Starting off the back of Web 2.0 and continuing with the internet’s rise to dominance, the media landscape has become increasingly fragmented over the past two decades. We know this, but knowing it doesn’t make it any easier for marketers and agencies to keep ahead of this rapidly evolving landscape and ensure they deliver the optimal outcome for their business or client. While fractures in the media landscape have been a worldwide issue, in Australia we’ve seen a number of major mergers and consolidation since media ownership laws changed in 2017. Five years on, are we seeing an end to fragmentation, or is it heading in a different direction?
According to a research paper published by the Parliament of Australia, the law change was part of a broader debate “connected to changes in the media and broadcasting sectors, including the rise of multinational platform service providers, such as Netflix and Facebook, and new forms of media consumption as audience viewing and reading habits rapidly alter”.
Essentially the aim of the change was to ensure our media laws, many written in the pre-internet era, did not restrict Australian media companies from staying competitive in an environment where multinational organisations were serving content – and advertising – to an audience with increasingly sophisticated desires and a growing appetite.
As to whether Australian companies feel the playing field has been levelled, that’s a matter for another day. The fact of the matter is the long tail of media is still growing exponentially, and that means the media that individuals consume is still getting more fragmented.
What is often overlooked in fragmentation, with a large focus on exciting technological developments and intriguing consumer behaviour, is the role of shifts and trends in advertising. Ad networks and programmatic trading have made it possible for the long tail of content to generate a commercial return. This becomes self-perpetuating: more and more content is produced to attract audiences and the commercial return they bring.
Think about the abundance of parenting blogs, recipe receptacles, and city-specific “stuff to do with kids” websites. Often run by a single person, or a tiny team at best, these sites have proliferated not because the creators have a burning desire to pour hours of their life into creating and updating them, but because there is money to be made. Ad funding makes its way into these publishers’ pockets through ad networks or programmatic trading desks and the content continues. Seeing that commercial return likely inspires copycats to try something similar, and the cycle continues.
Where once, not so long ago, the prospect of finding the right content for “me” among the billion or more websites on the internet was daunting, overwhelming and, frankly, borderline impossible, consumers are now simplifying their experience by accessing content from multiple sources through an aggregator.
Apple is a prime example, having become a trusted name in news through its Apple News app. Despite the fact that the breaking story you’re reading on your phone may have been curated in Cupertino, it’s likely to have been reported by a more “traditional” source.
The same goes for the company’s TV offering: while they are growing their slate of original programming, a big part of Apple TV’s appeal is the way it helps consumers find some sort of order amid the chaos of their growing list of content subscriptions and sign-ins.
Where these aggregators can minimise the overwhelm, they can increase the sources of information an individual is exposed to, as algorithms start to influence and dictate the content one consumes.
As aggregators become more and more prevalent and increase their user base, the result will be a perceived reduction in content overwhelm – perceived being the key word. The overwhelming level of available content will still be there, but consumers on aggregators just won’t get the content-consumption anxiety.
Similarly, aggregators present the opportunity for advertisers to reach a segment of consumers through a single touchpoint, which will slow – perhaps even slightly reverse – the fragmentation of advertising spend.
A combination of consumer expectation – shaped by things like aggregators – and legislation’s long, slow attempts to catch the bolted horse could potentially reduce the fragmentation of advertiser spend, or at least curb it.
Data privacy considerations and the demise of third-party cookies could see advertisers consolidating digital spend with publishers and networks that have really rich data to help target and segment their audience.
We might see the industry come full circle and return to direct buying as the dominant trading model of digital display.
Similarly, with Statista Research finding ad fraud accounted for $US81 billion in losses in 2022 – a number forecast to rise to a staggering $US100 billion this year – it’s no surprise that there is increased awareness and focus on fraudulent activity.
This could come at a cost to the long tail of digital content publishers, as advertisers restrict their spend to trusted sources and premium environments, in addition to using other verification tools to help minimise ad fraud, which can occur even in those trusted environments.
At the end of the day, we’ve come too far to go back to “the way things were” in any real sense. But when trust comes at a premium, robust datasets will be essential for any publisher, big or small, looking to prove they are a worthwhile advertising partner.
When navigating this highly fragmented landscape to extract the most effective outcomes for their business or their client’s business, marketers and agencies need to focus harder on what platform, publisher, method of buying is going to deliver the most impactful and cost-effective outcome – and, ideally, minimise wastage.
For example, leveraging programmatic buying to reach your audience wherever they might be consuming content might not necessarily yield the best results in terms of true business impact. Paying a premium to advertise in a single, highly trusted, premium content environment may limit your potential reach slightly, but it could actually drive stronger, more effective outcomes for your business. It’s worth taking a moment to think about how fragmented your media plan has become and experiment to find out what approach is really going to yield the greatest impact.
Claire Fenner is National CEO, Atomic 212°