Archive for the Spotlight Blog Category

The Pre-Roll Fad

We know, old habits die hard. Especially when you can cut the line.

Because they’re used to a world of red-tagged mail and election window pricing for TV, some political folks don’t worry about placing online ads until after Labor Day.

But the Internet changes everything. Online ads can and do sell out as The National Journal’s Shane Goldmacher explains.

Now, he’s talking mostly about one specific kind of ad: Video pre-roll for 2016. And video pre-roll has benefits – it looks like TV so it’s a comfortable transition to online. But it also has limits.

The biggest limit: Many online videos are never seen.

The good folks at Google recently said that 46% of video pre-roll is NOT viewed by a live human. Now, The Google is out to boost ad buys on its YouTube channel so they’ve got a dog in the fight. But they are also the premier ad delivery servicee. Everyone – yup, even us – uses Google’s DoubleClick to serve ads and monitor performance.

This isn’t the first time we’ve heard this.

Last year, the New York Times ran a story saying that some video pre-roll was never seen.

And we can’t say this often enough: Using voter roll or demographic targeting for your pre-roll distribution doesn’t guarantee it will be seen. Regardless of vendor, of matching partners or technology, those pre-roll ad buys run on the same delivery and buying networks that The Times and Google are monitoring.

Team Spot-On takes a different view of this pre-roll fad. It’s a fad, for starters. Too many people are buying the same stuff for the same reason which triples prices immediate before an election – after Labor Day. So a gang of people are bidding against each other, paying top dollar for ads placements that, well, disappear. Like Beanie Babies, it can’t last.

There are alternatives: Rich media placements that have in-banner video or animation; roadblocks that carry a message for 24 hours, fixed on local news pages, above-the-fold ads bought directly from outlets and monitored daily. All are good, sound alternatives to pre-roll. And many are far less expensive.

More importantly, they’re seen.

What’s all this mean? Well, plan ahead – further ahead than you may have thought necessary in previous elections. Even if you want a lot of pre-roll buy early and save money.

We’re always happy to chat more about buying strategies and way to make your campaign dollar go further. Give us a shout.

Television’s Cracked Screen

We admit it. Spot-On is a little hung up on the TV business.

Last year we probably – oh, let’s not mince words, we definitely – spent a little too much time saying that Aero, the now defunct service that put a TV signal on your laptop, was more of a threat than it turned out to be. But our sense about changes in the TV business wasn’t misplaced. Even with Aero out of business, it’s crystal clear that television viewership just isn’t what it used to be.

If you’re in the political ad business, it’s probably worth paying attention to these fights:

– Late last year, TV executives and ad agencies started arguing about getting paid for recorded TV shows. Why? TV people don’t think they’re getting paid enough.

– This year at the big confab held every year in LA by researchers – the folks who set ad rates and look at audience measurement – broadcasters conceded that they’re loosing ground – fast.

– Netflix gets much of the blame for the decline in TV watching. But that’s not the only contributor. 60% of all US households have a recording device. And 60% of the folks with those devices fast-forward through ads. Translation: Less than half the ads on television are seen live.

Speaking of Netfflix, it just reported earnings. There are about 40 million Netflix subscribers in the U.S. There are just about 115 million television households. No, we won’t tell anyone if you go buy the stock. Promise.

For those of you who like what Silicon Valley calls a “deep dive”, here’s a very long piece from the New Yorker about Reed Hasting, CEO of Netflix which has some statistics on television ad buying from late last year. It offers up roughly the same stats: 60% of all television ads aren’t seen. Ever.

Which all adds up to this piece from The Washington Post’s Dan Balz about how political ad placements needs to change.

And by way of background, we are compelled to cite this prescient 2013 column from the late NYTImes media columnist Dave Carr. “More Cracks Undermine the Citadel of TV Profits.” Have a read and see how right he was.

We’ll keep tracking these trends and a few others we’ve, um, spotted. As always, please feel free to hit the “unsubscribe” button below. But if you’re hanging around, feel free to join us in obsessively tracking the TV business (and other things) on Twitter. Or you can hang with us on Facebook, too.


Braggin’ Rights & A New Site

Team Spot-On has been a little busy these past few weeks.

First, we went off to New Orleans for the annual meeting of the American Association of Political Consultants and watched our clients over at RBI Strategies & Research pick up a 1st place gold AND a 2nd place silver Pollie Award for their campaign to help the Larimer County (CO) Humane Society get a new building.

The LHS campaign – a ballot measure to raise taxes in the county – won by 52% of the vote. This in the white-hot state of Colorado where television time was at a premium. With television far too expensive, RBI decided to put the bulk of the campaign resources in the online outreach. Spot-On supervised the placement of “rich” media take-overs, Facebook placements, video pre-roll and premium placement banner ads to create a winning campaign.

How winning? 96% of the voters came down the ballot to support the LHS measure.

It’s so good, it’s included in the case-study slide show on Spot-On’s brand new spankin’ website. The site’s new but the address is the same. It’s

Usually we end this newsletter with a note saying you can unsubscribe at any time (because you can) but today we’d like to thank AAPC President Art Hackney for his kind and generous comments about our 2015-16 predictions for the political business. If the Pollies are the Oscars, for a few moments there, Spot-On Founder Chris Nolan felt a little bit like Sally Field.

If you heard Art at the Pollies and are a little curious about what he was talking about, go here and have a read. And, of course, feel free to share this with friends and colleagues. You can also hang out with us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter.


Spot-On Ads Predicts…..

A few weeks ago, a well-known trade magazine carried predictions from various political consultants about the future of the business. Spot-On doesn’t like to contradict wiser heads but we did note that the focus for the predictions centered on what we think of as “business as usual” (otherwise known as mail and television) with digital dismissed as “the flavor of the month.”

Well, this is some “month” – it’s at least 10 years old by our calendar – so Spot-On has a few digital-centric predictions to share. These are ours alone and are subject to the usual disclaimers about biases, short-sightedness and smoking your own fumes.

In 2015, Spot-On thinks….

– Streaming media will start to make an obvious and important dent in cable and broadcast’s ability to reach voters. Test out this prediction: Name five streaming services. Didn’t know there were more than five? Here’s USA Today’s somewhat dated list for cord-cutters.

– Online and TV advertising will be paired so online display ads reflect and reinforce the visual richness of television. Best examples? Apple. Apple doesn’t buy box banner ads; they buy targeted TV, high-end print and lots and lots of in-banner video, homepage take-overs and push-downs.

– Voter targeting using IP “address” and cookies will have its zenith as consultants realize it’s not a magic bullet. Nor is it the best use of online advertising. How else to explain the very low win rates for campaigns that relied on voter matching and targeting?

– Mobile will begin to truly dominate. Ads on tablets show fantastic click-through rates. AND there’s no fall-off on weekends as there is with desktop ad placements.

– The rush to buy Facebook and video pre-roll will, like IP and cookie targeting, reach its high point in 2016. Prices for these placements in contested states are doubling and tripling as election day approaches and demand peaks. Consultants who plan around this will fare better.

Want to hear more about any of these predictions,  test our logic or learn more about how Spot-On’s unique approach to online political ad placement can help you win? Give us a shout.


Spot-On NationBuilder

As most of our loyal readers know, Spot-On’s roots are in Silicon Valley. We hang with techies – and always have.

So we’re pleased to announce today an affiliate agreement with NationBuilder – the world’s first community organizing system – to make our premium online ad placement service accessible to more campaigns.

Starting today, you can access Spot-On’s online advertising service with the NationBuilder platform. Anyone with a nation will have speedy access to Spot-On’s services. So, if you’re already part of the NationBuilder community, pop on over to Spot-On’s page and tell us what you need.

Spot-On will help your campaign buy premium position ads, pre-roll and mobile on known and trusted websites – the outlets relied on most frequently by voters and community leaders.

For Spot-On, this agreement means deeper reach into the political market. So you may be hearing our name a lot more often as we broaden our ability to help campaigns and advocacy efforts place ads on local news outlets.

This is one of several agreements that Spot-On is working on. We’ll have more news in the weeks to come.

Or, as they used to say on that thing we once called a “television,” stay tuned.

Privacy and Politics


It’s a hot-button political issue with voters which means anyone running a voter outreach campaign with a website – and who isn’t? – needs to know about changes and potential changes in the law.

First up, the state of California which on Jan. 1, 2014 started requiring websites to tell visitors how they handled  requests by consumers not to be tracked. Sounds like something for Amazon to worry about right?


If your online ad vendors retarget – send ads to folks who have visited your site – if they drop cookies – collect information about visitors for ad placements or if you plan to do any of these things, the law says you have to tell folks you’re doing it and how they can opt out.

As a result, you’ve almost certainly noticed that some website you’re visiting have added little “about cookies” (or similar information notices) to their sites. They’re complying with existing law and- smartly – they’re looking ahead to changes in federal law.

All the news about listening to phone calls, collecting metadata, following Internet traffic between large companies like Yahoo, Amazon, Google and eBay has consumers – those would be voters every November – nervous. Congress, too.

Consumers can see re-targeting when they surf the web. Collection of metadata? Eh. Invisible for the most part. That’s why the Direct Marketing Association got a little hot under the collar at some sections of Obama’s speech. They see what’s coming.

President Obama’s indication that he will revisit certain aspects of the laws governing how and what information the government can collect is creating an interesting convergence. It’s hard for many people to see the difference between government metadata collection, ad re-targeting and Target letting hackers get their credit card information. The political implications are starting to pile up.

A number of pieces of consumer protection legislation are lingering in Congress. It’s not hard to see how they’re merged in to national security bills to create a new set of online rules for everyone to follow. And yeah, this can certainly happen by 2016.

Bottom line: It’s probably not a bad idea to anticipate that cookie-matching technology, much loved for its supposed ability to find specific kinds of voters, is not long for the online world as it’s currently deployed. Retargeting is headed to the same fate.

Smart campaigns will already have privacy notices on their website. And farsighted consultants and vendors aren’t counting on quick-and-easy online tracking for too much longer. More questions? Spot-On can offer you alternatives that are safe, inexpensive and reliable. Give us a shout.

Aereo: You Need to Know

Spot-On has written a lot about Aereo, the Internet-enabled TV viewing service but we’re pretty sure that some of our readers are still in the dark about the importance of the company is having on the TV advertising landscape.

So here’s an analogy: Aereo is like Napster – a new service that’s changing how consumers watch TV. Its very existences makes television broadcaster livid.

The folks at Aereo would almost certainly say they’re more like iTunes – a service that adapts to the new online reality. Consumers aren’t watching TV the way they used to. They’re watching what they want, when they want, how they want. And to hell with any schedule. Or even a big screen.

Regardless of your analogy – and we like Napster ’cause of all the lawsuits involved – Aereo is worth watching. Here’s a look at why.

Main reason:  TV broadcasters are worried. They’ve asked the Supreme Court to shut Aereo down. That’s probably not going to happen. But the broadcaster are making point, telling Aereo they’re ready to do battle inside the Beltway.

That’s because they’re not getting any traction with the lower courts. And because they see Aereo cutting into their main source of revenue: advertising.

There’s only one little problem with the broadcaster’s strategy. It assumes they have the power over lawmakers that they’ve enjoyed since the Federal Communications Commission started handing out licenses and someone got the bright idea to run political advertising. Not so fast, we say.

Consider: 30% of younger persons don’t bother with a TV set. (There’s some other interesting data about upper-income well-educated households – i.e., swing voters – in that report as well). What’s that mean? It means Aereo – moving as fast as it can to grow the business – may have more traction with voters than with lawmakers.

That means any decision to outlaw the services is going to run into the same buzz saw that Hollywood ran into when it tried to get Congress to pass stronger anti-piracy laws.  And it is clearly Aereo’s strategy to have enough customers so that when there’s Congressional action, plenty of customers – voters – will chime in with their opinions. It may not have the same ring as “I Want My MTV” but the idea’s no different.

Here’s another interesting point.  Deep down in this story, a TV network exec conceded that only 40% of all shows are watched live. So a time-sensitive placement like a political ad isn’t reaching as many people as it once did.

What’s this all mean for political campaigns? Don’t bet on broadcast. And look at alternatives to television ads.

Really? Esquire? Ran a Poll? Yup.

There are many interesting things about the “Center of American Politics” poll recently released by Esquire magazine and NBC News but let’s start with the obvious: Esquire magazine commissioned a poll about political attitudes.

And then they put the results up on their website.

From where Team Spot-On sits, that should be enough to make your average political insider think maybe something has changed about media, interest in politics and well, the world in which it all resides.

With its regular “Women We Love” feature Esquire is not to be confused with The New Republic, The Weekly Standard or The Hill – usual fodder for folks who care about moving voters. In the old days – you know, before the Internet – it was a monthly magazine. Lately, like so much else, that’s changed. And the poll and its release – not to mention the word-of-mouth about it – is an event to note.

But, as they say on late night television – or did, before the Internet – that’s not all.

The Esquire/NBC poll hints at something that’s been brewing for a while: Party affiliated-politics is not the game it once was. Most of the people surveyed in this effort – a majority – say they are moderate. Many of them hold opinions that cross party lines on hot-button issues like immigration, gun control and abortion.

Now, there are lot of lively conference panel discussions to be held in regard to the definition of the adjectives that might be applied here. After all, what – exactly  – does a “moderate” or “independent” or “undecided” or “persuadable” voter look like? We don’t know. And, as the Esquire folks point out, many political professionals don’t either.

But there’s one comment we would make: The four categories listed above are voters who are not likely to be swayed by scary TV ads, oppo-drive mail pieces or, well, the usual tactics. Increasingly, voters are using online resources to fact-check claims made on television. Pew puts the number of persuable voters engaged in this activity as more than 50%.

Or as the Esquire analyst put it “In political terms, these Americans are up for grabs, but you’ve got to be substantive, and you better leave your party’s hobby horses back at headquarters.” The times, they are a-changing.



Clip File: Talking Data

Big Data. Big Buzz Word. Lotsa confusion.

So it’s probably worth surveying the landscape to see what folks mean when they talk about data, analytics and their use in getting to the heart of things.

First up, political folks’ favorite Nate Silver who gave a good interview to Charlie Rose. It’s billed as a conversation about his move to ESPN (and, one gathers, abandonment of politics) but what Silver says near the conclusion – that data needs to be parsed and parsed with intelligence – is worth heeding.

Following up on that, here’s a nice piece about media companies and data. “Just because you can measure something doesn’t make it important.” It’s looking at how publisher websites gather information and use it but the lessons – not everything is important – are valid as more and more data shops enter the political space.

Then there’s the effect that all this data is having on consumers.

The folks at Axiom are releasing more information about what they have. This is clearly an attempt to keep ahead of any kind of regulation but, well, it’s probably too little too late. Even more interesting: We gave Axiom’s data review site a try and well, for accuracy, we’re NOT impressed.

Google’s doing its bit to stay ahead of regulation, in this case Congress efforts to pass “Do Not Track” legislation. The search and online ad giant is starting to give up on cookie-targeting. Cookie targeting has had a bit of a vogue in political circles so this move by Google is a good indication that the technology – which matches web browsing history with location – is going away.

We’ve written before about how the increased use of mobile leaves web browser targeting in the dust. But here’s a very nice piece talking about Twitter and its purchase of a mobile ad exchange. Twitter doesn’t have to cookie you to learn more – you tell it plenty with those little 140-character wise cracks.



The Politics of the Television Business

For TV and cable, 2012 was a banner year for political ads sales. With something like $9 billion in campaign spending on the table – from just the presidential election – it was raining soup for anyone who was in the business of selling space to run :30 of video on a large screen shared by many viewers.

But 2012 is probably the last year that broadcasters will be able to hold out their bowls.

The TV business – the ad-supported watching of programs by a large group of people in roughly the same time period – is fracturing in much the same way that the print business fractured at the beginning of this century and for the same reason: New, Internet-delivered services let consumers make choices. The choices are racheted up from the use of DVRs – which change the time at which you watch something. A variety of new services let viewers decide HOW to watch.

The best publicized example is a company called Aereo which has begun serving New York and which plans to expand to 22 other cities. It’s so scary that TV broadcasters have sued to get the company, which takes over-the-air broadcast signals and sends them to computers, shut down.

Aereo’s important not just for the publicity but also because one of its investors, Barry Diller, knows the TV business like there’s nobody’s business. He created “Movie of the Week” AND he built Fox out of pretty much nothing but a bunch of lame UHF channels. He knows his enemy and his strategy – to create a group of consumer who will email Congress when someone takes away their Aereo – is a well-tested strategy. Ask any broadcaster.

But even if Diller doesn’t get his way – and so far, the courts have given him the green light – other services are changing how voters watch TV. Dish-TV encourages its customers to skip ads. Netflix and Amazon – once happy to just sell movies – are getting into the TV production business at the same time they’re bidding against cable programs to acquire the rights to run TV shows.

Which brings us to every political person’s favorite show, “House of Cards” and its auteur/actor Kevin Spacey. A lot of folks have been talking about Spacey’s speech before a gathering of UK media execs in which he spelled out how Netflix – and shows like “House of Cards” are signs of upheaval in the business. For those of you who read Spot-On’s regular blog posts, that wasn’t news, of course. But, well, we like to state the obvious more than once. So here’s a link to an interview between Spacey and Charlie Rose previewing the speech. And here’s the MacTaggard lecture.

There’s more to come as New York Times columnist Dave Carr spells out in this column which, for anyone wed to the idea that TV ads are the only or best way to reach viewers and voters, is a must read.