UK launches competition probe into digital advertising market

The UK Competition and Markets Authority wants to know if the digital advertising market is being corrupted by internet giants like Google and Facebook.

The investigation is being called the ‘Online platforms and digital advertising market study’ and it will look into the following:

  • To what extent online platforms have market power in user-facing markets, and what impact this has on consumers
  • Whether consumers are able and willing to control how data about them is used and collected by online platforms
  • Whether competition in the digital advertising market may be distorted by any market power held by platforms

So this seems to be a combination of a monopoly investigation and an audit of how digital platforms are handling personal data. The dominance of the Silicon Valley platforms over the digital advertising market seems clear, so the question is whether they abuse that dominance to unfairly crush competition. The matter of data privacy seems secondary, especially since there are already loads of similar investigations happening around the world.

“It is our job to ensure that companies innovate and compete,” explained CMA Chairman Andrew Tyrie. “And every bit as much, it’s our job to ensure that consumers are protected from detriment. Implementation of the Furman Report should help a lot. As part of the work announced today, we will be advising Government on how aspects of Furman can most effectively be implemented.

“Much about these fast-changing markets is a closed book to most people. The work we do will open them up to greater scrutiny, and should give Parliament and the public a better grip on what global online platforms are doing. These are global markets, so we should and will work more closely than before with authorities around the world, as we all consider new approaches to the challenges posed by them.

“The market study will examine concerns about how online platforms are using people’s personal data, including whether making this data available to advertisers in return for payment is producing good outcomes for consumers,” said CMA Chief Executive Andrea Coscelli. “The CMA will examine whether people have the skills, knowledge and control over how information about them is collected and used, so they can decide whether or not to share it in the first place.”

While they’re at it why don’t they do an investigation into how many people read the terms and conditions of using a service, let alone understand them. While there can be little doubt that online platforms have been very effective at monetising third party data, anyone who uses them for free and then claims to feel exploited is being disingenuous. Much more interesting will be the measures taken if they’re viewed as a harmful monopoly.

Verizon cuts 7% of media jobs as calamitous headache continues

To say Verizon’s efforts to capitalise on the digital advertising revenues have been troubled would be an early contender for understatement of the year.

Following a $4.6 billion write down during the last quarter, Verizon has announced it will be laying off 7% of staff, roughly 800 people, at the media business. In an email seen by CNBC, Verizon Media Group CEO Guru Gowrappan positioned the cuts as part of a broader strategy to turn around the disaster, focusing on three key areas:

  • Growing the ‘member-centric ecosystem’
  • Increasing usage/spending on its B2B products
  • Increasing video supply and distribution

“Last quarter, our leadership team worked to create the strategy that will propel Verizon Media,” Gowrappan said in the email. “We honestly assessed where we are and outlined ambitious but achievable goals that poise us for growth. We shared it broadly with you, and together committed to deliver on our OKRs with meticulous planning, collaboration and rigorous execution.”

In short, the acquisition of Yahoo has been nothing short of a disaster for Verizon. When it was first announced, despite the logical ambition to diversify revenue channels, some were looking at the deal with curiosity. Yahoo certainly had some interesting media properties, the Huffington Post and Tumblr for example, but it didn’t seem like the best way to spend $4.5 billion.

In the months that followed, a monumental data breach emerged, reportedly effecting every single Yahoo account, a decision was made to kill off a very popular news aggregation app, boss Tim Armstrong decided to quit, Verizon had to stomach a $500 million pre-tax charge relating to severance, acquisition and integration costs, and it ditched the Oath branding. All of this was before the December write down of $4.6 billion, and not taking into account the previous acquisition of AOL.

Now in the pursuit of salvaging a gargantuan headache, the team will be trimming 7% of jobs to turn around the business. Verizon might have been searching for alternative revenues and a way to demonstrate to shareholders it can make an impact in blossoming corners of the digital economy, challenging the likes of Google and Facebook for advertising dollars, but this was nothing short of a calamity.

All we now need is a fire, an unplanned pregnancy and Armstrong to appear as the new local pub landlord, and you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between Verizon’s media business or an episode of East Enders.

You can read the full email below (courtesy of CNBC):


Team –

Last quarter, our leadership team worked to create the strategy that will propel Verizon Media. We honestly assessed where we are and outlined ambitious but achievable goals that poise us for growth. We shared it broadly with you, and together committed to deliver on our OKRs with meticulous planning, collaboration and rigorous execution.

As hard as it may have felt at times, we’ve made some great strides to serve our customers globally – from consolidating ad platforms, to expanding the Microsoft partnership, growing live programming and content offerings for our Supers, and prioritizing and launching 8 new or substantially updated products at Build It 2018.

In Q1, we’ll have 3 priority areas: first, grow our member-centric ecosystem with must-have mobile and video products and stem desktop declines; second, increase usage and spends flowing through B2B platforms; third, expand our video supply and overall distribution through partnerships. As we work to deliver on both short-term objectives to stabilize our business, we are also focused on long-term strategies that will accelerate distribution, growth and innovation as part of Verizon.

This week, we will make changes that will impact around 7% of our global workforce across the organization, as well as certain brands and products. These were difficult decisions, and we will ensure that our colleagues are treated with respect and fairness, and given the support they need. Resources and other career support will be provided to help our team members navigate the transition.

In addition, we’ve completed an exhaustive review to prioritize the programs that are currently in our portfolio – consumer products, ad products, platform features, partnerships and data centers.

While every business unit has to manage their P&L, these decisions are being made to streamline resources and invest in opportunities that will help us grow. You all know by now that I deeply believe in an owner mindset and focus as a key ingredient for success – going deep on fewer, key things that will have the greatest impact on our customers and business, and doing them exceptionally well.

I want to be clear that we will continue to scale, launch new products and innovate. We are an important part of Verizon and the $7+ billion in revenue we generate through our member-centric ecosystem puts us among the top tech/media companies in the world. Now is the time to go on the offensive, go deep on our big priorities and do everything we can to advance the business. We will talk more about this and answer questions Friday at Open House.

Our world continues to evolve at a faster pace, and we need to leap ahead of consumer trends. We are reimagining our future, and building new products that will become invaluable to consumers today and in the years to come. That’s the spirit of our company and the spirit we all embody as its Builders.



Augmented reality maps ensure you’ll always know what that hill is called

Ever wondered the world would look like without sign posts, information points or road markings? It might not be that far away…

Over at Ordnance Survey (OS) the team has decided to intertwine some augmented reality technology into its maps. It hasn’t gone as far as removing sign posts just yet, but it’s a nice little quirky idea which shows some of the potential for AR tech which hasn’t really caught on just about yet.

On the OS Maps application, users can now use their phone or tablet’s camera view to identify certain landmarks around the UK. Just hold out you camera and hills, mountains, coastal features, lakes, settlements, transport hubs and woodland in the vicinity are identified and labelled. Click on the label and a page of information about that location is displayed.

“This fantastic new feature really gives you a clear and accurate context of your environment,” said Tim Newman, Digital Product Manager at Ordnance Survey. “While we always recommend people carry a paper map when outside (they never run out of batteries!) we recognise that people are increasingly enjoying the benefits of using mobile phones for navigation.

“Mobiles can provide you with excellent knowledge of your immediate surroundings but you can lose the wider perspective on a small screen. The new augmented reality view helps address this by showing what is on the horizon. We hope people will find this fun and informative, as well as being a useful tool to help improve basic navigation skills.”

The feature is available in 200,000 locations throughout the UK, free to subscribers of OS Maps. It is augmented reality in action, and could offer some interesting ideas in terms of making money. Google is starting to see the benefits of investing in its Maps product, and there are some new advertising models which are starting to rise. Applying the same idea to augmented reality (i.e. selling reference points to local businesses), could generate some serious cash.

How often have you stood on a high street wondering where the nearest pub or café or tube station is? The first move is to pull up Google Maps and spin around in circles to get your directional bearings. This could be a more advanced version of that.

But it isn’t all about money. Think about the first question we asked. Imagine what your city would look like without sign posts, information points or road markings. It would be completely different. It might transform the high street, you’d actually be able to see the buildings! And then you pull out your phone and get hit by a wave of information and advertisements. Nothing comes for free.