October 12th, 2006
In a break from historical patterns, the equities research team at Merrill Lynch says the rate of advertising price inflation now trails the overall rate of economic inflation. “Interestingly, advertising growth seems to be tracking real [gross domestic product] growth instead of nominal GDP growth, as it did in the past plus some,” writes Merrill Lynch ad industry analyst Lauren Rich Fine in a report released early this morning. “This supports our belief that media no longer enjoys the benefit of above average rate inflation, rather the opposite where increased competition & measurement is putting pressure on rates.”
“Increased competition & measurement” is one explanation, but there’s also this (familiar) explanation:
Neither Merrill Lynch nor TNS have explained why this is happening, but other economists, including GroupM Futures Director Adam Smith have suggested that at least part of the change may be due to the increasing efficiencies of digital media, which may be taking pressure off overall media inflation, especially in the traditional media, as marketers begin shifting budgets to lower priced online inventory.
The “increasing efficiencies of digital media” — indeed. As I pondered back in April:
What if the Internet has fundamentally lowered the marketing and advertising costs for big companies as it has for small companies? What if large companies can achieve the same sales objectives for a fraction of the cost of traditional mass media advertising?
My definition is quite simple: Media is about control of a pipe.
But therein lies the problem. Senator Ted Stevens notwithstanding, the way the Internet is architected, there ain’t no pipes to control. No “end to end” pipes anyway.
But what about Web 2.0 and the second coming of the Internet, with its $1.65 billion all-stock acquisitions? Or Andy says:
Hey, how about Web 2.0? How about it – APIs, mashups, user content, hyperlinks, Mentos. Oooooh! Co-o-o-ool. We can just simulate a pipe. Google did it, right? $10 billion in ads. Yeah maybe. But without a pipe, is their platform precarioius?
Andy put his finger on the deep structural problem that I’ve previously highlighted: the loss of control. Web 2.0 works great as an ideology, but maybe not so great as the basis for a media economy. Less control = less profit.
I’m intrigued by Andy’s suggestion that Google may lose control of its “simulated pipe” and thereby lose control of its profits. Already, Google can’t control the exploitation of its “pipe.”
Why did Google buy YouTube? Because they have to own it to control it, and they need to control it in order to monetize it. But on YouTube and other user-driven content platforms, the users control the network. If they don’t like the ads or other commercialization, they will just jump to another node in the network — or jump to another network.
Think of it like this:
Pipe = one way in and one way out
Network = infinite nodes, infinite entry and exit points
Why does everyone assume that MySpace and YouTube will eventually be wildly profitable? Because in the past, no who controlled that much attention failed to make money. The problem is that MySpace and YouTube don’t control anything. They are networks, not pipes. Many ways in, many ways out, many alternatives. Even worse (from a media economics standpoint), they are networks within networks (within networks).
No control, no profit.
Ceding control to consumers was the dominant theme of the Association of National Advertisers conference — but if consumers are in control of your brand, the best way to increase sales is not by advertising in the traditional sense, but by making better products and providing better service.
As far as I can see, Google is the only media company that has successfully profited from the new network paradigm, and only through the herculean effort of controlling the network (fighting search engine spam, click fraud, arbitrage, etc.).
You can feel good about the loss of media control, if that suits your ideological sensibility, but I’m still not seeing the scalable business models.