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TODD SMITH'S SPIN CYCLE: Facebook as media mogul? Hosting of Times, Buzzfeed News just around corner

Todd Smith

Todd Smith

Once, the idea that a reader would find a New York Times story without ever picking up a newspaper might have seemed preposterous. Now, Times stories are everywhere, and the news organization has not only the paper but also a bustling website and a range of apps.

In six months, though, you might read a story from the paper of record without ever arriving at a Times-branded service. The New York Times is considering publishing some of its stories directly to Facebook, according to a story in the paper recently. These stories would look somewhat like a normal news story in a user’s news feed, but instead of sending users to NYTimes.com servers, they’d send users to Facebook’s own.

There are a lot of questions still about the initiative, which BuzzFeed and National Geographic may also join. We still don’t know how (or even if) Facebook will share revenue with its partners, and how those deals could change in the future. We also don’t know exactly what this new kind of publishing – or even the stories themselves – will look like.

In a week, The Washington Post’s social reader app went from having almost zero users to having more than 4 million.

But it isn’t unexpected. The news of a deal in the works has been public to some degree since October of last year, when the late Times reporter David Carr wrote that the arrangement would turn media companies into “serfs in a kingdom that Facebook owns.” And Facebook has exerted enormous influence on online journalism since at least August 2013, when it first tinkered with the algorithm that controls its news feed to start sending scores of new users to news sites.

Now, news sites rely on the Big Blue. Vox gets 40 percent of its traffic from the site.

There are a number of scary prospects for media companies. Although serving content through Facebook would make stories load a little faster for users – which, at scale, could earn the social network millions – it also reduces news organization’s independence. The deluge of attention from Facebook is something that news organizations have little negotiating power against: either they will welcome it and will invest in it, or they’ll miss out.

For now, Facebook is asking news organizations to publish directly to the site because it will increase user engagement. One fewer second spent waiting for an article to load is one more second Facebook could be showing you ads – and that translates, at scale, to an incredible regained revenue opportunity.

But think of how consequential those tiny details are: even a 10th-of-a-second speed improvement means huge gains for Facebook. So now Facebook has hired staff and invested time and committed to this enormous undertaking all to get millions of those milliseconds back. The company will work very hard to satisfy the altar of engagement – in fact, it’s a business imperative that it always work harder. But history shows just how fickle, and how unpredictable, that idol can be.

Google Fiber Game-Changer: Real Measurement of TV Ad Views

Interested in how many people saw your ad on TV? Want dynamic insertion? The answer has long been subjective at best.  But now it’s possible thanks to Google Fiber.

Google will be rolling out a TV ad-tracking system similar to the technology used to measure ad views online, according to Adweek, giving the company a more accurate idea of how many people are watching the ad inventory it sells through Google Fiber in Kansas City, than traditional panel measurement ever could.

This is a big deal: TV measurement has been changing rapidly in the past few years, but the traditional gross ratings point, which relies on a panel of Nielsen viewers small enough to create problems for networks without multimillion-viewer bases, is still the industry standard. Relatively few households have Nielsen boxes; every household with Google Fiber, obviously, has a Google Fiber box. And that box can put the ad in whenever it’s timely, and tell the client about it.

“Fiber TV ads will be digitally delivered in real time and can be matched based on geography, the type of program being shown (sports, news, etc.), or viewing history,” the company explains in a blog post.

“Like digital ads, advertisers will only pay for ads that have been shown, and can limit the number of times an ad is shown to a given TV. We’re excited to see how this test progresses, and we’re looking forward to hearing from local businesses and viewers along the way.”

Viewers can opt out of being shown ads based on their viewing history, the company says.

The ads will show during existing ad breaks in much the same way that local buyers like car dealerships or restaurants can buy airtime from a national cable provider in a specific market (Time Warner Cable has specific advertising time reserved in Cincinnati for people who just want to advertise there, for example). But these ads will show on both live TV and DVRed programs – in other words, if you save Sunday’s Walking Dead until Wednesday, you might get ads for a sale at the Oak Park Mall that starts on Thursday.

Advertisers will pay based on the number of times the ad was shown – the people who watched aren’t fed back into a database and matched up by data and purchaser info. But direct, one-to-one measurement of viewers is still a giant step forward on television.

Sugar-Coated Mic | Hostess Brand Is Back

Hostess Brands is back! Just two years after the iconic maker of snack cakes including Twinkies and Donettes was formed after a painful corporate restructuring – ratings agency Standard & Poor’s upgraded the Kansas City, Mo.-based corporate rating to “B” from “B-.” The reason? The company is doing better than expected following its comeback. If you remember, during the company’s woes prior to restructuring, Twinkies became an endangered species in grocery stores.

Smart moves by the new management team are paying off, S&P says. “The company is now focused on growing its sales base through new products and continued expansion into channels where it historically has not maintained a significant presence, such as dollar stores and vending. Since the re-launch of the business in July 2013, the company has re-established its brands and regained good market share,” S&P’s report says.

That’s not to say it’s all Twinkies and Ding Dongs for Hostess. A “B” rating is still considered “speculative grade.”

But the fact the company is back – along with the Twinkie cake – is a big win for Hostess where survival was in question years ago.

Now that’s sweet news you can Ho Ho about – and takes a sugarcoated mic!

Each week, The Spin Cycle will bestow a Golden Mic Award to the person, group or company in the court of public opinion that best exemplifies the tenets of solid PR, marketing and advertising – and those who don’t. Stay tuned – and step-up to the mic! And remember … Amplify Your Brand!

» Todd Smith is president and chief communications officer of Deane, Smith & Partners, a full-service branding, PR, marketing and advertising firm with offices in Jackson. The firm — based in Nashville, Tenn. — is also affiliated with Mad Genius. Contact him at todd@deanesmithpartners.com, and follow him @spinsurgeon.

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