5 Things We Learned: Rich People Edition

This shark week was a doozy in New York. First a non-native smooth dogfish hitched a ride on the N train. Then Stephen Colbert publicly tussled with the executive sharks at Viacom for refusing to let Daft Punk appear on his show in advance of their MTV Video Music Awards.

Last, but not least, there was plenty of blood in the media waters. Newsweek’s nearly worthless, The Washington Post was bought for $250 million, and a video ad tech company got $405 million from AOL. Go figure.

Here’s what we at Digiday learned this week, along with what we wish we wrote.

Rich people still love to buy media companies.
Some things change, some don’t. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos isn’t all that different from the rich guys who came before him. He wants the cachet of owning a media company. That didn’t stop most news sources from putting on their media Kremlinologist hats to find some hidden reason – using the Post’s trucks for same-day Amazon delivery was a particular favorite. The purchase price is the equivalent of someone worth $1 million spending $10,000. This isn’t exactly a life-or-death bet. In the end, as Washington Post vp at large and former editor Len Downie told Digiday, Bezos is a tinkerer who will hopefully bring some amount of fresh thinking to an industry that clearly needs it. Side note from a recent Digiday visit to Bloomberg’s headquarters: Rich people also really like fish tanks. No lie.

Ad tech is still misunderstood.
AOL’s purchase of video ad tech firm Adap.tv for $405 million was quickly hailed as a validation for the sector, which has been criticized by Digiday and others for not delivering profits. Missing in much of the breathless coverage was a simple fact: How much revenue did Adap.tv do, and is it profitable? There answers appear to be: 1. well short of $100 million, and 2. no. That’s not, of course, to say ad tech is doomed. Like any area, it will have winners and losers. Adap.tv can be counted a winner. It got a valuation very comparable to the market capitalizations of rivals Tremor Video and Yume –and it is getting paid mostly in cash. Will the business thrive under AOL? That’s anybody’s guess. The company’s pre-Tim Armstrong record with tech acquisitions – Bebo, anyone? – isn’t inspiring. And video advertising is still very immature. Yieldbot CEO Jonathan Mendez sounds a needed note of caution:

Bebo is Digiday’s favorite defunct, soon-to-be-revived social network.
Michael Birch is a lottery winner. He started Bebo in 2006, sold it two years later to AOL for $850 million, then bought it back for a mere $1 million. He’s impossibly wealthy and from an outsider’s perspective, admirably weird. That’s the best way to describe the wonderful pre-launch video for the new Bebo, which centers on the social network’s reputed title as the largest repository of crude penis drawings in the world. We are rooting for you, Bebo!

Brands can still be awkward in social media.
The best thing I ever heard about brands in social media several years ago was, “It’s like watching your dad dance at a disco.” Marketers have gotten better about producing interesting things. Case in point: these great Vines by GE. And yet too they’re unable to deliver, no thanks to agencies bogged down in the need to bill hours. And when they do finally produce content, they often miss the mark with some truly head-scratching efforts.

Native ads are going nowhere.
Lots of people hate the term. That’s fair. But native advertising is more than a flavor of the month. Federated Media founder John Battelle, an early proponent of “conversational marketing,” sees their real opportunity in marrying the uniqueness of sponsored content with the efficient distribution of advertising technology systems. Every publisher you speak to has their own twist on native advertising. It’s regularly demanded of agencies, too, so they have no choice.


UX Abomination of the Week
Eric Franchi, cofounder of ad Undertone, came across this gem when clicking through on a tweeted photo. Yfrog, a photo-hosting site, decided that rather than serve the photo it would pair a link to the photo with two Google text ads.



Our Biggest Regret of the Week
Not sending Jack Marshall undercover to the many ad seller Hamptons summer houses.


3 Things We Wish We Wrote and You Should Read

An ode to Bezos
Of all the things written on the Washington Post’s sale, All Things D’s Kara Swisher’s “open letter” stands out. She began at the Post in the mailroom and rose through the ranks there. Her advice to Bezos: Embrace the disruptive power of the Internet. Safe bet Bezos is already there.

Weird Twitter
Brands often so earnestly want to “join the conversation” on Twitter that it’s easy to provoke a reaction. Just look at how many hashtag campaigns go awry. The WSJ takes a look at the pranksters who like nothing more than screwing with brands on Twitter.

Creative destruction
This week, we were reminded of some much-needed perspective in the form of a great post by Linds Redding, an ad creative who passed away this year. Redding writes poignantly (and somewhat bitterly) about how creativity suffers due to the “satanic mills of productivity.” An important thought to consider in the age of mega holding companies.

Image by Niall Kennedy via Flickr


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