The WIR: Montana Bans TikTok, Google Sets Dates for Cookie Testing, and Ad Woes Hit Future Revenues

Tim Cross 19 May, 2023 

In this week’s Week in Review: Montana bans TikTok, Google says its Sandbox tools are almost ready, and ad troubles hit Future’s revenues.

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Montana Bans TikTok
The US state of Montana this week became the first US state to pass a law completely banning residents from having TikTok on their personal devices. The law, signed by governor Greg Gianforte on Wednesday, alleges that TikTok poses a risk to Montana residents, claiming it gives the Chinese government the ability to spy on them.

Data privacy and national security concerns around TikTok have come to the fore in recent weeks, as a number of governments and legislative authorities across multiple countries have banned legislators and civil servants from using TikTok on work devices. But Montana’s complete ban of the app is a first.

TikTok responded by saying the ban is an infringement of Montanans’ First Amendment rights. The company is expected to challenge the law in courts – and those court battles could be of real significance. Montana itself is a small state, with a population of just over one million, so the impact for TikTok will be minimal. But court battles over the Montana law could prove the viability (or unviability) of such a ban, having implications for wider attempts to ban the app across the US.

Google says Privacy Sandbox Tools are Nearly Finished; Outlines Testing Plans
Google this week released an update on progress within its Privacy Sandbox, its initiative for developing replacements for third-party cookies within its Chrome browser. Most significantly, the company announced new plans to remove third-party cookies for one percent of all Chrome users at the beginning of next year, providing a testing window for Privacy Sandbox tools (and other cookie-free targeting and measurement tools).

Google also announced that in the coming weeks,  Privacy Sandbox relevance and measurement APIs available to all Chrome users, enabling developers to conduct scaled, live-traffic testing. And the company pledged that these APIs won’t change significantly between their release for testing and their full release once third-party cookies are totally removed from Chrome.

As VideoWeek has previously reported, many in the industry have held back from testing Privacy Sandbox APIs as they’ve not wanted to waste time testing tools which might then change completely, or be scrapped by Google, further down the line. Some may also have been expecting a further delay to Google’s timeline for removing third-party cookies.

But the message from Google seems to be clear: the Sandbox APIs are set, the timeline isn’t changing, and it’s time to start testing.

Ad Revenue Woes Hit Future
UK special interest publishing group Future was the latest publisher to report a hit to its revenues in its most recent financial results this week. Covering the previous two quarters, Future’s results showed total revenues to be flat, while organic revenues were down by ten percent year-on-year. The tough ad market played a big role, with organic digital ad revenues down by 22 percent, while the business also saw a drop in readership.

But while ad revenues were weak, the company said that its ad strategy prevented a steeper drop in ad income. “By obtaining leadership positions, we become a must-have partner, enabling strong advertising yields and affiliate commissions with resilience through economic cycles,” the results read. “This resilience is reinforced by the diversified nature of the Group, both from content verticals, geographical locations and different revenue streams.”

Future added that ad revenues performed better in the UK, due to a better mix of video and direct advertising on its UK properties.

The Week in Tech

FuboTV Taps iSpot for Incremental CTV Measurement
Sport streaming service FuboTV has announced a partnership with measurement firm, for CTV measurement across Fubo’s video ad inventory. iSpot’s cross-platform solution quantifies ad impressions delivered to incremental households not reached on linear TV, FuboTV said. The results showed that Fubo provides an average 40 percent uplift in incremental reach, according to the company. “It’s paramount that we are able to verify the benefit of Fubo’s CTV inventory and differentiate our audience from that of linear TV,” said Fubo co-founder and CEO David Gandler. 

Roblox Accused of Inadequately Labelling Advertising
Games company Roblox violated US advertising guidelines for marketing to children, the Children’s Advertising Review Unit (CARU) said this week. According to the watchdog, Roblox failed to adequately label certain content as advertising, and neglected to ensure paid influencers were doing the same. The company responded that a new policy, effective 15th June, will prohibit developers and brands from serving ads to children, thereby addressing much of the CARU complaint.

Yahoo Enlists Samba TV for Targeting and Measurement
Yahoo has partnered with ad tech firm Samba TV, providing targeting and measurement services on the Yahoo DSP in the UK and Canada. The partnership (the extension of a deal formed in Australia in 2022) helps advertisers pool their TV and digital budgets in order to plan and measure audiences using Samba TV’s data, and target audience segments via the DSP. “Our partnership with Samba TV brings an enhanced Advanced TV solution to our Yahoo DSP and to clients across these strategic markets,” said Yahoo CRO Elizabeth Herbst-Brady. “Bridging linear TV and online digital audiences enables advertisers to maximise the effectiveness of their TV budgets and reach the right audiences across every screen seamlessly, without repeating ads needlessly.”

Reddit Poised for E-Commerce Push
Reddit has posted job ads for commerce roles, suggesting a push into e-commerce for the social-sharing company. The US-based jobs include “senior product manager, ads marketplace: e-commerce” and “senior commerce and measurement partnerships manager”, alongside two Amsterdam-based roles for building a Shopping Ads team and launching a “dynamic product ad in 2023/2024.” Digiday also reported that Reddit plans to start testing social commerce in Q4.

Hawk Announces Attention Measurement Partners
Cross-channel DSP Hawk has announced a string of attention measurement partnerships. Advertisers can optimise and measure campaigns on the Hawk platform using tools provided by Adelaide, Contxtful, DoubleVerify, Lumen, Playground XYZ and The range of partnerships allows for measurement on mobile, desktop and tablet, for in-app and web environments, display and online video formats. “Enabling brands to determine the ads that effectively gain and hold peoples’ attention powers informed decisions that allow creatives to be optimised to reach the right people at the right time and in the right context,” said Hawk UK MD Chris Childs.

European Commission Approves Microsoft/Activision Merger
The European Commission approved Microsoft’s $68.7 billion takeover of Activision Blizzard yesterday, subject to conditions intended to safeguard competition in the cloud gaming sector. Microsoft agreed to licensing commitments over a 10-year period, requiring the company to license Activision Blizzard titles to rival cloud gaming services. The decision comes after the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) blocked the deal last month. The CMA said on Twitter: “While we recognise and respect that the European Commission is entitled to take a different view, the CMA stands by its decision.”

CTV Bot Fraud Rose 69 Percent in 2022, says DoubleVerify
CTV bot fraud rose by 69 percent last year, DoubleVerify reported in its 2023 Global Insights Report. The findings showed that as CTV consumption in the UK grew 252 percent YoY, the total number of CTV fraud schemes has tripled since 2020. The report also found that “most advertisers” run campaigns on sites or apps with low attention rates. “Based on our analysis, there is significant opportunity for brands to up-level their attention optimisation efforts – shifting placements from high-volume average or low-performing domains to those that index higher for attention,” said the report.

Adform Partners with Ad Net Zero to Tackle Carbon Footprint
Ad tech company Adform has partnered with Ad Net Zero to accelerate its sustainability efforts. The Advertising Association’s initiative has a five-point action plan for businesses to review and reduce their emissions through the entire supply chain. Adform has also teamed up with emissions data firm Scope3, enabling clients to implement green media solutions. “I’m delighted that in the UK we are able to work together so we can lower our own carbon footprint, whilst helping educate the industry – including our clients and partners – as to how we can all contribute to tackling this emergency,” said Philip Acton, UK Country Manager at Adform.

The Week in TV

BT Sport JV Suffers Losses
BT has recorded full-year losses of £121 million from its BT Sport joint venture (JV) with Warner Bros. Discovery. The loss reflects cost of living pressures on TV subscriptions, as well as the World Cup’s impact on European football. The company expects the JV’s performance to recover in the medium to long term as macroeconomic conditions abate. 

Channel 4 Calls April its “Biggest Month for Streaming”
April was Channel 4’s most popular month for streaming, the UK broadcaster announced on Wednesday. Barb figures confirm that Channel 4 streaming minutes exceeded five billion last month, with Married At First Sight Australia regularly topping the weekly BVOD charts for total minutes streamed. “Channel 4 continues to lead the way as the first public service broadcaster prioritising a digital future,” said Channel 4 Chief Content Officer Ian Katz.

Over Half US Streaming Customers Are on AVOD
Around 58 percent of US streaming subscribers now pay for at least one AVOD service, according to research firm Antenna. In February, about a quarter of Netflix, Disney+ and HBO Max subs signed up for the respective ad-supported plans. For Peacock and Hulu, more than half are on the ad tiers. “Across the board all services that have launched ad tiers are seeing consumers opt in to their ad-supported plans,” said Antenna co-founder and CEO Jonathan Carson.

Deutsche Telekom Grows Domestic TV Business
Deutsche Telekom grew its TV customer base in Q1, adding 50,000 German subscribers to its IPTV and satellite TV business. The 3.8 percent YoY increase brings its customer base to 4.172 million, the telco said in its earnings report. German revenues were up 3 percent to reach €6.1 billion. Growth was much slower outside Germany, its TV base rising 0.7 percent across Europe, reaching a total 4.2 million customers. Deutsche Telekom pointed to saturation in the European TV market, as well as comparisons to sports rights deals it made last year. Nevertheless, European revenues outside Germany rose 3.8 percent to hit €2.8 billion. 

Vodafone to Cut Jobs After Losing TV Customers in Germany
Vodafone will cut 11,000 jobs over the next few years, the telco announced, following disappointing results for its German TV business. The company reported a 1.3 percent drop in full-year earnings, and lost 412,000 TV customers in Germany. And further declines are on the horizon, with Vodafone at risk of losing €800 million in pay‑TV income, under changes to German TV laws due to take effect in July 2024. The legislation will prohibit housing associations from bundling pay‑TV services and broadband into leases for multi‑dwelling unit (MDU) homes. Vodafone CEO Margherita Della Valle, who has led the firm since January, said the TV group’s performance “has not been good enough.”

Commercial Broadcasters Accuse France Télévisions of Unfair Practices
French commercial broadcasters have criticised anti-competitive practices by public service broadcaster France Télévisions. In a letter to Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne, TF1, M6, Canal+ and Altice accused the PSB of programming to detract audiences from the commercial channels. The group claims the pubcaster takes advantage of an unbalanced regulatory environment, in order to “develop an astonishingly commercial programming line-up on its big channels, in particular France 2,” instead of serving its public service remit. Among their requests was to halt the expansion of France Télévisions’ sponsorship and advertising activities.

Sky and Sony Extend First Pay Window Agreement
Sky and Sony Pictures Television have extended their first pay window, effectively a pipeline of Sony titles to Sky Cinema and Entertainment in the UK and Ireland. The deal includes new releases Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse and A Man Called Otto, as well as catalogue titles from the Ghostbusters, Jumanji and Men In Black franchises. Sky UK&I CEO Stephen van Rooyen said the partnership “gives our customers access to 100,000 hours of world-class content that can be streamed straight to their TV over Wi-Fi, and watched in the way they want.”

The Week for Publishers

Vice Media Files for Bankruptcy Protection
Vice Media filed for bankruptcy protection this week, ahead of a proposed deal which will see the business bought by a consortium of investors including Soros Fund Management and Fortress Investment Group. The company will continue to operate during the bankruptcy process, and co-CEOs Bruce Dixon and Hozefa Lokhandwala said that the sale deal will allow it to run without the legacy liabilities which have burdened the business.

Billionaire Austin Russell Acquires Majority Stake in Forbes
Austin Russell, the billionaire founder of automotive technology company Luminar, has agreed a deal to buy an 82 percent stake in Forbes Global Media Holdings. The deal values the business at close to $800 million. Russell will not take an active role in the running of the business, but will “act as a visionary for the brand”, according to the press release. Previous owner Integrated Whale Media Investments will maintain a minority stake, as well as a board seat.

News Startup The Messenger Launches, Targeting Rapid Growth
‘The Messenger’, a news startup launched by US media executive Jimmy Finkelstein, launched on Monday this week. The digital news business is designed to provide objective analysis of US politics and news events, and is seeking rapid growth, targeting $100 million in revenues next year. However the configuration of its ad setup came in for some criticism over its use of unpopular interruptive formats:

Google News Traffic Brings Under £75 Million to UK News Publishers, finds NMA
The News Media Association, a trade group which represents UK news media businesses, this week released a study which found that the value of traffic provided to UK news publishers by Google News is less than £75 million. The analysis, conducted by professor Annabelle Gawer, director of the Surrey Centre of Digital Economy at the University of Surrey, argued that other (much higher) estimates cited by Google are inaccurate. One study frequently cited by Google, conducted by Deloitte and commissioned by Google, found the total value of referral traffic across France, the UK, Germany and Spain to be €746 million.

Canada’s News Trade Body Issues Rallying Call to International Publishers over Tech Platform Relationships
Paul Deegan, the president and CEO of News Media Canada, has called for publishers overseas to not be intimated in battles with tech platforms like Google and Facebook. In Canada, proposed legislation which would force tech platforms to negotiate with publishers over payment for their content has led to both Google and Facebook threatening to stop hosting and news content. Deegan, speaking to Press Gazette, said publishers abroad should “always stick to principle”, and to call out inaccurate statements made by the tech platforms.

Ads for Nonprofits and Government Organisations Found on Misinformation Sites
News credibility rating service NewsGuard this week reported highlighting widespread placement of non-profit ads on harmful news websites. Across April and May this year, NewsGuard analysts identified 108 programmatic ads from 57 non-profit and government organisations that appeared on 50 websites that have been found by NewsGuard to spread misinformation. Some of these ads were placed adjacent to articles containing false or misleading content, while others were displayed elsewhere on the sites.

The Week For Brands & Agencies

Dentsu Reports Fall in Organic Revenues
Japanese agency group Dentsu reported its Q1 financial results this week, posting 4.5 percent year-on-year growth in net revenues, but a 1.6 drop in organic revenues. Dentsu has revised down its projection for full year organic growth from four percent growth to 1-2 percent growth. However while Japan, the Americas, and APAC excluding Japan all saw drops in organic revenue, organic revenues rose by 4.3 percent in EMEA.

GroupM says CPG Brands are Still Growing Ad Spend
A new report from WPP’s media arm GroupM this week reported that advertising growth among CPG brands was “positive but muted” in 2022, despite economic headwinds. Kate Scott-Dawkins, GroupM’s global president of business intelligence, said that brands’ continued investment in their brands has likely helped their price elasticity, and added that multiple media owners have said CPG advertisers have been a source of strength in the first quarter of this year too.

Musk says Tesla will Start Running Ads
Twitter owner Elon Musk this week said electric car brand Tesla, which he runs as CEO, will begin experimenting with running ads. Tesla has previously stayed away from traditional advertising, an approach which sits at odds with Musk’s ownership of Twitter, which is reliant on ad income. Musk, speaking at Tesla’s annual shareholders meeting, acknowledged this tension, saying that due to his ownership of Twitter: “I guess I should say advertising is awesome, everyone should do it!”

Publicis and IPG Wins Pfizer’s Agency Review
Following a global agency review encompassing advertising creative, media, PR, and production, pharmaceutical giant Pfizer has picked Publicis and IPG as its agencies of choice. Publicis, under the title of “integrated global engine,” will handle data and tech, media, and creative production according to AdAge. IPG meanwhile has been named as lead creative partner.

GroupM says Twitter is No Longer High Risk
WPP’s media arm GroupM this week began telling clients that it no longer considers it to be a high risk ad environment, the Financial Times reported this week. GroupM first labelled Twitter high risk last year following Elon Musk’s takeover of the platform, saying there was an increase in harmful content on the platform, and citing concerns over the high number of high level departures from the company. The company says it has now seen the amount of harmful content on Twitter return to normal.

Patagonia Looks for B Corp Agency Partner in Europe
Outdoor clothing brand Patagonia, which is itself a B Corp, is looking for a B Corp agency partner to handle performance marketing in the EMEA region, Campaign reported this week. AAR has been appointed to handle the search for a new agency partner.

ASA Cracks Down on Offsetting-Backed Carbon Neutral Claims
The UK’s advertising watchdog, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), is planning stricter rules around carbon neutrality claims in ads, The Guardian reported this week, setting a higher bar for carbon neutrality claims. Advertisers will be barred from describing products as carbon neutral or net zero if carbon offsetting is part of their net zero calculation, unless it can be proved that those offsets actually work.

Hires of the Week

Immediate Media Appoints CEO Sean Cornwell
Immediate Media has appointed Sean Cornwell as its new CEO, alongside Tom Bureau as Chairman. Cornwell joined the publisher in 2021 as Platforms CEO, while Bureau serves as CEO at Burda International.

IPG Mediabrands Promotes Richard Morris to Dual CEO Role
IPG Mediabrands has named Richard Morris CEO of EMEA and UK. Morris was CEO of UK and Ireland since joining Mediabrands in 2020, having previously led IPG’s Initiative agency. He replaces Christian Johansen, who has led the EMEA business since 2020.

Mike Solomon Named PHD US CEO
PHD US has promoted its COO Mike Solomon to the position of CEO, replacing Catherine Sullivan who took the role in 2020. Solomon joined Omnicom in 2004, starting at OMD before moving to PHD in 2020.

Azerion Announces Three London Hires
Media company Azerion announced three new hires to its London office: Lucy Whichello joins as Account Director, Marco Evans as Digital Account Manager, and Sophie Marsh-Baldry as Programmatic Account Manager.

This Week on VideoWeek

Agencies Need to See YouTube as TV if They Want to Survive, read on VideoWeek

The New In-Stream/Out-Stream Divide: Explained, read on VideoWeek

IAB Removes Legitimate Interest from Reworked TCF, read on VideoWeek

Do Meta’s Brand Safety Controls Go Far Enough? read on VideoWeek

A Look Behind the Numbers as Disney’s Streaming Strategy Stutters, read on VideoWeek

Warner Bros. Discovery Unveils Digital Video Ad Product at Upfronts, read on VideoWeek

Netflix Promises Top Spots for Advertisers at Upfronts Debut, Claims 5 Million Ad Tier Members, read on VideoWeek

YouTube Targets TV Money with 30 Second Non-Skippable CTV Ad Slot, read on VideoWeek

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About the Author:

Tim Cross is Assistant Editor at VideoWeek.
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