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Google brings free product listings to its main Google Search results

Earlier this year, Google made a significant change to its Shopping search tab in the U.S. to allow the service to primarily feature free product listings selected by Google’s algorithms, instead of paid ads. Building on that change, Google is today introducing a shift to free product listings in the main Google Search results page in the U.S. Before, it would only showcase sponsored links in its “product knowledge panel.”

This panel appears when a Google user searches for a product that has matching listings on e-commerce website. But until now, those links were paid ads. Google says, starting this summer, these panels will instead feature free listings.

This change will roll out first in the U.S. on mobile, followed later by the desktop.

Shopping ads aren’t going away, however. These ads will appear separately at the top of the page, where they’re marked like Google’s other ad units.

Since its shift to free listings in April of this year, Google says it’s seen an average 70% increase in clicks and 130% increase in impressions across both the free listings and ads on the Shopping tab in the U.S. These metrics were based on an experiment looking at the clicks and impressions after the free listings were introduced, compared with a control group. The control group was a certain percentage of Google traffic that had not been moved to the new, free experience.

Image Credits: Google

Google has positioned its shift to free listings as a way to aid businesses struggling to connect with shoppers due to the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic. But the reality is that this change would have had to arrive at some point — pandemic or not — because of Amazon’s threat to Google’s business.

Amazon over the years has been steadily eating away at Google’s key business: search ad revenue. In a report published last fall, before the pandemic hit, analyst firm eMarketer said Google’s share of search ad market revenue would slip from 73% in 2019 to 71% by 2021, as more internet users started their searches for products directly on Amazon.

Now the coronavirus is pushing more consumers to shop online in even greater numbers, much to Amazon’s advantage. The online retailer reported the pandemic helped drive a 26% increase in its first-quarter 2020 revenue, for example. Meanwhile, a new eMarketer forecast estimates that Google ad revenues will drop for the first time this year, falling 5.3% to $39.58 billion due to pandemic impacts on ad spend — particularly the pullback in travel advertiser spending.

Google needed to change its Search service to return more than just paid listings to better compete. Paid listings alone wouldn’t always feature the best match for the user’s search query nor would they show as complete a selection — a problem Amazon’s vast online superstore doesn’t have. But Google’s shift to free listings also incentivizes advertisers to pay for increased visibility. Now, advertisers will need a way to stand out against a larger and more diverse selection of products.

“For many merchants, connecting with customers in a digital environment is still relatively new territory or a smaller part of their business,” notes Google’s, Bill Ready, President of Commerce. “However, consumer preference for online shopping has increased dramatically, and it’s crucial that we help people find all the best options available and help merchants more easily connect with consumers online.”

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Defense companies announce financial measures to stave off impact of coronavirus

The positioning of Honeywell and QinetiQ as defense prime contractors inherently exposes them to potential budgetary cuts from US and UK Governments. By announcing financial measures in anticipation of a contraction of the global defense market as a result of the coronavirus (COVID-19), the two companies have chosen to pre-empt …

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Reddit takes on Twitter with its first trending ad product

Reddit, the popular discussion site visited by over 430 million people per month, is opening up some of its most valuable screen real estate to advertisers with the launch of its first trending ad product, the Trending Takeover. The new ad unit will allow brands to reach visitors on two of …

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Demand for unmanned surface vehicles driven by non-lethal assignments

A number of benefits relative to manned systems such as their low cost and long endurance are driving demand for unmanned surface vehicles (USVs). Countries are increasing their research and development (R&D) investments and procurements for these vehicles to stay on par with technological developments and to also reduce the risks to human life in operational areas such as mine sweeping and clearance, says GlobalData, a leading data and analytics company. 

Navies and companies that are cooperating with universities and research and development centers have been developing and experimenting with various types of USVs for many years, and have transitioned some of these efforts into procurement/manufacture programs. Even so, there are still many USV programs under development and at various technology demonstration levels.

GlobalData’s latest report, ‘The Global Unmanned Surface Vehicles (USV) Report’, highlights that USVs have emerged as a common feature of modern-day naval structures. Moreover, as they are deployed for more sophisticated naval missions, the degree of human control over them is progressively decreasing.

The primary missions of these USVs involve non-lethal assignments, such as intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR), and mine countermeasures (MCM). Small vehicles in particular, such as very small USVs, small USVs and gliders are better suited to single type missions such as survey and ISR missions.

Captain Nurettin Sevi, Defense Analyst at GlobalData, comments: “Due to the ever-increasing applications and up-and-coming potential of unmanned maritime vehicles, many big defense industry companies continue to acquire proven firms such as Huntington Ingalls Industries’ Hydroid, L3 Technologies’ ASV Global and Sonardyne International’s 2G Robotics acquisitions. Moreover, unmanned maritime vehicles increase the opportunities for cooperation among companies in the fields of design, payload, ship or vehicle construction, autonomy and control systems.”

USVs can be equipped with a wide range of payloads such as navigation, sensors, communication, weapon and unmanned vehicles depending on their payload capacities. USV weapon payloads vary greatly depending on the mission and platform design. For instance, the Protector AT/FP is designed as a response to emerging threats against maritime assets and ever-increasing surface threat challenges. This USV can be integrated with the MINI-TYPHOON Stabilized Remote Control Weapon System (RCWS). In addition, an enhanced remotely-controlled water cannon system for non-lethal and fire-fighting capabilities can be installed to ensure the USV’s highly independent and remotely-controlled multi-purpose implementation.

Sevi concludes: “USV’s potential endurance and payload capacity is one of its most valuable attributes, giving it a significant advantage over comparably sized manned platforms, as well as UUVs and UAVs. It can collect data both above and below the waterline and accommodate UUVs and UAVs like a mother platform.”

Source: GlobalData

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Netflix is still saying ‘no’ to ads

Despite ongoing speculation and investor pressure, Netflix is still declining to adopt an advertising-based business model as a means to boost its revenue, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings confirmed on Tuesday. The company on its Q4 earnings call again shot down the idea of an ad-supported option, with Hastings explaining there’s no “easy money” in an online advertising business that has to compete with the likes of Google, Amazon, and Facebook.

Explained the exec, “Google and Facebook and Amazon are tremendously powerful at online advertising because they’re integrating so much data from so many sources. There’s a business cost to that, but that makes the advertising more targeted and effective. So I think those three are going to get most of the online advertising business,” Hastings said.

To grow a $5 billion to $10 billion advertising business, you’d need to “rip that away” from the existing providers, he continued. And stealing online advertising business from Amazon, Google, and Facebook is “quite challenging,” Hastings added, saying “there’s not easy money there.”

“We’ve got a much simpler business model, which is just focused on streaming and customer pleasure,” he said.

The CEO also noted that Netflix’s strategic decision to not enter the ad business has its upsides, in terms of the controversies that surround companies that collect personal data on their users. To compete, Netflix would have to track more data on its subscribers, including things like their location — that’s not something it’s interested in doing, he said, calling it “exploiting users.”

“We don’t collect anything. We’re really focused on just making our members happy,” Hastings stated.

That’s not exactly true, of course. Netflix does track viewership data in order to make determinations about which of its original programs should be renewed and which should be canceled. It also looks at overall viewing trends to make decisions about what new programs to greenlight or develop. And it tracks users’ own interactions with its service in order to personalize the Netflix home screen to show users more of what they like.

The company also this quarter introduced a new viewership metric — “chose to watch,” which counts the number of people who deliberately watched a show or movie for at least two minutes. That’s far longer than Facebook or Google’s YouTube, but isn’t a great way to tell how many people are watching a show to completion, as on TV.

However, none of this viewership tracking is on the scale of big tech’s data collection practices, which is what Hastings meant by his comment.

“We think with our model that we’ll actually get to larger revenue, larger profits, larger market cap because we don’t have the exposure to something that we’re strategically disadvantaged at  — which is online advertising against those big three,” he said.

This isn’t the first time Netflix’s CEO has had to repeat the company’s stance on being an ad-free business. In Q2 2019, Netflix reminded investors in its shareholder letter that its lack of advertising is part of its overall brand proposition.

“When you read speculation that we are moving into selling advertising be confident that this is false,” the letter said.

Analysts have estimated Netflix could make over a billion more per year by introducing an ad-supported tier to its service.

To some extent, the increased push for Netflix to adopt ads has to do with the changes to the overall streaming landscape.

Netflix today is facing new competition from two major streaming services, Disney+ and Apple+ — both of which have subsidized their launch with free promotions in order to gain viewership. In the next few months, Netflix will have to take on several others, including mobile streaming service Quibi, WarnerMedia’s HBO Max, and NBCU’s Peacock. The latter features a multi-tiered business model, including a free service for pay-TV subscribers, an ad-free premium tier, and one that’s ad-supported.

The service was introduced to investors last week where it was well-received.

Other TV streaming services also rely on ads for portions of their revenue, including Hulu and CBS All Access. Meanwhile, a number of ad-supported services are also emerging, like Roku’s The Roku Channel, Amazon’s IMDb TV, TUBI, Viacom’s Pluto TV, and others.

Netflix’s decision to keep itself ad-free is likely welcome news for its subscriber base, however, who see the lack of ads as being a key selling point.

Source: TechCrunch

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Hulu to debut new ad formats in 2020 focused on letting users make choices, transact with advertisers

Hulu is preparing to roll out new forms of advertising this year — one which will allow viewers to have more say in the ads that plays, and another that lets the viewer engage with the brand in question, either by getting information sent directly to their mobile phone or by using QR codes. In later months, Hulu is also considering digital product insertion to enhance the ad opportunities within its own original programming.

The new ad formats are the latest to join an already innovative lineup of ad experiences for Hulu, where the company hasn’t been hesitant about trying out new ideas to make ads more user-friendly. For example, Hulu last year introduced pause ads that pop up only when viewers take a break from streaming. And last month, it rolled out new ‘binge watch ads‘ that allow brands to sponsor ad-free episodes when Hulu detects that a viewer is binge-watching their way through a series.

The goal with these ad experiences is to find a way to make advertising less disruptive to the viewer. In 2020, Hulu is also focused on making its ads more engaging.

In the case of the forthcoming choice-based ads — a sort of ‘choose-your-own-adventure’ for advertising — viewers will be able to select which ads from a brand they want to see. For example, users could choose to see ads about ski vacations from a travel company’s ad, or they could watch an ad about beach getaways. They could even pick which option they wanted with their remote.

In addition, Hulu is planning to roll out new transactional ads to help viewers engage with brands of interest. While 80% of viewing today takes place on the TV screen, most people don’t want to transact on the big screen — they’d rather use a computer or a mobile device. In this case, if the viewer wants more information from the advertiser, Hulu will be able to push that to their phone. This could be done by using the mobile phone number or email attached to a Hulu user’s account (given permission, of course), or viewers could hold up their phone to scan a QR code on the ad itself to take more immediate action.

The information the advertiser shares could include a link that takes the viewer right to a website — like a retailer’s shopping site, for example.

“This goes back to that viewer-first advertising promise: less disruptive, more engaging, and more functional. And it will really allow us to improve both the viewer experience and the advertiser’s ROI,” says Jeremy Helfand, VP and Head of Advertising Platforms at Hulu, in a conversation last week at CES.

The new ad formats will round four main themes Hulu is developing for its advertising experiences — situational, which is based on user behavior, as with pause and binge ads; choice-based, which allows the viewer to make a selection; transactional, where the viewer engages with the brand; and integrated storytelling, which is focused on integration sponsorships to blend the brand and content into a more seamless experience.

While Hulu has already dipped its toes into integrated storytelling with several ad experiences, the company is now thinking about the next steps for these ads, Helfand notes.

“We do think that there is a future where we’re able to fuse brands into the content, post-production,” he says. That is, Hulu could digitally insert product placements into its own programming.

“We’re excited about what’s coming up with cooking content on Hulu Kitchen. Theoretically, we could take a KitchenAid mixer and put it on the table even though it’s not there,” he adds, referring to Hulu’s plans for new original food series, including shows from Chrissy Teigen, David Chang, and Eater.

The technology to do this sort of digital ad insertion exists, but Hulu doesn’t know if it plans to develop its own in-house or acquire or partner with a company that already works in this space.

“You have to be able to read the metadata underneath the content as well as visually scan the content,” Helfand explains. “We’ve got a lot of content recognition work that’s already going on inside of Hulu which we use for lots of different reasons, not just for advertising. But there’s also a number of third parties — there’s a whole ad technology industry that’s emerging about being about to do things like that — and we’re looking at partners, as well,” he says.

One area that’s not being prioritized are the ad-supported downloads Hulu once promised. Instead of working out how to deliver offline viewing with ads included, Hulu is thinking about other models — like sponsored downloads, perhaps. But its focus for the near-term is on these newer forms of advertising, not on ad-supported downloads.

“We’re always thinking about the viewer experience and how do we deliver the very best viewer experience. And that obsession with the viewer extends to advertising. Consumers have a choice…They have a choice whether they want an ad-free experience or they want an ad-supported experience. And if they choose an ad-supported search experience, we want to make sure that that experience is just as good as an ad-free one,” says Helfand.

Source: TechCrunch