The Consumer Electronics Show — commonly referred to as CES — was a sight to see. For a first-timer like myself, it was a bit overwhelming. For the 50th anniversary of the show, nearly 200,000 visitors descended upon Las Vegas to take in the sights and sounds of everything tech. CES covered nearly 2.47 million net square feet of space and spans the entire city.

I noticed five key themes that kept up popping up throughout the show:

Voice (Controls)

Voice and voice control is taking over the way we live in ways we can’t even imagine. Many folks are familiar with Amazon Alexa – an intelligent personal assistant that can set up calendar appointments, play music, provide weather and more. Various reports estimated that there were 700–1,100 Alexa-controllable products at the show. Product were either being controlled by Alexa or they were creating Alexa like products.

Lots of products are moving to voice-activation – including this voice-activated garbage can from Simple Human. For a mere $180, your garbage can will respond to the command: “open sesame.”

The reason so many products are now voice activated is that Microsoft created software that recognizes speech on the same level as humans. Voice recognition has scaled in leaps in bounds over the last few years alone.

Artificial Intelligence

AI is another hot topic and coincides with voice recognition. There have been significant advancements in technology; previously, a computer was able to take in information, understand it and provide an answer. If you asked, “What steak restaurant do you recommend locally?” the computer could provide you with a list of steak restaurants nearby. Presently, the systems are smart enough to point out specifics, like the fact that Morton’s is the best rated restaurant, it’s only 3.5 miles away, you can make a reservation at 7:00 and they recommend you have the filet instead of the strip steak based upon reviews. AI is truly allowing computers to act as humans in these scenarios.

Internet of Things (IoT)

Experts estimate that by 2020, IoT will consist of 50 Billion objects. IoT commonly comes in the form of connected devices or smart devices. Sensors are collecting hundreds of points of data to make “smart” decisions. At CES, I saw companies like Whirlpool monitoring and adjusting the temperature of a refrigerator, making sure the strawberries didn’t spoil. In addition, wearable companies are measuring every step you take, every change in blood pressure, and providing recommendations as to what exercises to do and what specific foods to eat. Companies are using these sensors to collect every single point of data.

Data

Data is ubiquitous and everywhere. It is growing exponentially and all these new devices are collecting millions upon millions of data points every second. Every day, we create 2.5 quintillion bytes of data — so much so that 90 percent of the data in the world today has been created in the last two years alone. Much of the tech created (and being worked on) requires sifting through massive amounts of data. It will be our job to process and understand the data.

Virtual Reality / Augmented Reality

You couldn’t go more than 100 ft. at CES without seeing someone wearing crazy headsets. These VR headsets allow you to immerse yourself in any environment. They give users a full 360 degree view. The headsets can make you feel like you are riding a roller coaster or swimming underwater with a school of fish. Augmented reality is the blending of virtual reality with real life. Virtual reality is more prevalent in gaming, however there are more avenues being created, like journalism. Instead of writing about a battle in Iraq, how about creating an immersive environment where it feels like you are part of the battle – feeling and understanding what it takes to survive.

I also noticed the insane amount of marketing and advertising that is committed to the show. Brands spend countless dollars and resources to market their products and make their presence known. Panasonic, the 100-year Japanese organization, had a nearly 17,000 sq. ft. booth broken down into three zones. Behemoths like Samsung, Sony and Intel also had equally impressive booths with hundreds of folks explaining and talking about their products. Auto manufacturers were showcasing their latest, fastest and smartest cars. Overall, CES is a marketer’s dream.

In lock-step with the brands are the agencies that represent them. They’re trying to understand all the latest technology offerings as well as what each of their competitors is doing. They need to be fully immersed in how to best market these products. Beyond tech – there is an abundance of digital media folks that fully represent the numerous participants of the LUMAscape ecosystem.

All the major themes discussed above are important because they dovetail within the marketing and advertising industries. For Intermarkets, CES was a chance to understand what brands and marketers are doing and how we as an organization can facilitate the conversation further. In addition to checking out some of the futuristic gadgets, we were endlessly networking and meeting with many of our current partners including OpenX, Index Exchange, Rubicon, Inform, Outbrain, Criteo, Cadreon, Google, Facebook and more.

‘til 2018…

I recently had the opportunity to attend the ClickZ conference in New York. The conference was held in the Marriott Marquis in the heart of Times Square. It was a great opportunity to hear what fellow digital marketers were working on; network and better understand how these marketers were pushing the digital economy forward. In total, there were probably close to 1,000 attendees across all walks of marketing, as the conference focused on these four broad tracks: Search & Acquire, Engage & Convert, Retain & Grow, and Digital Transformation.

During my two days, I had a chance to listen to a number of speakers – here are two of my favorites.

John Roberts, SVP at About.com

An astro-physicist by trade, John heads up About.com’s data science and audience development teams.   His team focuses on providing insights and revealing interesting information about About.com visitors, their usage and their interactions with the site. Not only do they track day-to-day performance, but they also look at trends across months and years. They have a systematic approach of using (visual) data and information to help guide decision making. They have reduced the cost of asking questions. This sounds weird – but now that things are more open – it’s easier to ask questions, get answers to help chart decision making. Additionally, there are a lot more people asking thoughtful questions and really digging into the metrics.

Here at Intermarkets, we’ve been working on creating different visual dashboards to look at trends across our publishers and properties. We’ve also allowed our employees greater access to data and data analytics. People are genuinely interested in tracking metrics and want to know how certain decisions impact pageviews, uniques, or revenues.

Peter McGuinnnes, CMO of Chobani

Greek yogurt maker Chobani, was founded 10 years ago and has had a meteoric rise since first launching in 2007. Back in 2007, Greek Yogurt accounted for less than 1% of all yogurt sales, today Greek yogurt accounts for more than 50% of all yogurt consumption in the US. Much of the category growth can be attributed to Chobani.

The focus of the speech wasn’t about Greek Yogurt – but how Chobani continues to be genuine, but bold in everything they do. The company challenged conventional wisdom when it was formed – investing and believing in a product that was different, but authentic in its DNA.

Much like the CEO’s initial approach in starting the business, Peter McGuiness went on to say this about Chobani’s marketing strategy. “If you have something to say, say it. Don’t mince words. Don’t market in the middle; the middle is lame. Consumers don’t appreciate it. It’s not going to cut through, it’s not going to be relevant and it’s not going to resonant.”

For us here at Intermarkets, the company continues to be authentic in our approach in dealing with advertisers, key partners, and vendors. Back in 2012, Intermarkets made a bold bet on programmatic advertising and haven’t looked back. The company had to make a number of tough strategic decisions, looking at personnel, investments and which partners to work with. Just in a few years, the marketplace has completely flipped on its head and now Intermarkets is seen as one of the leaders in the programmatic space. This strategic bet has enabled Intermarkets to have some of its most successful quarters as advertisers and buyers are getting better access to our premium audiences.

Overall, the conference was a success – a chance to hear from a number of great speakers, network with industry peers, and finally get a chance to test out a pair of virtual reality headsets!

Instant Articles present new opportunities and challenges for publishers

Facebook Instant Articles
Instant Articles are a fast and beautiful way for readers to access content directly from their Facebook Newsfeed.

Debuting in May of 2015, Facebook Instant Articles are nearing their first birthday, and in that time marketers and large publishers have had a chance to experiment with publishing full articles directly to the newsfeed without redirecting users to an external site.

When the project was first proposed to publishers, one of the major advantages was that hosting the content on Facebook’s servers dramatically reduced load times. As the name implies, Instant Articles found articles loading nearly instantly within the app.  External links took 5-10 seconds by the time the browser would launch and the page could load. The purported benefit was that users would click on an article more readily as they could more immediately determine if the content was of interest. The goal for many publishers is for pages to launch in under two seconds.

In a move that surprised many, the terms of these partnerships were surprisingly favorable for publishers, allowing them to sell and embed their own ads and receive 100% of the revenue, or use Facebook’s in-house advertising services, surrendering 30% of the profits in the revenue sharing deal. Facebook also provides advanced reporting metric courtesy of Google Analytics and Adobe Omniture to ensure publishers could continue to monitor performance.

But while the initial impressions seemed mutually beneficial, there are areas where publishers have cause for concern both in the near-term and in the big picture when considering the service’s viability.

Allowing Facebook to become the new “gate keeper”

With great power comes great responsibility and Facebook is increasingly becoming the primary traffic source for many publishers. As this dynamic and the percentage of readers continues to increase, it’s possible that publishers will stand to lose leverage in the relationship if they’re beholden to a channel providing such a large percentage of viewers.

Advertising Limitations

At present, Facebook limits the number of advertisements (two) that publishers can run within an Instant Article, and currently doesn’t allow native ads to run. While the rationale is to boost of the value of the content in the eyes of the reader by preventing content from being over-stuffed with promotional material, it’s an element of control that many publishers and advertisers are finding themselves reluctant to give up.

Traffic Inconsistencies

Since Instant Article content is hosted on Facebook’s servers rather than the publisher’s, it stands to reason that traffic volume may shift from one source to the next when implementing the strategy. But while a reader going from column A to column B is fine, publishers are concerned with the ability for the reader to continue their journey. Since the reader never leaves the app they’re unable to fully explore the publisher’s site without a navigation bar or quality calls to action, no matter how helpful your hyperlinks, effectively limiting the time spent consuming conduct or finding other material.

Many publishers view the service with cautious optimism, but Facebook’s terms of service will be the pivotal point in the success of the program and its publishers. As we’ve seen with video, and then again with live video, Facebook’s newsfeed algorithms are subject to constant changes, so while the current environment is favorable, the company’s history of rapid change is worries some as the next algorithmic iteration may devalue a publisher’s heavy investment in instant articles.

Retaliation from Google or Twitter

To ignore the other titans of the internet is to turn a blind eye to competition. Facebook’s Instant Articles have seen momentum in partner acquisition, but the rollout to users was relatively slow, giving competitors ample time to respond. Google’s own “Accelerated Mobile Pages” (AMP) also dramatically reduces load times on mobile by leveraging simplified HTML code and the search engine’s page caching technique. Twitter seems to be aligning with the search giant and collaborated in the development of AMP, making an attractive alternative for publishers who want viewers to remain within their site’s ecosystem while maintaining total control over advertising.

Instant Articles: Still a fledgling offering

The potential red flags were evident this past March, when some publishers saw traffic decrease 20-25%, with no obvious explanations offered by either party. Like all innovation, Instant Articles are a work in progress. Facebook will continue to refine the offering, but emerging technology is often rough around the edges or even prone to unforeseen threats in the form of bugs, or shifting behavioral changes. The abnormality in March’s traffic might just be a blip on the radar, but some are concerned that it may be indicative of potential broader instability that needs attention.

Ultimately, this battle for viewer attention is far from over, and publishers would always be wise to continue monitoring their individual performance but keep tabs on the industry as a whole to take the market’s pulse and identify trends signaling an opportunity to employ new techniques rather than go with the flow.

Here at Intermarkets, we will be testing out Facebook Instant Articles in the upcoming weeks.  We will be monitoring performance results closely to ensure that our users are getting the best user experience, distribution is consistent, and monetization remains strong.