ICYMI: The week in ad blocking, Snapchat and clueless influencers

You made it to Saturday, so to reward you, here’s the most self-unaware pull quote of the week. We asked a Snapchat influencer to justify the existence of Snapchat influencers. The answer? “Just like people fell in love with Tom Cruise, they fall in love with influencers.”


If you missed that Q&A, now’s your chance to read it. Here, also are a few of our favorite stories from the week that was:


Facebook is hosting upwards of 8 billion video views a day on its platform, which makes it an undeniably powerful distribution platform. But (there’s always a but) publishers from LittleThings to Mic to PopSugar report that as much as 85 percent of their videos are watched with the sound off. Publishers who want to make an impact on the platform need to tailor the content in such a way that it succeeds on that platform. As such, Facebook is unwittingly ushering in a new golden age of silent video.

“From day one, there pretty much has been the psychology that you have to catch their attention immediately,” Gretchen Tibbits, chief operating officer for LittleThings tells Sahil Patel. “But while the first three seconds are critical, the video also has to be designed to capture attention without needing sound.”


Ad blocking has been — and continues to be — a subject of particular interest for publishers. Condé Nast has been experimenting with different approaches at its different titles. Wired requires people to pay $1 a week for an ad-free version of the site. GQ required that people sign up for micropayments.

This week, we take a look at Epicurious, where only 7 percent of its audience blocks ads. For a new, six-week test, the Condé Nast recipe site is serving a pop-up to ad blockers, requiring them to disable their ad blocking software or register in order to continue using the site. “We want them to understand we’re ad-supported. And we’re just attempting to understand the mindset and what would let them allow us,” said Eric Gillin, executive director of Epicurious and head of product for Condé Nast’s Food Innovation Group. “It’s hard.”


First it was Facebook. Then it was Facebook’s sister site Instagram. Now sources familiar with Snapchat say the platform is developing an algorithm that will act as a gatekeeper between publishers and brands and their audiences. Users currently see all the messages from accounts they follow in chronological order, but with an algorithm, Snapchat would act as curator of content from publishers and, especially, brands.

“It’s going to be the same model Facebook has: It’s free for everybody to share content, but an algorithm will penalize some people and boost others. That’s why you don’t want to be beholden to any one of these platforms or you’re suddenly stuck when the game changes,” said a top publishing source close to Snapchat.


Kathleen Lingo runs the New York Times’ Op-Docs, a series of films in differing formats from virtual reality to animated based in the newspaper’s op-ed section. We asked her to write up a journal of a recent day. Here’s two hours out of her very busy life:

Noon:  Every week we screen potential Op-Docs we are strongly considering with a small group of editors from the Opinion section. Today we screened a doc that was nearly 30 minutes. Usually, most Op-Docs are around 5 to 10 minutes, but we are open to different forms of storytelling and figuring out what appeals to our audience. One of our most popular Op-Docs was a 26-minute long film in Polish about a baby with a birth defect, which earned an Oscar nomination.

12:30 p.m.: Besides Op-Docs, we are also looking into publishing other types of Opinion videos to experiment with new forms of opinion journalism. Today, we discussed a potential fictional opinion video series related to the election. Not sure if it will happen, but it is super fun to consider the possibility and would help us bring in important new audiences. The duo we meet with is smart and so original. One of them also pitched an amazing Op-Doc idea! So the meeting was not only exciting, but productive in unexpected ways.

1:30 p.m.:  Had a call with Nonny de la Pena, the godmother of virtual reality, and a talented filmmaker who contributed a VR film to our Sundance VR series in the NYT VR app. Op-Docs published our first VR film in the NYT VR app a few weeks, ‘The Click Effect,” to stellar results. We are actively considering pitches for more VR Op-Docs. VR is exciting, but also challenging. A completely new frontier for storytelling.


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