The Big One-Seven

Happy 17th wedding anniversary!

Thanks to a brief family trip last weekend to Steelers Training Camp I decided to take a vacation from posting. This week I’m going to steer clear of media talk for the most part. Not that things have been quiet on the media front.

Between a major acquisition announcement, Facebook offering millions to get publishers back on the platform, and continued questions on how online platforms handle hate speech, I have a lot of opinions. But this week I want to focus on something more personal – which speaks to my personal privilege, I know.

This week I want to focus on something more important to me personally. Today, August 10, 2019, is my 17th wedding anniversary. I guess technically it mine and Angela’s 17th wedding anniversary. It’s impossible to do this alone.

Angela Jake Volcsko – August 10, 2002
She’s adorable, but my head is massive!

Yup, the big one-seven.

Okay, so it’s not one of the more notable anniversaries, but if you know me you know that’s also right on-brand.

It still feels weird that we’re only married 17 years. It feels like much longer – which I do not mean in a negative way at all. We started living together the year prior to getting married, so I’ve reached the point in life where my time spent living with her has eclipsed the time I lived with my parents, siblings or anyone else.

That feels like an important milestone to me.

Through the years we’ve moved a lot. More than most military families I would venture to guess. For reference, from the time we moved in together, July 2001, through when we moved into our current home in May of 2015, we moved 12 times in 14 years.

During that time the longest stretch we stayed in one home was from April 2006 to May 2008 in Wooster, OH. Otherwise we never stayed in the same place more than a few months.

And despite musical tastes that are … different, we’ve seen a fair share of concerts.

While my first choice in concert attendence wouldn’t be Taylor Swift

Taylor Swift in Greensboro, NC, 2011

The Avett Brothers

The Avett Bothers in Bethlehem, PA

or Mumford and Sons

Mumford and Sons, Camden, NJ, 2013

(twice)

Mumford and Sons, Camden, NJ, 2018

I did enjoy seeing them all with her.

Plus, I’m sure she’s not really that interested in sitting on a hillside in the summer heat watching grown men practice football.

Not once

Steelers Camp, Latrobe, PA 2013

Not twice

Steelers Camp, Latrobe, PA 2016

But three times

Steelers Camp, Latrobe, PA 2019

But whether we are interested in these things, or whether they are our first choice of entertainment doesn’t really matter. We enjoy these things events with each other because it brings us closer together.

That’s why, if you check my Spotify playlist, you’ll find songs from all of the musical acts, as well as others we’ve seen together. None are my first choice in music, but hearing them makes me smile because their music makes her smile.

So, here’s to the next 17 years. Hopefully with more concerts and sporting events – and a hell of a lot less moving.

Happy anniversary, Angela. I love you!

Weekend Media Threads, June 29, 2019

Facebook is getting into banking and crypto currency, what could go wrong? Roku continues to dominate the streaming device race.

I can’t believe it’s the last weekend of June already. Between a new job, travel, vacation, and trying to balance the new reality of my personal and professional worlds, it’s been a lightning-fast couple of weeks. On the bright side, despite how quickly the weeks have gone, it’s been a great month. I’ve had a lot of new experiences and have met some fantastic people along the way.

But it was quick.

How quick?

So quick that my arch nemesis, Facebook, announced plans to launch a crypto currency, Libra, and I’ve yet to mention it anywhere. Not even a tweet about it with some snarky comment. Facebook is planning to destroy our banking industry and here I am trying to balance life. I dropped the ball on this one.

But yes, Facebook is in fact planning to launch its own digital currency sometime in quarter 1 of 2020. The idea that Facebook will launch its own digital currency isn’t really new news. This is something that has been discussed and speculated on for at least a year. However, the company detailed its plans in an announcement on June 18, 2019.

In addition to the currently, the announcement detailed plans for Calibra, a new Facebook subsidiary. Calibra will provide financial services that will allow people access and participate in the Libra network. The offerings will include a digital wallet for Libra, available in Messenger, WhatsApp, as well as a standalone app.

As the BBC points out, this is not the first time Facebook has attempted a digital currency. Facebook launched Credits in 2009, and subsequently abandoned the project in 2012. Credits seemed to have failed because it was confusing, restrictive, and well ahead of its time.

Libra is much less restrictive. Facebook’s intention is for Libra to be a global currency in the same vein as Bitcoin, and not restricted to its own platform, as was Credits. Libra is also backed by 28 founding partners including Visa and Mastercard.

If you judge this at face-value, Libra appears to have a lot going for it. A non-profit subsidiary to administer the currency and business partners in banking, tech and other sectors.

So what’s the problem?

The problem is that this bus is being driven by Facebook. No matter what shade of lipstick you put on it, what non-profit has oversight, and how many business partners are backing it, not one person in the world should trust Facebook. And if you still trust Facebook, you haven’t been paying attention.

Facebook has had a hand in decimating journalism, the proliferation of fake news, election fraud, and multiple privacy issues that they’ve either ignored or addressed with the maturity of a 12-year-old. Actually I take that back. My son is 12 and I think he would at least be more empathetic than Facebook has been.

The company has proven time after time that it cannot be trusted with your privacy, why in the world should we trust them to create and run a digital currency and international banking system?

The answer is we shouldn’t, but the reality is that we will. And it will be successful – at least until its first major scandal or hack and the European Union steps in (you don’t actually think the U.S. will crack down on any of the Silicon Valley darlings, do you?). The odd thing is that I don’t think it will be the Facebook platform or Messenger that makes it successful. Facebook’s core users are less likely to use a crypto. They skew older and were raised by a fiscally conservative generation (at least from a banking standpoint). Most of them will smartly steer clear of the risk.

It will be What’s App and Instagram that will drive the success of Libra. Both have significantly younger user bases that are accustomed to purchasing digital currency to buy digital goods. As an example, an entire generation has been raised on Xbox, PlayStation, and Steam where it’s commonplace to buy platform-specific digital currently in order buy games and in-game items. Wouldn’t it be great if you could buy a platform agnostic digital currency instead of having your funds locked within a single platform?

Seems like a relatively mundane pain point to solve, right? Why not create a little convince for folks in order to build a user base and attach millions of banking accounts to Facebook’s flawed privacy system?

What will this convince get us? With Facebook’s culture and business practice of moving fast and breaking things, they do just that. Given how that has played in journalism and elections, and the lack of accountability Facebook has shown, we could be in for a very bumpy ride.

I’m sure the banking system will be just fine though.

Roku Continues to Dominate

FierceVideo reported this week that according to Strategy Analytics Roku accounted for 30% of all U.S. sales of streaming devices in quarter 1 of 2019. Amazon was number two during the quarter, accounting for 12%. This now gives Roku 41 million streaming devices that are in use in the U.S., good for more than 15% of the market and a 36% lead over number two Sony.

It’s amazing that despite Roku being one of the first movers in the OTT market – and with massive competitors Amazon, Apple, Samsung, and Sony – that they continue to be the leaders in the streaming TV space. It’s not as though they are sitting on a lead and playing defense either. They continue to grow at an astounding pace, faster than any competitor.

Weekend Media Threads, June 15, 2019

Digging into Mary Meeker’s 2019 Internet Trends Report.

As any media nerd can tell you the best report of the year is Mary Meeker’s Internet Trends report, which was released this week at Recode Media’s annual Code Conference. After last year’s report I wrote about print media’s continued revenue decline as tied to its loss in time spent (as many others did and continue to do). Here is this year’s slide, which includes a nice comparison to 2010:

Media Time vs. Advertising Spending. Slide 22 from Mary Meeker’s 2019 Internet Trends Report.

And here is last year’s slide as a reminder:

Media Time vs. Advertising Spending. Slide 96 from Mary Meeker’s 2018 Internet Trends Report.

It’s difficult to gauge the true loss year-over-year because we don’t know the true percentages. This is particularly true with print because the numbers are small. For example, if last year’s time spent was 4.4% (rounded to 4%) and this year’s is 2.5% (rounded to 3%), the YoY loss is 43%. But if last year was 3.5% and this year is 3.4% it’s just a 3% loss.

For arguments sake let’s use the round numbers in the report.

From the 2018 to 2019 report print saw a loss of 25% in advertising revenue share and a 22% loss in time spent. Which would make sense. If true, and it continues to track this way, the loss in time is likely to fall another 43% before it matches today’s print advertising revenue output.

Which means print advertising revenue will likely fall another 40-50% to somewhere between one and two percent of the ad revenue market. It’s difficult to imagine how legacy publishers survive this kind of loss.

Another interesting item from this year’s slide is that three of the five categories – TV, desktop, and mobile – all have the same percentage advertising spend as they do time spent. TV is at 35%, desktop 18% and mobile 33%. However, there is movement within each category.

In TV this is the second year in a row where the two columns were equal. Last year they were at 36%, now they are at 33%. A loss of 6% from each column.

On desktop time spent remained the same, but advertising spend fell from 20% to 18% to match the time being spent.

The big mover was mobile. Time spent increased from 29% to 33%, a 14% gain. While revenue increased from 26% to 33%, a 27% gain.

This leaves us with radio. Similar to print, radio if off kilter. Except in the opposite columns, which is likely not awful news. Time spent with radio has a 12% share, down from 13% last year. Advertising spend has an 8% share, down from 9%.

The question now is, will advertising spend continue to align with time spent, or will marketers move more dollars into mobile until it has a disproportionate spend?

This chart has been moving towards this equilibrium since it has existed, so my best guess is that the shares will move in sync with each other. The exceptions being print and radio.

Print’s revenue will continue to fall, maybe at a faster rate that it has been. To keep profits steady, print will slash more content, which will suppress time even more. Eventually both will settle in at 1 – 2%, but what will be left?

And radio? I haven’t followed as closely as print, but if I’m correct in saying that time spent and advertising spend are finding an equilibrium, I could see revenues stabilize as time continues to fall.

And time will continue to fall in traditional media.

Why?

Adults are constantly online …

… or ‘almost constantly,’ as this slide illustrates:

Percentage of adults online almost constantly. Slide 162 from Mary Meeker’s 2019 Internet Trends Report.

Overall adults spend 26% of their time online. Up 24% from 2015. More than a quarter of time spent online is a big number, but look at the groups 18-29 and 30-49. They spend 39% and 36% of their time respectively online.

The biggest jump from 2015 to 2018 are those folks in the 30-49 age range. They jumped from 28% in 2015 to 36% in 2018. That’s an almost 30% increase in just three years. I’m sure a lot of this is driven by folks in the 18-29 range aging into their 30’s, but it also speaks to how connected we’ve become to our technology.

To help combat the amount of time spent with our technology, technology companies (Apple, Google, Facebook, YouTube) are now offering wellness and time tracking tools.

Which is the definition of irony. Especially in the case of Facebook and YouTube. They’ve built technology and algorithms specifically designed to get you to spend more time on their platforms, not less.

But maybe it’s starting to work.

Percentage of adults online almost constantly. Slide 164 from Mary Meeker’s 2019 Internet Trends Report.

Time spent on social media is starting to decelerate. It’s still growing, just not as fast as it was. I’m sure after Facebook and Alphabet shareholders get a look at this slide those time watching tools will get tweaked to match market expectations, not user health.

And there is so much more

Seriously, this report has so much in it.

I know it’s 333 slides, but if you have any interest in the internet I highly recommend you take some time and page through it. It’s not just about media either. It gets into how the internet amplifies our own interests as well as bad actors, privacy concerns and regulation around the world, content moderation, the economy and on-demand jobs …

I could go on, but you need to look for yourself. Here’s the link, go …

Media Threads May 4, 2019

It’s been kind of a weird week, I haven’t made the time I normally do to put together my weekly blog on the media. My brain is too scattered to put the threads together. Instead of a fully-cook post, I thought I would post some of the more interesting stories I found this week.

I’ll do better next week.

Although many publishers have steered clear of a full pivot to video, Conde Nast says its video is the ‘New Prime Time’ TV, and is now pitching itself as a video-first company.

I was surprised when I saw Yahoo popping up as a partner for news publishers again. This time offering Verizon’s 5G Lab resources. They are working with publishers on new formats called “extended reality,” or XR, which can include AR, AV, and VR.

While new formats and abbreviations are cool, I’m partial to something that can benefit more than just the top-tier publishers. That’s why I’m exited to see Washington Post’s Arc Publishing platform continue to grow. It’s now over $100 million in sales.

After I posted last week I realized that I did not include anything on Facebook – I won’t make that mistake two weeks in a row! Here you go, Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook co-founder, has launched a podcast titled ‘Tech and Society with Mark Zuckerberg.’ Don’t worry I’m sure you can trust whatever he says.

Media Threads April 20, 2019

Dinosaurs fight over remains while digital media mammals look for ways to survive, the end of the great video pivot, and Facebook still doesn’t know how to do privacy

If you’re interested at all in media – legacy or new – I would suggest two articles Ken Doctor posted to Newsonomics on April 18. In his first post he wrote about possible consolidation in the newspaper industry, including the ongoing battle between Gannett and Alden Global Capital (owners of Digital First Media). And while it’s a tough time to be a newspaper publisher, it’s not just newspapers that are struggling.

Doctor notes that Great Hill Partners recently purchased Gizmodo Media Group from Univision for $40 million. Consider that just three years ago Univision bought Gizmodo for $165 million. And don’t forget about Mashable, which sold for $50 million in 2017, just one sixth of it’s value in 2015.

All of which bring us to Doctor’s second post of the day in which he spoke with Bryan Goldberg, CEO and founder of Bustle Media Group, and new owner digital media brands such as Mic, Gawker, and The Outline.

Goldberg is one of the only buyers left in media, and he’s hoping to strike gold with acquisition prices as low as they are:

It’s a broken market. Not just in terms of prices we’re getting on assets — it’s a broken market in terms of just sort of a liquidity crisis. That’s how I describe it now: There’s just sort of a media liquidity crisis that’s driving prices to be even more nonsensically low. But there’s just going to be beneficiaries of that. I mean, that’s the nature of the market, right? I kind of view it like the real estate market in Florida was in 2010.

Newsonomics: Bryan Goldberg wants to build Bustle into the “Meredith of the digital age”

As a life-long lover of media, I find both of these stories fascinating. At one end you have forces of legacy media fighting over the remains of an industry that, while struggling, continues to drive premium audiences and revenues. At the other end there is a growing industry with an abundance of audience, but it doesn’t demand the kinds of premium revenues it needs to sustain growth.

I believe the day is coming where the two will meet. Legacy media needs the digital infrastructure and growth culture that exists in digital media. Digital media needs the operational discipline and legitimacy that exists in legacy media. That space between is where next generation media companies will be born and thrive.

The end of the pivot to video?

Facebook is working on killing off its Facebook Watch show pages. These pages will revert to Facebook’s standard video pages.

This is just another sign that Facebook will eventually abandon Facebook Watch and that the great pivot to video will be over. This is not to suggest that online video is going anywhere, or that publishers should abandon video – I would suggest the opposite is true.

I believe video is a powerful component to any story, and any media organization should include quality video in its portfolio. And audiences will continue to consume more-and-more video. I think what killed the pivot is platform stubbornness.

Facebook Watch is the perfect illustration on this stubbornness. They decided who could publish, and where audiences could watch – whether audiences liked it or not.

Video is only going to continue to grow and content creators should continue to expand into video. But creators need to understand that audiences will decide when and where they consume that content.
I’ve changed my view on this, but creators need to become platform agnostic.

I used to think that a publisher’s owned and operating website was the only place to distribute video. The reason came down to simplicity and branding. If the focus is publishing on your platform all of the back end operational pieces just work. And when they don’t work, you only have to solve for X.

Being platform agnostic is more difficult. You’re constantly having to solve for every letter in the alphabet. There are countless technology challenges to being platform agnostic – video format and orientation, CMS, ad software, analytics, etc. – but creators have to find a way to overcome them.

When you’re platform agnostic you also need branding discipline. If you want audiences to remember your brand and not the platform your content is displayed on, you need clear consistent branding.

In order to grow creators, including publishers and broadcasters, need to begin solving for variables and building the digital and marketing discipline to survive the pivot bubble. Those that didn’t pivot, but understood what it takes to build an audience, and that video is only part of the offering, will continue to grow. Those that saw video as a quick money-grab tactic, will die or move on to the next pivot – which looks to be podcasting.

Another week, another Facebook privacy issue

Facebook posted on March 21 that some user passwords were being stored in a readable format within Facebook’s data storage systems. The issue was discovered in January during and audit. They fixed the issues and notified users, but this week Facebook updated the post from March 21 with the following:

(Update on April 18, 2019 at 7AM PT: Since this post was published, we discovered additional logs of Instagram passwords being stored in a readable format. We now estimate that this issue impacted millions of Instagram users. We will be notifying these users as we did the others. Our investigation has determined that these stored passwords were not internally abused or improperly accessed).


Keeping Passwords Secure

Maybe these kinds of things are more widespread than any of us realize, and we only hear about these because of Facebook’s visibility, but it feels like Facebook as a company lacks the operational maturity to handle privacy.