Facebook mid-rolls and speaking up about harassment: Digiday readers’ favorite stories of 2017

We asked Digiday readers to vote on their favorite stories of 2017, and they selected stories defined by a great reckoning occurring in media and marketing — from the harsh realities of reporting sexual harassment in advertising to the future of media enterprises.

The top 10 stories — five about media and five about marketing — appear below, plus a write-in winner.

Top 5 media stories

1. Pivot to pennies: Facebook’s key video ad program isn’t delivering much money to publishers
Our readers’ favorite media story of 2017 centered on the biggest platform frenemy of them all: Facebook. Five major publishers that get hundreds of millions of views per month on Facebook told us Facebook’s test of mid-roll ad breaks in live and on-demand videos wasn’t generating much money, with CPMs ranging from 15 cents to 75 cents. One publisher even responded to a request for comment with the lyrics to Flo Rida’s “Low.”

2. The pivot to reality for digital media
In 2017, publishers had to get real about revenue after years of relying too heavily on advertising revenue. But the pivot is more of a correction than an upheaval, co-executive editor Lucia Moses writes, pointing to Mashable, which was valued at $250 million in 2016 but sold for $50 million to Ziff Davis this year: “Selling for a fifth of that price a mere 12 months later says more about the expectations venture-funded digital media eagerly embraced when capital was cheap and plentiful.”

3. ‘The model can’t hold’: Publishers face content studio growing pains
Content studios were hailed as the saviors of publishers’ revenue models. But as this story shows, publishers can’t bank on editorial prestige alone to attract reader attention. Hiring a crack team of editors, writers and photographers to create branded content that looks and feels like journalism costs money. “If you look at the real challenge of native advertising, it’s really more about the margin than the revenue,” said Paul Rossi, president of The Economist Group.

4. ‘Jack-of-all-trades, master of none’: Why Mashable flamed out
After Mashable’s sale to Ziff Davis was announced in November, many wondered where Mashable went wrong. This piece identifies three reasons: too much attention to competitors, big expenses and a lack of editorial focus. “Too often, publishers take for granted that if they created the news, the audience and the buyers would follow,” said Doug Rozen, chief digital and innovation officer at OMD.

5. ‘I just wanted to organize this mess’: An oral history of the Lumascape
The Lumascape, a series of charts that organize the ad tech industry, started as a PowerPoint presentation. Seven years after Luma Partners founder Terence Kawaja presented it at the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s Networks and Exchanges Conference in May 2010, some of the people who helped popularize the Lumascape told us how it came to be.

Top 5 marketing stories

1. ‘I left and I shut up’: Why women in advertising won’t speak publicly about harassment
Our readers’ favorite marketing story of 2017 was borne out of revelations of sexual harassment and assault by powerful men in media, marketing, music and entertainment. This story examined how women have a unique disadvantage when they try to report harassment at agencies.

2. What influencer marketing really costs
We dug into how influencer marketing is priced and found that agencies are pricing per hundreds of followers and based on platform, leading to a mixed bag of models that could bear further scrutiny going into 2018.

3. Why e-commerce brands are flipping the script and opening brick-and-mortar stores
After years of doing business online, e-commerce brands such as Allbirds, Away and ModCloth started opening retail stores in 2017 to establish a sense of permanence. “Pretty much anybody can sell something online these days, but to have a physical location, there is definitely a brand legitimacy in that,” said Jill Dvorak, senior director for digital retail at the National Retail Federation.

4. Brands are now blacklisting mainstream news sites, including Fox News
The summer of 2017 was testy for brands online. In August, we found that brands were not only pulling ads from obviously problematic sites such as Breitbart, but also requesting they be pulled from news sites altogether, including as Fox News. “I think the definition of ‘mainstream’ is changing,” said a president of a New York-based media agency. “Because of the news proliferation, we have more content to monitor and determine what is appropriate for the client.”

5. Will it blend? Oath will combine disparate AOL-Yahoo ad tech assets
When Verizon announced in April it would merge AOL and Yahoo, we explored what it would take to combine their ad tech assets. Key among the obstacles: Certain assets directly compete with another, and none are first-in-class solutions. “Verizon cannot just mash them together,” said a vp of advertising at a technology firm. “The integration would be years in the making … if ever.”

Write-in winner:
‘We’re competing against crap’: The race is on to provide influencer marketing analytics
As brands pay more attention to the messiness of digital media, they are looking for tools to help them measure influencer campaigns, which are particularly vulnerable to hacks to make them appear more effective than they really are. “We just want a level playing field to compete on,” said Bob Gilbreath, CEO of Ahalogy, a firm offering third-party verified metrics.


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