Mobile World Congress update – Tuesday

After the announcements and keynotes of Sunday and Monday, Tuesday was always going to be a bit of a change of pace (if that is possible) at MWC. This is of course with the exception of some interesting media/advertising related panel discussions on ad-blocking, an announcement by Buzzfeed CEO Jonah Peretti of the launch of a video streaming service and panel discussions on user data and security.

Ad-Blocking @ MWC

Ad-blocking was a topic I wrote about last year in relation to net-neutrality as well as new business models in advertising. And from the tone in the debate between executives from Google, Yahoo and Shine’s (Israeli ad-blocking software) CMO, it will continue to be battleground in the coming years. Ad blocking software use grew 41 percent in the 12 months to August 2015 and there are now 198 million active adblock users around the world, according PageFair. The damage to the advertising business model? – Ad blocking was estimated to cost advertisers $22 billion last year.

The debate at MWC centered on the idea that ad-blocking is a ‘blunt solution’ where a neater one will do. Benjamin Faes, managing director of media and platforms at Google, called ad-blocking ‘black and white think’ where a whole ecosystem is at threat. ‘More and more publishers just can’t afford to give their content for free…a user with an ad-blocker will keep running on websites who ask the user to pay for content then they unblock the ad-blocker and then see all bad ads anyway,” Faes said during the panel.

Shine’s big argument in this debate is that tech companies are using “military grade” tracking, targeting and profiling of users. Shine’s CMO, Roi Carthy, is bringing this to the attention of users and opening new rules of engagement between consumers, advertisers and the platforms.

The ad-blocking debate is not likely to end soon but not all advertisers are gloomy about it. There are clear gains to the user experience and it provides an inflection point for the industry to come up with new ways to engage consumers. In Australia we are yet to see the full effect of ad-blocking however a quick survey i ran today found that out of 100 people asked just over 50% are using an ad-blocker app of sorts. I suspect it wont be long until a carrier takes up a solution like Shine in Australia to compliment the updates in Safari (IOS9) and other ad-evading software.

Buzzfeed goes to short form video

Always wondering what to do with your downtime? The time you have on the bus, before bed, in the bathroom… There are many companies aiming to make you spend that time on their platform and Buzzfeed is one of them. In line with Zuckerberg’s keynote on Monday where he talked about the future of content consumption being video, Buzzfeed CEO Jonah Peretti revealed last night that his firm will be launching a mobile video app focused on “binge watching”. BuzzFeed’s audience has grown rapidly, from 100 million monthly content views in 2012 to six billion in 2016 and this is a play to continue this trajectory and compete against other short form providers (Snapchat, Vine, Youtube). Peretti told MWC goers, “Content has really become the exciting battleground in the mobile space…Increasingly content, and especially mobile video, are becoming a key part of the mobile stack,” he said. “It’s something that consumers care deeply about: the brand and the content they’re consuming on their mobile devices. It affects their decisions of which apps to use, which phones to use, and which content is increasingly becoming one of the major areas of competition in the mobile space.”

It will be interesting to see how this battle for attention shapes up with mobile video (short and long form) content being the major attention grabber for a number of platforms.

User Data and Security

Rules supporting data protection are slowly catching up with the technology. At a panel on Tuesday discussing privacy, security and user control, Telefonica’s director of research and innovation called attention to this issue. Pablo Rodriguez said security and privacy “are becoming part of dinner table conversation. Consumers are frustrated with the plethora of trackers and malware that leak people’s data and risk their privacy.”

This is a huge issue for consumers as it is for businesses. In a recent meeting with Australian TMT leaders a few examples were shared of the effects of malware on their businesses including fraudulent emails which looked like company emails being sent to CFO’s asking for large sums of money to be transferred. Telefonica believes there is an answer to this an it is by providing users with greater transparency of how their data is used. They have set up a ‘Data Transparency Lab’ which is in partnership with MIT Media Lab and Mozilla which will produce tools and applications that show how personal data is being used to personalise websites or why some ads are being shown.

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