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Mobile Is Killing Media – and Here's What We Need to Do About It

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Oh my God! I need it! I need it! - Stephen Colbert on the iPad 2

Digital publishing is headed off a cliff if we don’t get back behind the wheel. There's a five fold gap between mobile revenue and desktop revenue for the same page. In other words, for every page viewed on a mobile device, publishers currently see only 20 percent of the revenue they’d receive from a desktop visit. What makes that gap even starker is how quickly it’s happening. By the second half of next year, we predict that greater than half of all time spent with online content will happen on a mobile device. On the industry’s current course, that’s a recipe for disaster.

This of course assumes that we continue to create similar content experiences and run ads the same way we’ve monetized desktop content. Obviously we need to change for the industry to survive. We’ve made real headway, and as we head into this year’s Advertising Week we wanted to share the progress - but there is still a long way to go.

Page View to Stream

If the page-view wasn’t dead already, mobile will be the final nail in the coffin. Whether tablet or phone, gesture-based navigation makes the mobile device a window into a content stream. This means that laying out pages with all sorts of adjacent or supporting content alongside the article won’t work in mobile. All that matters is what is on screen at any given moment. Publishers need to start creating experiences that work for these smaller screens, recognizing that the overall session matters more than pageviews. How long did a reader spend with your content and what was that worth to you?

Much of the reason for the massive value gap between desktop and mobile is that desktop monetization is built on standard display ads, and those ads are built on an adjacency model. In exchange for reading my content, you’ll allow me to put an ad next to the article. This just doesn’t work with a screen as small as a tablet or a phone. We can’t get enough ads on the page, or they are so small that they don’t perform, or the reader zooms in on the content and adjusts the window so that the ads never show up because otherwise the article is unreadable.

There are several great monetization approaches that the industry is starting to experiment with: native in-stream, interstitial, paid applications, subscription, and more. But nothing in this list is based on the idea of content adjacency. There just isn’t enough room.

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The Silver Lining

That said, we also believe mobile represents a massive opportunity for content creators and marketers alike. Engagement is higher. You can access content on the go. And as a platform, it lends itself to social discovery more than desktop content. Think about how much time you spend on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram on your phone.

We’ve made some real progress toward solving this challenge with our Adaptive Ad platform (click this link and scroll to see it in action). It's an example of a native in-stream ad that was built from the ground up to recognized the increasing importance of mobile consumption.

Adaptive Mobile has been live for 3 months and the numbers clearly show promise for publishers and marketers. Here are the stats (mobile vs. desktop on as the baseline comparison:

- 15% higher median viewable time (smartphone vs. desktop)

- 90% higher median viewable time (tablet vs. desktop)

- 3x improvement from current industry standard monetization

Adaptive Mobile, and native ad formats that sit in-stream in general, are an approach that will work for brands. Engagement is high and while stream-based approaches need tweaking, it's as valuable for the publisher as desktop consumption.

There will be very different approaches needed for other types of mobile engagement, but for digital content on a mobile device, we think we’re very close to closing the gap.

Matt Sanchez is the founder and CEO of Say Media. Follow him on Twitter @msanchez - and catch him at Advertising Week on the TechCrunch Leadership Panel on Thursday, September 26.

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