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Who Wins and Who Loses in YouTube's Falling Out With Brands

By Published on .

YouTube's ad troubles, with brands freezing spending, could cost it $750 million, according to one estimate.
YouTube's ad troubles, with brands freezing spending, could cost it $750 million, according to one estimate. Credit: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

There are some in the ad industry who are likely a little gleeful about YouTube's current state. For them, it's rewarding to see such a dominant player fall. In some cases, the critics even benefit.

That's just part of the YouTube pile-on ever since major advertisers started freezing their spending on the video site because brands' ads were seen alongside objectionable videos.

The backlash has gotten so great that some have predicted the ad freeze from major brands could cost YouTube $750 million. With that amount of money at stake there are going to be some winners and losers, and here they are:

WINNERS

Old-fashioned publishers

These are the classic media players who started losing their lunch the second Google started owning the internet. One could imagine publishers grinning ear to ear, thinking, "Told ya so. Quality content isn't so easy."

"There could be a flight to quality," said Jason Kint, CEO of Digital Content Next, a trade group that supports publishers. "If it doesn't happen now, then I don't know when it will."

Now The New York Times, The Guardian, Condé Nast, Hearst, Gannett and the like can make a convincing case that knowing the content and the audience actually is still important. On a more conspiratorial note, some analysts have even suggested the story of extremist content on YouTube is getting so much attention because old media is eager to cover it.

Streamers

"Sling, Dish and TV networks all benefit," said one ad tech exec speaking on condition of anonymity. "Really anyone selling streaming ads is in a good position."

Heading into the TV upfront season, a diminished YouTube helps everyone else looking to win over advertisers. At the upfronts, Hulu, Roku, TV networks and anyone with a digital video platform will be showing off their highly curated content. These new shows and programming will look pretty good compared to, say, terrorist attack and extremist rant videos for brands looking for safety.

Tech tools

The industry already has been demanding the technology to monitor online ads to fight fake traffic and viewability issues. Brands have called for digital platforms like Facebook and Google to clean up the media supply chain and to be more transparent with data. The brand safety issue on YouTube is yet another bit of leverage to force more cooperation.

Independent third parties like Integral Ad Science, Double Verify, Moat and others will find more brands at their doorsteps looking for ways to ensure their ads appear near quality content.

The agency

One of the most important roles for agencies was helping brands make sure their ads didn't show up in the wrong place -- that ads ran where they said they'd run on TV and in print. Well, now that service is valuable again.

"There's an opportunity for agencies here," Mr. Kint said.

LOSERS

Net neutrality

Net neutrality, which Google supported in previous battles, prevents internet service providers such as Comcast and AT&T from charging the biggest users of bandwidth (such as YouTube) anything to offset the costs they incur. When the Trump administration moves to undo net neutrality, as many anticipate, Google's ability to defend it in idealistic terms could be undermined by all the talk about serving ads on terrorist video.

Programmatic

It took a long time for programmatic to stop being a dirty word. Programmatic advertising was once considered the least controlled, lowest quality ad inventory at the lowest price. In part, Google helped change that image with more selective programmatic advertising.

"This moratorium could hit open exchanges," said Eric Franchi, co-founder of Undertone, the digital ad company bought by Perion. "Brands could start to pull back from blind, untargeted buying without transparency."

YouTubers

There is a whole community of YouTubers that is about to be impacted by changes coming to YouTube that could hurt their earnings. YouTube has said that part of its solution is to implement stricter community standards, and that could mean more bannings and ad blocking from their videos.

YouTube is trying to walk a line between allowing a free exchange of ideas on the site while also giving advertisers the ability to choose where their ads appear. However, it could be quicker to cut a channel at the least offense now that brands are watching closely.

Advertisers still on YouTube

OK, this was a tough call. On one hand, there could be some cheap media to buy on YouTube while other brands are retrenching. How bad could it be, really, to keep ads going?

Well, YouTube is still implementing its fixes, so ads can still appear near undesirable content. Brands like Casper mattress company basically have the run of the site. That's fine, but YouTube's brand mix does seem less diverse, and nobody needs to see the same ad 100 times.

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