Ad-Blockchain: Salon Gets Around Ad Blockers With Cryptocurrency

With ad blocking becoming so prevalent that browsers like Google and Yandex are implementing top-down efforts to stem the tide, the pressure is on for publishers to find stable sources of revenue. For Salon, the answer lies in blockchain technology, specifically cryptocurrency.

Soon, Salon readers who use ad blockers will begin to see a different sort of pop-up window than they might on many other sites: rather than just ask visitors to whitelist the site, Salon will request permission to use their excess computing power to mine Monero, a blockchain-powered cryptocurrency.

“This is not a farce,” Salon Media Group CEO Jordan Hoffner said to Digiday. “We were intent on being the first media company to make this part of our monetization strategy.”

Salon is not the first ever to monetize web browsers’ extra processing power—Starbucks was briefly embroiled in a scandal last year when it came to light that the Wifi provider in one of its locations was hijacking customers’ computers to mine Monero without their consent or knowledge. It should be noted, however, that Salon asks for the user’s consent twice before mining for Monero, and stops when the browser is closed.

“We realize that specific technological developments now mean that it is not merely the reader’s eyeballs that have value to our site—it’s also your computer’s ability to make calculations, too,” the program’s FAQ section reads. “Indeed, your computer itself can help support our ability to pay our editors and journalists.”

Reporting only $3.9 million in earnings in the last nine months of 2017, Salon has plenty of reason to experiment with alternative revenue streams, and blockchain seems to hold the most potential. Just today, The Washington Post‘s vice president of innovation and commerical, Jarrod Dicker, jumped ship to helm a blockchain for journalism startup called

“Right now, this is a ‘better than nothing’ strategy,” Hoffner said. “But down the line, we will get there. We just need more information to build the product.”

Shell Repackages ‘Make The Future’ Campaign For Tumblr Demographic

Furthering its “Make the Future” clean-energy cause marketing campaign from last year, Shell has partnered with Oath’s RYOT Studio to repackage and expand the campaign’s reach to younger audiences through Tumblr.

The activation, a Tumblr-hosted microsite, features an interactive spinning globe and highlights Shell’s clean energy initiatives and already-existing messaging. The site’s underlying content is nothing new—it primarily features a music video and a series of explainer videos the company released late last year—but nonetheless allows Shell to extend the lifespan of its existing messaging.

“Our team worked with Shell and MediaCom to bring a new, interactive angle to their music video that engages audiences around this message,” said John DeVine, chief revenue officer for Oath.

The activation isn’t Shell calling a mulligan on an unsuccessful effort, either; hitting 11.5 million views in two months, its “On Top of the World” music video was no slouch in the reach category. However, the interactive microsite allows Shell to better educate consumers about its efforts and redirect traffic to its less bombastic explainer videos, which did not fare as well as the music video in views.

Shell’s treatment of its clean energy efforts mark an interesting take on environmental cause marketing as well—with subjects as general as climate change, it can be difficult to make company efforts tangible to the general audience. By highlighting the effects of its energy initiatives on individual people, Shell grounds the larger issue, allowing its audience to better grasp the concept.

“We can spark a global conversation around access to cleaner energy in an engaging way,” said Malena Cutuli, global head of integrated brand communications for Shell. “Addressing future energy challenges demands collaboration between and among business, communities, entrepreneurs, influencers and citizens.”

Major Brands Still Honor Cash As Mobile Payments Rise

Worldwide mobile payment revenue is expected to reach $930 billion this year and surpass 1 trillion US dollars in 2019. But even in the face of this growth, some major brands don’t want to overlook those who don’t have a bank account, offering workarounds through pre-paid cards and brick-and-mortar stores.

Last year, Amazon introduced Amazon Cash—a way to preload a user’s account with money to spend online. The ecommerce giant, which was recently named the world’s most valuable brand, allows its users to pay cash at 19 partnering retailers—like 7-11 and GameStop—and transfer it to their Amazon accounts as if it were a gift card. The credit never expires and can be used for anything on Amazon’s website or mobile app.

Walmart’s website offers a cash option at checkout as well. Customers simply choose to pay with cash, then do so at a brick and mortar location within 48 hours.

Starbucks is another brand that exchanges cash for credit—a smart move considering Mobile Order and Pay accounted for 10 percent of transactions in US company-operated stores during the company’s last fiscal quarter.

The Seattle-based coffee giant has mastered the art of funneling its customers into digital transactions—offering rewards through the mobile app and whenever someone uses their Starbucks card. In fact, “star rewards” are denied if even a portion of a transaction is paid with cash.

Cash-loving coffee drinkers may miss out if Starbucks’ cashless location pilot turns out to be a success. While it’s unlikely all Starbucks locations would convert to a no-cash policy overnight, unbanked and underbanked customers may someday find themselves out of luck, left to seek their cravings elsewhere.

The Young And The Bank-Less

According to a 2016 Pew Research study, some 15 percent of US consumers—approximately 37 million adults—do not have a bank account. The biggest reason for this is lack of income, with 40 percent of unbanked respondents earning less than $15,000 per year.

Nielsen reported that 97 percent of Gen Z consumers have smartphones, but with the oldest members being only around 19 years old, that’s not much time to build a credit history or significant income.

Pew Research also estimates that there were 11.3 million undocumented immigrants living in the US as of 2016. This is another demographic that may not have access to bank accounts or lines of credit, making mobile payment adoption difficult.

While across the world, brands—and entire countries—are making the move to a digital economy, the change is not without problems. Privacy, identity theft and lack of access for the poor remain hot-button topics as mobile payments become a new norm.

IAB Recommends Blockchain To Cure Video Fraud Woes In Whitepaper

Blockchain is more than just Bitcoin: it’s got significant potential for industries outside of finance.

In a whitepaper released today, the Interactive Advertising Bureau uncovers strong use cases for blockchain technology for higher-value, lower-volume media placement, like digital video and over-the-top (OTT) advertising.

Current blockchain networks can cut down on the rampant fraud in the digital advertising space, allowing advertisers and publishers to deal directly with one another transparently, eliminating untrustworthy middlemen and increasing accountability for all parties. Additionally, the decentralized structure of blockchain networks reduces the chance of hackers stealing information or rerouting any transactions.

“Blockchain seems to be the new ‘siren’s call’ in the business world—but there is no doubt that this technology holds tremendous promise for digital video advertising,” said Anna Bager, executive vice president of industry initiatives for the IAB.

The current stumbling block for blockchain in its current state is its speed, or, more aptly, its lack thereof. Though engineers for networks like Etherium are working to speed up the process, blockchain networks are still several hundred thousand times too slow to handle programmatic advertising’s millions of tiny purchases per second.

While this more or less eliminates blockchain networks from contention for high-volume, cheap digital formats such as banners or pop-ups, the more exclusive media of video and OTT align well with blockchain’s strengths. According to the IAB’s report, the relatively tiny amount of transactions per second, young market and limited amount of well-known publishers all point toward a successful implementation of blockchain technology.

Despite these advantages, the IAB doubts that many OTT players will jump on board with the technology, however. Ad fraud isn’t as much of a problem for companies like Hulu, and they may not see much need in rocking the boat.

“My hunch is that you are going to see blockchain flow out from PC and mobile first before you will see it kick off in OTT,” said Adam Moser, head of ad operations for Hulu.

Additionally, success for the platform would require broad adoption among OTT companies, but the ad buying process differs for every publisher.

“We’ve always found the way you do things for Roku is very different from how you do it for the Samsung TVs or Xbox or PlayStation,” Moser added. “Seemingly, there is no one device on which it is the easiest to integrate and no devices we cannot integrate with. It’s a bit of a chicken or the egg dilemma.”

The IAB considers these obstacles surmountable, writing: “On balance, the advantages of focusing on the digital video/OTT asset class outweigh the disadvantages.”

This whitepaper is only the first of what the IAB expects to be a long discussion about the potential of such a technology over the coming years.

“Tapping into our members’ pioneering work and insights from across the ecosystem, we plan to offer thought leadership, guidance, and inspiration that will steer the new course for digital video, OTT, and blockchain,” concludes Bager.

CoverGirl’s AR Makeup Experience Skips The App Install

CoverGirl has launched the first augmented reality experience that does not require the download of an app. Consumers can now visit the “Try It” AR experience on their web browser via mobile or desktop to virtually apply products from CoverGirl’s Spring 2018 collection.

Using a live camera, consumers can try on five makeup products: Perfectly Matte Lip, Smoky Eye, No Makeup Makeup, Doe-Eyed and Bold Brow looks.

An exclusive partnership with Walmart will allow customers to try on the makeup, then purchase it through Walmart’s website. The experience is available on iPhone devices running iOS11 or higher and most modern Android smartphones.

“Try It” is part of a new CoverGirl campaign called “I am what I make up,” encouraging the use of beauty products as self-expression. The AR experience is designed to close the gap between inspiration and purchase.

CoverGirl is utilizing a variety of both male and female social media influencers to promote the “Try It” experience on their respective YouTube Channels, including Raye Boyce, Angel Merino, Melisa Michelle and Tiarra Monet.

Parent company Coty plans to expand the experience to other brands while refining its features. Coty also owns makeup brands Rimmel and Max Factor as well as luxury brands Calvin Klein and Gucci.

This isn’t the first time CoverGirl has used AR to give users a virtual makeover. The brand launched its BeautyU app in 2016 that uses facial scanning to superimpose the latest products onto a user’s face.

Beauty brands are adopting AR in mass, using visualization to inspire confident purchases and social sharing. L’Oreal launched Makeup Genius in 2014 and last summer, integrated its worldwide makeup brands and collections into YouCam Makeup, an AR beauty app. Beauty app ModiFace has become a one-stop shop for the idea, powering the AR experiences of 84 beauty brands on its platform.

“Today’s consumers expect their shopping experience to be fun, effortless and tailor-made to meet their momentary aspirations, moods and desires—wherever they are,” Esohe Omoruyi, senior vice president of global open innovation and digital services for L’Oréal, told AListDaily in a previous interview.

For National Lipstick Day on July 29, Maybelline New York sponsored a Snapchat lens featuring its new Loaded Bolds lipstick collection—allowing users to virtually test out each of the bold colors for themselves. Olay and Sephora have also used AR technology to help consumers visualize beauty results.

AR holds an advantage over VR in it doesn’t require the purchase of additional hardware. Digi-Capital forecasts that AR (mobile AR, smartglasses) could approach three and a half billion installed base and $85 billion to $90 billion revenue within 5 years, while VR (mobile, standalone, console, PC) might deliver 50 to 60 million installed base and $10 billion to $15 billion in the same timeframe.

New ESPN+ Streaming Service Hopes To Meet Rising OTT Trends

ESPN will get its own low-cost streaming service this spring alongside a redesigned mobile app—a move bolstered by continuous drops in the TV network’s ad revenue.

During the company’s earnings call on Tuesday, parent company Walt Disney Co. CEO Robert Iger revealed new details about an OTT service dubbed ESPN+, priced at a modest $4.99 per month. The service was first announced in December amid revenue losses for the popular sports network—a trend that continued into the first fiscal quarter.

ESPN witnessed an 11 percent decrease in advertising revenue during the first quarter, resulting from the shift of two College Football Playoff (CFP) games into its second-quarter period. ESPN ad revenue was still down seven percent, excluding those games.

ESPN+ will be integrated into the newly-designed ESPN mobile app, which places an emphasis on personalization and improved interface. Iger called the changes “dramatic,” explaining that the app will include scores, highlights, podcasts, live game broadcasts and other sports content in addition to ESPN+.

“If anything it points to what the future of ESPN looks like,” Iger said on the earnings call. “It will be this app and the experience that it provides.”

The $4.99/mo. price tag aligns with consumer demand as more and more OTT services become available. According to a recent survey by IBB Consulting, OTT users who are looking to get a premium, niche or sports-centric are willing to pay $5 to $15 for an add-on to an existing subscription.

The rising popularity of OTT and SVOD are forcing companies like ESPN to rethink their strategies. At first, the cord-cutting phenomenon was largely attributed to the high cost of cable but as more options become available, audiences value content such as originals only found on a certain provider. The same IBB Consulting study found that around 63 percent of SVOD subscribers still have cable.

A November study by Magid found that two-thirds of US households pay for at least one streaming service and an average of two. As more OTT services enter the marketplace, increased competition places even more pressure on companies like ESPN to keep audiences interested.

Yandex Adds Native Ad Blocker Weeks Ahead Of Google

Russian-language search engine Yandex has long been referred to as the “Russian Google.” But in the area of ad-blocking, Yandex is leaving the world’s third-most-valuable brand behind, implementing a native ad blocker for messaging that doesn’t abide by IAB Russia’s standards.

The company’s troubles with third-party ad blockers reflect those of Google quite closely, with overzealous ad blocking hurting Yandex’s bottom line.

“The desire to see less advertising is understandable, but the blockers solve the problem too uncompromisingly,” the company wrote in its first announcement of its native ad blocking intentions, in December of last year. “Advertising is important and for Yandex is one of the main sources of revenue for the company.”

Google is implementing a similar native ad blocker to its Chrome browser, which will remove all ads from sites that don’t follow its Better Ads Standards, on February 15. This gives marketers the chance to test the consequences of a native ad blocker in a much smaller market (Yandex’s ad revenue in 2016 was 1.5 percent that of Google’s), and tweak their own plans before larger players implement the same.

But most importantly, Yandex’s implementation of a native ad blocker puts to bed claims that Google’s attempts to clean up its ad space are uncalled for or overreaching. With third-party ad blocker saturation reaching 30 percent in both Russia and the US, ad marketplaces have stepped in to prevent users dropping out, where advertisers and publishers have declined to.

Industry groups like the IAB and the ANA have long established best practices for digital ads that don’t interfere with user browsing, but their voluntary nature did not stem the tide of rapid ad blocking growth. If technology gatekeepers like Google and Yandex didn’t enforce compliance, who would?

Dmitry Timko, head of Yandex.Browser, summed up the need in a statement to TechCrunch: “Native ad blocking eliminates the need for additional ad blockers and promotes better quality advertising.”

Alphabet’s Ad Revenue Still Unhindered By YouTube Backlash

Google and YouTube parent company Alphabet reported $27.7 billion in ad revenue for the fourth quarter of 2017, despite rising concerns about brand safety. In fact, roughly 85 percent of Alphabet’s earnings for the last quarter came from advertising.

Over the last year, advertisers on YouTube have lashed out against the company for displaying their brands next to extreme or offensive content. YouTube responded by removing certain videos and enacting stricter guidelines for what type of content can be monetized by creators.

During the company’s fourth quarter earnings call, Google chief executive Sundar Pichai assured investors it was working to stop abuse on the platform, and that a few weeks prior it had “announced changes to advertising on YouTube.” Pichai was referring to a new task force of 10,000 employees that will moderate and review videos that could be in violation of YouTube policy. Working alongside machine learning software, the new team will enforce stricter criteria on the channels earning money from ads. YouTube’s newly-enacted changes also restrict monetization to those with at least 1,000 subscribers and 4,000 hours of watch time in the past 12 months.

Amid struggles to balance the needs of advertisers with users and content creators, Alphabet revenue climbed to an all-time high of $32 billion from $26 billion last year and exceeding analyst predictions. Google’s cost per click (CPC) declined 14 percent during the fourth quarter, which the company attributed to the rising number of searches made on mobile devices.

YouTube isn’t Alphabet’s only brand safety concern—in August, Google issued partial refunds to hundreds of marketers who fell victim to ad fraud. The company dominates the search engine market, but has traditionally been a walled garden, leaving advertisers to hand over their budgets and hope for the best.

In response to growing demands for transparency and fraud protection, Google became TAG Certified Against Fraud last year and is reportedly developing a tool to provide more transparency in the future. Google also joined the “Ads.txt” project developed by the Interactive Advertising Bureau in 2017, which provides a mechanism to enable content owners to declare who is authorized to sell their inventory.

Alphabet remains the largest seller of online advertisements in the world, followed by Facebook. According to eMarketer, Google will account for 42 percent of US market share for digital ads this year.

Google Expands Ad Muting Tools, Letting Users Dodge Retargeting

With the launch of Chrome’s native ad blocker quickly approaching, Google is now expanding its ad muting tools as well. Users can now opt out of retargeted “reminder” ads for specific websites if they choose to.

Google account owners have been able to mute individual ads since 2012, but with this latest update they will be able to silence a website’s reminder ads for 90 days. In its current state, users will only be able to avoid retargeted ads on DoubleClick ads on third-party websites and apps, but Google promises to expand the feature to YouTube, search and Gmail ads in the coming months.

Though this may seem to work against the interest of its advertisers, Google claims this new feature is part of its ever-growing efforts to deliver more relevant ads to its consumers.

“Reminder ads like these can be useful, but if you aren’t shopping for [a website’s products] anymore, then you don’t need a reminder about them,” wrote Jon Krafcik, Google’s group product manager for data privacy and transparency, in an announcement.

Though the advertiser may miss out on occasional impressions, users moved to delve into Google’s ad settings to explicitly opt out of a retargeted ad weren’t a likely conversion to begin with. And since the ads are simply not served in the future (as opposed to blocked outright), the advertiser won’t pay any extra for the increased ad muting.

In addition to letting users mute specific advertising retargeters, Google is expanding its individual ad muting tool, “Mute this Ad.” The feature is now device agnostic, meaning that any ads a user mutes on their phone will likewise stay muted on their desktop, and vice-versa. Additionally, the company plans to expand the tool to more of its ad network.

“Mute this Ad” isn’t just a consumer tool, however. Google acts on its ad muting metrics, promising to remove ads from its network when too many people declare them irrelevant.

“Millions of people use Mute this Ad on a daily basis, and in 2017, we received more than 5 billion pieces of feedback telling us that you mute ads that aren’t relevant,” Krafcik wrote. “We incorporated that feedback by removing 1 million ads from our ad network based on your comments.”

“The momentum we’ve seen with this tool is really encouraging,” he added.

Worldwide Digital Game Sales Reached Nearly $10B In December

Worldwide digital game sales reached nearly $10 billion across console, mobile and PC in December, according to SuperData Research’s monthly digital game sales report highlighting the purchasing trends outside of physical copies sold. Game sales grew 17 percent year-over-year, and revenue for the entire holiday quarter increased 19 percent from 2016.

SuperData Research attributes December growth to an increase in premium PC, console and mobile game purchases.

Nostalgia Wins Big

Call of Duty: WWII had the best quarter of digital unit sales ever for a console title, launching as the number one console game for December.

“This was the right time to return to the series’ original World War II setting,” Carter Rogers, senior analyst at SuperData, told AListDaily. “Gamers were getting tired of each successive entry going further into sci-fi territory, culminating in relatively poor sales (for a Call of Duty game) of Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare. For longtime fans, Call of Duty: WWII was a nostalgic return to form. For many younger gamers, this was their first WWII shooter, since the last major WWII Call of Duty released in 2008.”

Still Stealing The Spotlight

Grand Theft Auto V set another record month in December, SuperData reported. With the release of its “Doomsday Heist” update, GTA V Online broke its previous revenue record back in June 2017, making it the title’s best month to date for its multiplayer segment. Users reached 22.7 million across console and PC in December—the highest player numbers for the game since 2013.

Player Well-Known

Microsoft launched a port of Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG) onto Xbox One consoles in December, and players responded by purchasing over two million digital copies. The game holds the number five spot on PC and number three for digital console sales in December.

PUBG has spawned a popular new genre much in the way that Doom spawned first-person shooters. Inspired and named after the 2000 film Battle Royale, this free-for-all game mode pits massive amounts of players against one another—up to 100, in the case of PUB—and the winner is the last one standing.

Other game publishers are riding the battle royale wave of success, including mobile PUBG clones Knives Out and Rules of Survival—each experiencing successful launches in December.

The biggest competitor to PUBG is currently Epic Games’ Fortnite Battle Royale, which earned $89 million in December. Epic Games’ entry into the Battle Royale arena continues to gain traction with gamers, but at the expense of its massive online battle arena (MOBA) title, Paragon.

Fortnite‘s success will certainly be Paragon‘s loss,” Rogers explained, and also mentioned Epic has moved some staff from Paragon to support Fortnite, as the former made $862,000 in December, while Fortnite earned $89.1 million. “[So] Epic has a good reason for doing this. Paragon has never been able to break into the top tier of MOBAs.”