Digital boss favours women-centric publishing to circumnavigate adblocking

By Alison Lowe | 19 November 2015
Brian Fitzgerald, co-founder and president, Evolve Media.

An international digital media mogul says his company will be “consciously leaning in” towards women-centric websites and content going forward in light of women's lesser tendency to adblock.

Evolve Media co-founder and president, Brian Fitzgerald, made these comments in an interview with AdNews as the company announced the acquisition of two Australian sites, calling the investments a symptom of pressures that he predicted will trigger further consolidation in the Australian online media landscape.

A privately-owned US-based digital media company, Evolve Media owns popular “enthusiast” sites including Crave Onlne, Gorilla Nation, TotallyHer, and Music Feeds. It represents Rotten Tomatoes, Daily Motion, Funny or Die, College Humor, and Wikia, and employs 400 people in 22 offices across seven countries.

This week Evolve announced the acquisition of two Australian digital media companies, Urban Geek, an online publisher, and Volt, a video and technology company. It also went live with a local edit version of its Webby Award winning Momtastic site – appropriately renamed Mumtastic in this market.

Fitzgerald said the decision to launch Mumtastic came after Evolve saw a growing number of Australians visiting its US site. Bronwyn Mandile, who previously freelanced with NewsLifeMedia’s Kidspot.com.au, has come onboard as local editor.

He also admitted that adblocking statistics arising from its US-based sites are causing the company to broadly focus ever more on female-focused digital media sites, versus male.

“We're not localising Mumtastic from an adblock perspective but I'll be honest in saying that as a business we have both a male and a female publishing side and we tend to want to favour the female side because yes, the adblock rates seen, at least in the US, tend to be one third to one fifth the rate of adblocking among men.”

Globally, about 10 to 12% of Evolve's total ad inventory is currently blocked on its female-focused sites, such as TotallyHer, while on its male-oriented sites that rises to as much as 30-55%.

In Australia, the overall adblocking rate that Fitzgerald said he is “hearing in the market” is “significantly down” on this, at 10%. The media boss puts that down to relatively “poor internet infrastructure” in this country and a media market that has traditionally been dominated by just a handful of companies.

Asked why he thinks the rate is lower in Australia than the global average, Fitzgerald said: “If I had to venture a guess, I think it's because the bulk of media is controlled by five big companies and that's given them a lot of leverage in the advertising relationship. So if an advertiser comes along and says I want this big annoying high invasive (ad) unit, the big media companies that set the standard in this market have historically said, 'No, I will not run this type of unit'.

"Secondly, it's difficult in this country to run a large annoying video-based, rich, media-heavy ad because you don't have the connectivity to serve that large file size. So consider yourself lucky you haven't been prostituted the way most international audiences have," he told AdNews.

Commenting on the acquisition of Urban Geek and Volt, Fitzgerald revealed that Evolve Media was approached by both sites about the possibility of buying them out.

“They are friendly competitors and I think they, recognising the challenges that are beset upon everyone in the industry, reached out, and we were more than happy to take the call. The synergy was there, they have a great set of assets and it made a lot of sense for our business.

He described the move as evidence of how “meaty issues” such as adblocking, viewability, and monetising mobile are making it ever more difficult for small digital media companies to operate sustainably. He predicted further consolidation in the Australian digital media marketplace.

“It's already happening at a fevered pace internationally. I think our acquisition of these two businesses speaks to the consolidation that's happening and will continue to happen throughout the media and the digital media especially. It's an inhospitable global marketplace to operate in profitably, especially at subscale.”

For Evolve Media, the Australian acquisitions bring further scale to to the company's operations in this market and take its local staff to 44, a figure which has grown by 10-20% per year since 2009.

“Whether it's sports, music, gaming, parenting, this really allows us to augment our scale in both display and video advertising against those separate and discreet enthusiast audiences.”

Fitzgerald is bullish about the Australian media market, telling AdNews: “We love this marketplace. I think there's a tremendous opportunity.”

Pointing to its' "oligopolistic" nature, Fitzgerald said that after years of their media choices being dominated by “four or five companies” Australians are now keen to try out new content online.

“Previously Australian's access points have been controlled. Now with the internet the world is at their fingertips and they are increasingly gravitating in droves towards premium English language content produced both within and outside of Australia.”

“It creates an opportunity for us to build our local brands and aggregate all of these local as well as international enthusiast properties that have a tremendous Australian following. Advertisers like that because we can bring them a diversity of audiences and a more diverse set of solutions and opportunities.”

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