Hold the front page: why advertising is dominating the news agenda

How can we drive more co-operation and plurality in the media market, asks Maxus' UK chief executive.

So after years of waiting, in 2017 media planning finally became front page news.

In a year not short of newsworthy events, the national agenda was for a time dominated by media issues normally reserved for the specialist press; brand safety, fraud and ad-funding models became dinner table conversation and, for a time, all eyes were focussed on the media market.

In the light of some of the reporting, smart advertisers and their agencies worked together to update safeguards in order to create the safest possible media environments for their brands.

Fast forward to today, the issue is by no means fully resolved but the market has responded to concerns and I am confident it will continue to do so.

This recent scenario, however, is just the tip of an iceberg that below the waterline is increasingly dominating the media industry and this is the issue of advertising plurality or, put simply, the need for a diverse ad market that benefits end consumer and advertiser alike.

The current Jets vs Sharks media economy that exists between the social distribution platforms and the established content creators has enjoyed a long period of uneasy truce based on a reluctant mutual dependency. The platforms have needed to leverage third-party quality content to grow users and many creators have obliged in the hope of maintaining revenues in the face of dwindling audiences.

This uneasy consensus has however collapsed in 2017; what little incremental revenue growth there has been in today’s low-growth economy has gone almost wholesale to the distribution platforms, leaving many content creators faced with the prospect of either managing decline or going on the offensive. For those choosing the offensive, it is perhaps no surprise that they should choose to bring out their biggest stick: the power of their editorial voice.

As an industry, we should intimately understand the power of editorial and context. One of the strongest arguments for brand investment into the news media, for example, is the extraordinary influence and attention that it wields. It should come as no surprise that this influence extends into our own market.

The six months to May 2017 saw a year-on-year doubling of the number of national press articles written about Facebook and Google and, suffice to say, few of these articles were positive. This is not to necessarily detract from the newsworthiness of some of this reporting but media has become front-page news and it is not unfair to ask in this scenario: cui bono? Whatever one’s thoughts on this question, it is fair to say that we will likely see more partisanship in the future rather than less.

And herein lies the problem for agencies and advertisers. At Maxus we see it as our job to try and effectively bridge the dual economy of the distribution platforms and content creators. There is no question that a healthy and diverse media marketplace is better for both the client and the consumer as end users, so how can we drive more co-operation and plurality in the market?

Yesterday’s answer would have been more regulation but in a global media world, governmental regulation has become impotent. As a committed free-marketer my natural inclination would be to let the market assert itself but I believe this is only possible when we can indeed compare apples with apples.

Indeed "apples with apples" can be the clarion call or the epitaph for a pluralist media market.

In the absence of regulation, it is the responsibility of advertisers and agencies to demand consistent metrics from both the distribution platforms and content creators. With consistent metrics we can make consistent investment decisions and a broader market ought to thrive.

Right now, however, the market is failing on this score. The recent failure of YouTube and Barb to reach an agreement for common measurement that would have been so welcome to the advertiser community is sore testament to this but the conversations go on and we are hopeful of a resolution.

At Maxus we will continue to lobby for harmonisation and will keep the faith that the platforms and content creators can reach a common consensus for measurement and create the level playing field required for a thriving media sector.

If we can achieve this then perhaps we can make the front page for all the right reasons.

Nick Baughan is chief executive of Maxus UK

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