” “Orange is the New Black,” “Dark,” “My Next Guest…”, “13 Reasons Why,” and several others.

We first noticed the change on a TV connected to a Roku media player and on a Fire TV, but Netflix says the test is running “for TV,” which means those on other TV platforms may see the promoted shows as well. (Our Roku TV, however, had the same black background on the login screen, we should note.)

The promoted shows aren’t necessarily those Netflix thinks you’d like – it’s just a rotating selection of popular originals.

Every time you return to the Netflix login screen, it will have refreshed the photo that’s displayed. After cycling in and out of the Netflix app several times on our TV, we found the image selection to be fairly random – sometimes the promoted show would repeat a couple of times before a new show hopped in to take its place.

Netflix will likely decide whether or not to move forward with the change to the login screen based on how well this new promotional effort works to actually increases viewership of its originals.

While it makes sense to better utilize this space, I’m not sold on having ads for adult-oriented shows appearing on the same login screen that’s used by a child. The ads themselves (so far) have not been inappropriate, but it doesn’t seem like a good fit for multi-person households and families. For example, I now have to explain to a school-ager why they can’t watch that funny-looking cartoon, “BoJack Horseman.” Meanwhile, when I was logging in to watch more grown-up fare, I saw an ad for the new “Trolls” kids’ show. Uh, okay. 

That said, this is still a much less intrusive way to advertise Netflix shows, compared with putting promos at the beginning of a show, like HBO does.

Netflix continually experiments with different ways to showcase its original programming, some of which eventually roll out to the wider user base – like the screensavers that launched last year, or the newer Stories-inspired mobile previews which arrived this spring.

The company is expected to spend up to $13 billion on original programing this year, so it makes sense that it wants to highlight top shows to users in the hopes of getting them hooked on content that they can’t get elsewhere. Retaining users is especially important given all the changes to the increasingly competitive streaming media space as of late, including the rise of live TV services, the AT&T-Time Warner merger, and Disney’s forthcoming Netflix competitor. Netflix is smart to double-down on its best asset: Originals.

The new test of promos on the login screen is only showing to a small percentage of users, Netflix says. That means you may not see them yourself, even if logging in to Netflix on a TV.

Image credits: Me. Photos are from my own Netflix account. My daughter likes to rename her account silly things, in case you’re wondering. Side note: I miss having real profile images instead of these stupid drawings. Why can’t we pick from characters on Netflix shows? That would be a fun way to promote the original series. After all, BuzzFeed has long since proven that people do like relating themselves to fictional characters, thanks to those “which character are you?” quizzes.

Reddit brings autoplay native video ads to desktop and mobile

The advertising-lite days of Reddit are now firmly in the rear-view as the rapidly maturing company begins to seriously chase advertising revenues in users’ feeds. Today, the Reddit has announced that it is rolling out autoplaying video ads across the site on mobile and desktop.

Reddit is looking to tread as carefully as they can as the company begins to quickly scale its ad products; its vocal user base has often proven resistant to sweeping changes. Users will be able to turn off autoplay on video ads in their main feed. Additionally, for the time being, video ads will only be served to users that are utilizing the expanded card display type which is the default of three new modes in Reddit’s latest mobile and desktop redesign.

These are also just for standalone ad campaigns at the moment, this rollout will not add pre-roll ads to videos that users click on. Additionally, video ads will be available to managed advertising partners first with all partners gaining access in the next month or so.

The popular site, which currently reports 330 million monthly active users, has remained relatively unchanged for much of the first half of this decade, but over the past couple years has accelerated its product growth with a redesign of its mobile apps and desktop site, a move to host images on video natively and, more recently, a major push to integrate native advertising.

“We have an opportunity to business-build,” Reddit VP of Brand Partnerships Zubair Jandali told TechCrunch. “Reddit has remarkable product-market fit on the consumer side and we’ve not layered a business on top of it. There aren’t a lot of opportunities that tend to come around like that.”

The video ads business will be built onto the company’s native video product, which only recently came to exist. The company’s history with external sites like Imgur and YouTube hosting its linked content has been long, but this past August the company launched its own native video platform which the company says has continued to excel, with native video views growing 23 percent month-over-month.

Autoplaying video ads are a major progression for a site that only rolled out native ads to its mobile apps a couple months ago. Reddit has been making some big sweeping changes to its site, but by delivering a lot of new utility to users alongside new changes to its advertising platform, things seem to be progressing more smoothly that many would’ve expected, we’ll see if that continues.

U.S. podcast ad revenues hit record $314 million in 2017

The U.S. podcasting industry had a record year in 2017, reaching $314 million in revenue – a figure that’s up 86 percent from the $169 million in 2016, according to new study out this morning from the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) and jointly conducted by IAB and PwC U.S.

The firms are also estimating podcast revenue will see triple-digit 110 percent growth between 2017 and 2020, when revenues will then reach $659 million.

The study also examined what sort of podcasts were benefiting the most from the increased interest in the audio format, as well as what sort of advertisements were preferred.

As you may have guessed (if you spend any time listening to podcasts), host-read ads were the more heavily used ad type, accounting for a whopping two-thirds of all ads in 2017.

Direct response ads transacted on a cost per thousand basis made up the majority of the campaigns, followed by brand awareness ads at 29 percent.

In terms of placement, ads that were inserted or edited into programming accounted for 58 percent of the ad inventory last year, the report also found.

Top advertisers included financial services (18% share of ads), direct-to-consumer retailers (16%), and arts and entertainment (13% of all ads).

However, certain types of podcasts are doing better than others when in comes to raking in the ad dollars.

In fact, the top four content genres, out of the 14 measured, generated over half the advertising revenue in 2017. These were: Arts & Entertainment (17%), Technology (15%), News/Politics/Current Events (13%), and Business (11%).

IAB has particular insight into the podcasting market, thanks to member companies like Audioboom, Authentic, ESPN Radio, Gimlet Media, How Stuff Works, Market Enginuity, Midroll Media, National Public Media, Panoply, Podcast One, PMM, Turner Podcast Network, Westwood One, WNYC Studios, and Wondery, who underwrote the industry study.

And in case you’re suspicious that an ad bureau claiming ads are doing great, the numbers here back up other industry reports confirming the podcast explosion. Nielsen, for example, claims that half of U.S. households listen to podcasts now, including big consumer groups – like beer buyers or new parents – who advertisers want to target.

ComScore, meanwhile, claims 1 in 5 Americans aged 18-49 listen to podcasts at least once per month.

And podcast startups are benefitting from the increased consumer interest in the format, as well. Wondery, for instance, raised $5 million earlier this year from Greycroft, Lerer Hippeau Ventures and Shari Redstone’s Advancit Capital. At the time of the raise, IAB was forecasting $220 million in podcast ad revenue.

HowStuffWorks also raised $15 million last year, as did Gimlet Media; radio broadcaster Entercom bought 45 percent of podcast producer and network, Dgital Media, home to “Pod Save America.” Podcast platform Anchor raised $10 million in 2017, podcast platform Art19 raised $7.5 million, and, this spring, Castbox raised $13.5 million for its podcast app.

Investors wouldn’t be throwing money at the business if there wasn’t potential for more money to be made. And to some extent, those increased opportunities to reach consumers via audio are attributed to the changes in how we listen to audio content – that is, on mobile devices instead of radio, and on smart speakers in the home.

PwC also credits smart speakers and mobile as contributing to the opportunity here.

“The growing trend toward ‘anywhere and everywhere’ media engagement has created tremendous opportunity for digital media, of which podcasting is a significant component,” said David Silverman, a Partner at PwC U.S.m in a statement about the new report. “Whether at home on a smart speaker, at work on a PC, or somewhere in between on a mobile device, more and more Americans are listening while they live, providing a robust podcast platform where advertisers can connect with today’s consumers,” he said.

Gravy’s new mobile game show is ‘Price is Right’ mixed with QVC

Following the success of the live mobile game show HQ Trivia, a team of serial entrepreneurs have begun testing the market to see if another game show concept can work, too. Their new game show-inspired app, Gravy, is meant to be a riff on the “Price is Right” combined with a QVC-style shopping experience. That is, the “contestants” compete for discounts of 30 to 70 percent off the products advertised, with a portion of the proceeds going to charity. In addition, through a side game, users can guess when the product – whose quantities are unknown – will sell out and at what price. Those who guess closest win a cash prize.

The startup was created by Mark McGuire, Brian Wiegand, and Craig Andler – the founding team behind Jellyfish.com, an older social shopping network that was acquired by Microsoft back in 2007, to help create Bing Shopping. They’ve also paired up on other projects, including NameProtect (before Jellyfish), printable coupons resource Hopster, social network Nextt, and e-commerce subscription retail site, Alice.com, among other things. These have either exited or shut down or both.

The team’s efforts imply a clear passion for working with brands, but getting consumers to connect with brands in new ways is far more difficult, as their track record shows.

That’s why they’re now trying Gravy.

The hope is that the excitement around seeing the product unveiled nightly – and knowing you’ll get a big discount if you buy – will become an entirely new ad unit of sorts, while keeping players engaged in a game-show like experience.

“One of the challenges with millennials is their short attention spans, and they don’t respond well to interruptive advertising,” explains Wiegand, of why the team wanted to build this startup. “I don’t think anyone’s really mastered how to monetize live video. So we came up with this opportunity to create this new ad unit where brands could tell their story, and – for seven or eight or nine minutes – create a live shopping event where millennials can tune in and hear that story but in a fun, gamified kind of manner,” he says.

Here’s how Gravy works. Every night, at 8:30 PM ET in the Gravy iOS app, a live host will unveil the product users can buy. Currently, there’s a rotating selection of hosts who work on a per-show contract basis, usually local comedians – not brand reps.

Players are not told how many items are available, but it’s usually anywhere from two to twenty.

Then the price starts to drop. If you buy early, you’ll have a chance to snag it at a slight discount. But the longer you wait, the higher the percentage off will become. However, you don’t know who else could snatch it up first and when. If you wait too long, the product will sell out.

Meanwhile, if you’re not interested in the product itself, you can guess when you expect it to sell out (meaning, at which price.) Those ten or so closest will receive a small cash prize – a split of maybe $200 or $300, with first place receiving the largest chunk.

At least 20 percent of sales are given away to charity – a nod, I suppose, to millennials’ interest in do-gooder style companies. But ultimately, that decision that has more to do with the fact that Gravy doesn’t aim to be a retailer – it’s not another deal-of-the-day destination like Woot!, despite the similarities around generating product excitement.

Instead, it expects brands to donate products and pay a fee for the “advertising opportunity” Gravy offers.

Brands will like Gravy because they get millennials’ attention for seven minutes or more, Wiegand says. “They love the engagement. It’s a highly engaged audience…I have a chance to buy the products, so I’m heavily engaged in thinking about that product. The recall, memorability, and all of the subsequent buzz – tweeting and all the social media that gets created because of that – is great,” he adds.

However, none of this is proven out yet – Gravy is just a couple of weeks old.

So far, around 50 percent of the products it has featured have actually been donated by brands, including 23andMe, 3D Doodler, Tapplock, and others. The rest have been subsidized by Gravy, including the bigger draws – like a DJI drone, for example.

It’s not yet charging for the ad opportunity, either, as it’s hoping to grow the audience first.

The company says that’s already underway. After alerting friends and family to the app’s launch, the games are seeing 600+ players nightly, Wiegand claims, and is growing its audience 15 percent week-over-week. Around half of those who signed up to play are returning to watch around three shows per week, he says.

While the early numbers are promising if true, and it’s clear the team likes to work in the general space of connecting brands with consumers, Gravy still feels – like much of what the founders have created before – designed primarily with the needs of brands in mind, before that of consumers.

A “Price is Right”-style app would be a lot of fun, but this isn’t it – it’s, at the end of the day, an invitation to watch an ad and shop at a discount. That’s not something consumers may want to do every day, long-term – even if you try to woo them with a small cash prize won through a guessing game.

And like Trivia HQ , which has dropped from a top 20 app to the 140’s (by App Store overall rank, the shine may eventually wear off for Gravy, too. Especially because it’s not primarily a game – and millennials, as fickle and short attention-spanned as they may be (really? the generation that binges entire TV seasons in a few days?), will know it.

Wiegand isn’t concerned, though.

He says he gets bored with trivia apps in a few weeks, but Gravy is different.

“I always shop and I always like a deal. The deal industry and the shopping industry are so much larger than the trivia space,” Wiegand insists. “And the thrill of seeing a product that you like going down into the sixties and seventies percent off is unbelievably thrilling,” he enthuses. “We are able to feature things that have the best price on the planet of first-run products…it creates this heart-pounding, exhilarating and experience like, ‘Should I buy? Oh my God, look at this price. I can’t turn it down,’” he says.

The company raised $2.1 million in seed funding from a range of investors, including the founders at the turn of the year. Around eighty percent was outside capital, led by New Capital. The under-20 person team is based in both Madison and Minneapolis.

Gravy is on the App Store here.

Firefox will show sponsored content that’s personalized but private

Mozilla plans to add sponsored content to its Firefox browser in a bid to increase and diversify its revenue stream.

Since the start of the year, the company has been showing some Firefox users links to recommended content on its New Tab page. Some proportion of the recommendations are sponsored, with content producers paying to be included in the list of recommendations. Those links are now also available in the nightly and beta releases. In Firefox 60, due to ship on May 9th, the feature will roll out to all Firefox users around the world.

The recommended links are personalized, with Mozilla saying that the links should be valuable content that’s worth taking the time to read. Normally, such personalization raises privacy concerns because effective personalization requires the tracking of personal preferences and habits to ascertain what things a person is likely to be interested in. But Mozilla’s personalization is different: it happens entirely on the client side. The browser will download a list of recommended links each day. Each link will also have a list of related websites, with similar kinds of content to that in the sponsored links. The browser will then compare these related sites to your browsing history; if there are lots of matches, Firefox will assume that you’re interested in the recommended content and show it to you.

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Facebook’s new authorization process for political ads goes live in the U.S.

Earlier this month – and before Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testified before Congress – the company announced a series of changes to how it would handle political advertisements running on its platform in the future. It had said that people who wanted to buy a political ad – including ads about political “issues” –  would have to reveal their identities and location and be verified, before the ads could run. Information about the advertiser would also display to Facebook users.

Today, Facebook is announcing the authorization process for U.S. political ads is live.

Facebook had first said in October that political advertisers would have to verify their identity and location for election-related ads. But in April, it expanded that requirement to include any “issue ads” – meaning those on political topics being debated across the country, not just those tied to an election.

Facebook said it would work with third parties to identify the issues. These ads would then also be labeled as “Political Ads,” and display the “paid for by” information to end users.

According to today’s announcement, Facebook will now begin to verify the identity and the residential mailing address of advertisers who want to run political ads. Those advertisers will also have to disclose who’s paying for the ads as part of this authorization process.

This verification process is currently only open in the U.S. and will require Page admins and ad account admins submit their government-issued ID to Facebook along with their residential mailing address.

The government ID can either be a U.S. passport or U.S. driver’s license, a FAQ explains. Facebook will also ask for the last four digits of admins’ Social Security Number. The photo ID will then be approved or denied in a matter of minutes, though anyone declined based on the quality of the uploaded images won’t be prevented from trying again.

The address, however, will be verified by mailing a letter with a unique access code that only the admin’s Facebook account can use. The letter may take up to 10 days to arrive, Facebook notes.

Along with the verification portion, Page admins will also have to fill in who paid for the ad in the “disclaimer” section. This has to include the organization(s) or person’s name(s) who funded it.

This information will also be reviewed prior to approval, but Facebook didn’t detail that process in the related FAQ.

Instead, the company simply says: “We’ll review each disclaimer to make sure it adheres to our advertising policies. You can edit your disclaimers at any time, but after each edit, your disclaimer will need to be reviewed again, so it won’t be immediately available to use.”

Along with the launch of the new authorization procedures, Facebook has released a Blueprint training course to guide advertisers through the steps required, and has published an FAQ to answer advertisers’ questions.

Of course, these procedures which will only net the more scrupulous advertisers willing to play by the rules. That’s why Facebook had said before that it plans to use A.I. technology to help sniff out those advertisers who should have submitted to verification, but did not. The company is also asking people to report suspicious ads using the “Report Ad” button.

Facebook has been under heavy scrutiny because of how its platform was corrupted by Russian trolls on a mission to sway the 2016 election. The Justice Department charged 13 Russians and three companies with election interference earlier this year, and Facebook has removed hundreds of accounts associated with disinformation campaigns.

While tougher rules around ads may help, they alone won’t solve the problem.

It’s likely that those determined to skirt the rules will find their own workarounds. Plus, ads are only one of many issues in terms of those who want to use Facebook for propaganda and misinformation. On other fronts, Facebook is dealing with fake news – including everything from biased stories to those that are outright lies, intending to influence public opinion. And of course there’s the Cambridge Analytica scandal, which led to intense questioning of Facebook’s data privacy practices in the wake of revelations that millions of Facebook users had their information improperly accessed.

Facebook says the political ads authorization process is gradually rolling out, so it may not be available to all advertisers at this time. Currently, users can only set up and manage authorizations from a desktop computer from the Authorizations tab in a Facebook Page’s Settings.

YouTube ads for hundreds of brands still running on extremist and white nationalist channels

It’s been more than a year since YouTube promised to improve controls over what content advertisers would find their ads in front of; eight months since it promised to demonetize “hateful” videos; two months since it said it would downgrade offensive channels; and yet CNN reports that ads from hundreds of major brands are still appearing as pre-rolls for actual Nazis.

The ongoing failure to police billions of hours of content isn’t exactly baffling — this is a difficult problem to solve — but it is disappointing that YouTube seems to have repeatedly erred on the side of monetization.

As with previous reports, CNN’s article shows that ads were running on channels that, if YouTube’s content rules are to be believed, should have been demonetized and demoted instantly: Nazis, pedophiles, extremists of the right, left, and everywhere in between. Maybe even Logan Paul.

And the system appears to be working in strange ways: one screenshot shows a video by a self-avowed Nazi, entitled “David Duke on Harvey Weinstein exposing Jewish domination. Black/White genetic differences.” Below it a YouTube warning states that “certain features have been disabled for this video,” including comments and sharing, because of “content that may be inappropriate or offensive to some audiences.”

A cheerful ad from Nissan is running ahead of this enlightening piece of media, and CNN notes that ads also ran on it coming from the Friends of Zion Museum and the Jewish National Fund! Ads from the Toy Association ran on the channel of a guy who argued for the decriminalization of pedophilia!

I can’t really add anything to this. It’s so absurd I can barely believe it myself. Remember, this is after the company supposedly spent a year (at the very least) working to prevent this exact thing from happening. I left the headline in the present tense because I’m so certain that it’s still going on.

The responsibility really is YouTube’s, and if it can’t live up to its own promises, companies are going to leave it behind rather than face viral videos of their logo smoothly fading into a swastika on the wall of some sad basement-dwelling bigot. “Subway — eat fresh! And now, some guy’s thoughts on genocide.”

Some of the other brands that had ads run against offensive content: Amazon, Adidas, Cisco, Hilton, Hershey, LinkedIn, Mozilla, Netflix, Nordstrom, The Washington Post, The New York Times, 20th Century Fox Film, Under Armour, The Centers for Disease Control, Department of Transportation, Customs and Border Protection, Veterans Affairs the US Coast Guard Academy.

I’ve asked YouTube for comment on how this happened — or rather, how it never stopped happening.

PlayingViral helps marketers grabs millennials’ attention with quick, interactive surveys

PlayingViral founders Steven Wongsoredjo and Michael Rendy

Millennials have been accused of possessing shorter attention spans than goldfish. Though that claim is questionable, online marketers know display ads and even sponsored content are no longer enough to attract twentysomethings. PlayingViral gives brands a new way to lure young consumers with embeddable surveys and quizzes that use machine-learning algorithms to reach the right audiences.

The second Indonesian company accepted into Y Combinator (after bill payment platform Payfazz), PlayingViral finished the accelerator program last month and is now getting ready to expand in the United States, Canada, Brazil and other markets.

PlayingViral is part of Nusantara Technology, a tech and media group that develops marketing tools for clients, including Proctor & Gamble, that want to reach young Indonesians. So far, the company has received investment from former Sequoia Capital partner Yinglan Tan through his new firm Insignia Ventures, former Indonesian Minister of Trade Mari Elka Pangestu and Y Combinator.

Both Nusantara and PlayingViral were founded by chief executive officer Steven Wongsoredjo and chief product officer Michael Rendy. About a year after launching Nusantara in 2016, the team began to realize that “the online media business has the potential to go big, but it’s hard to scale because it lacks a human touch,” Wongsoredjo told TechCrunch. PlayingViral was created to fix that problem.

PlayingViral’s personalized, interactive content is intended to attract users who are jaded by banner ads. For example, a property developer used PlayingViral to create a survey that tells users what kind of house they can afford based on their income level and location. Other customers have embedded quizzes that reward players with discount codes. There are hundreds of dialects spoken in Indonesia and PlayingViral relies on its machine-learning algorithms to adapt content to different languages and decide where they should be placed in Nusantara’s online media network. It also analyzes what keywords, graphics and colors get the most engagement, helping brands refine their marketing strategies.

An example of PlayingViral’s interactive content is embedded below, while demos on PlayingViral’s site show its other uses, including text message stories and Mad Libs-style quizzes.

 

Wongsoredjo says PlayingViral became profitable just two months after it launched in January. Clients include Singapore Airlines, Garuda Indonesia and Nokia. Its biggest competitor is SurveyMonkey, but PlayingViral differentiates by focusing on more informal and shorter surveys. Of course, other companies are also developing interactive embeddable content, but Wongsoredjo says PlayingViral and Nusantara plan to future-proof themselves by building more comprehensive data sets about what captures millennials’ attention than their competitors.

“If someone wants to copy us, they have to do a lot of experimenting,” says Wongsoredjo.