Facebook Instant Articles: ‘The effort-to-revenue ratio wasn’t there’

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Facebook Instant Articles in the spotlight
I’m spending this week and next in Europe, starting with our Digiday Programmatic Summit in Ireland, moving to London and then to Berlin for our first Digiday Brand Summit Europe. In the first two days of our event here, I asked some European publishers how they’re finding Facebook Instant Articles, particularly after our own Jess Davies broke news on Friday that the Guardian is throwing in the towel on IA and Apple News, saying both don’t fit its strategy. The general consensus on IA: a shrug.

One large scale publisher told me IA is “incremental” audience and barely incremental revenue. Their view: It doesn’t do much but doesn’t hurt much, either. IA is simply not a priority to this publisher. Another big digital publisher told me that he’s pulled back on the amount of content published to IA after an initial six-month test. The test showed that there’s simply not enough revenue opportunities in IA to justify putting more content on the platform, a sentiment we’ve heard in our reporting.

The big question this publisher has is: Why? Facebook could easily solve this issue, in his view, by adding more options around video and better ads. Another publisher said Facebook must open up to non-Facebook demand sources. In a world of header bidding, managing multiple demand sources to drive up yield, IA is simply far behind. “The effort-to-revenue ratio simply wasn’t there,” one publisher told me. “I’m most surprised they haven’t fixed it already.”

Sign of the content apocalypse
Lauren Dick, head of emerging platforms at Mail Online, said at the Digiday Programmatic Summit Europe that the Daily Mail digital brand puts out 1,200 articles a day and 800 videos. The typical reporter is responsible for 20 articles a day. Who said scale is dead?

The YouTube ad boycott aftermath
News coverage tends to go from white-hot intensity to benign neglect of unfolding stories. Take the YouTube ad boycott. Many focused on the bandied-about figure that Google was set to lose $700 million from the brand-safety “crisis” set off by reports that big brands had appeared next to extremist content on YouTube.

One of the brands swept up in furor: InterContinental Hotels. The brand was featured in the Times expose that shined a light on this long-running issue of bad ad placements, often a result of automated advertising platforms. The immediate result: ICH paused all advertising on YouTube and Google Display Network. (It didn’t pause search, of course, because search is too important.) The move came after what ICH estimated to be 25 impressions served as pre-rolls before “some crazy guy saying crazy things,” ICH director of digital marketing for Europe Fabrizio Di Martino told me.

But this is not a long-term issue, Di Martino said. It is working with Google right now on safeguards and expects to be back up and running in the coming months. “The message from Google is, they want to fix it,” he said. “They just need time to do it.”

The Guardian fights back — and the Digiday+ Slack channel

The Guardian has emerged as an outspoken critic of both the duopoly and the status quo in digital media. I’m visiting Hamish Nicklin, the Guardian’s CRO, to record an episode of the Digiday Podcast. We’re going to discuss why the publisher pulled out of IA and Apple News, as well as its move to stop advertising on Google after it too got caught up in appearing next to extremist content. Look for it next week. Also next week look for an email inviting you to the launch of our new Digiday+ members-only Slack channel for off-the-record conversation about industry topics. We’ll host editorial Q&As and more. We believe this is a nice step in building the Digiday+ community. Please join in!


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