“Pivot to video” is quite the catchword lately for digital publishers looking to drive engagement. Especially for publishers who are targeting a younger audience, video seems like a potential boon, in light of the growing size of video advertising budgets.
In reality, though, brands are probably wasting their money on video ad budgets targeting millennials – they are notorious for skipping or blocking those video ads.
So, where does this leave a brand like, Mic.com, a news and information site that’s become the CNN of the millennial generation? They recently let go of a lot of their editorial staff and announced that their publishing strategy was pivoting to video. According to Mike Shields in Business Insider, it’s having a significant impact on their site traffic – and not in a good way.
“Back in December 2015, Mic.com’s audience peaked at nearly 21.5 million monthly visitors in the U.S., according to comScore,” Shields explains. “Since that zenith, the company’s audience has fallen precipitously. This past June, Mic.com’s audience had fallen to 11 million users. By August, it landed at 6.6 million users, according to comScore.”
For their part, Mic.com execs claim the comScore is largely irrelevant; they say their internal numbers (which include not just site traffic, but social and other channels too) keep going up, and now hit more than 70 million each month.
“comScore accounts for about 10% of Mic’s actual audience, so we really don’t take that number very seriously,” said Mic president Jonathan Carson. He believes that, thanks to third-party content distribution, they are reaching 10 times more people than their site traffic would indicate.
Here’s the problem for the brand, though. Regardless of what the folks at Mic say, advertisers still use comScores as a barometer of advertising value. Hyper-distribution doesn’t help there; in fact, we can see that it hurts.
“While Mic executives argue advertisers no longer care about a site’s monthly unique audience, ad buyers say that comScore numbers provide a still-vital objective measure,” Shields notes.
It’s possible that ad buyers just haven’t caught up with times yet; content is distributed on a huge array of pipelines, and many publishers are arguing for a comprehensive way to track video viewership on Facebook and the rest. We know Facebook’s video metrics have been unreliable, to put it nicely. So what’s an advertiser to believe?
As Shields explains, “…advertisers still depend heavily on the comScore numbers and that’s probably bad news for Mic.”
Cross-channel audience measurement is challenging enough when you’re just looking at your own platforms; throw in third-party and mobile-media consumption, and you’ve got a behemoth.
“The historical challenge of digital media measurement has been the de-duplication of audiences across multiple platforms, and comScore solved this issue for desktop and mobile in 2012 with the introduction of Media Metrix Multi-Platform,” said a comScore spokesperson cited in Shields’ article.
For their part, they say they are indeed tracking many third-party platforms – including Google AMP, Facebook’s Instant Articles and Apple News – with more channels being added all the time.
So it’s a waiting game, then. Advertisers need some objective way to gauge a site’s popularity – and social proof, i.e. the number of Instagram fans, just isn’t enough. If comScore can catch up on third-party distribution, there may be some good news for Mic and other digital publishers. But it’s not going to happen overnight. And they need ad sales to happen now. The video bubble is poised to burst, and brands that have banked on it are going to be scrambling for the next big thing.
We’ve long thought that third-party distribution is too much of a crapshoot. Now, it appears the publishers who rolled those dice are realizing it too.