Flipboard enhances video offering, addresses brand safety and fake news

Flipboard enhances video offering, addresses brand safety, fake news

Custom news curation app Flipboard today announced that it is opening the platform up to standard VAST video advertising for brands, bringing the power of video to its magazine-inspired experience.

With video consumption up 38% since the February launch of the fourth generation of the product, video will be a central part of curation across the platform and expanded substantially in three of its most popular categories: technology, news and lifestyle/entertainment.

Content launch partners include ABC News, Elle, Harpers, Marie Claire, Cosmopolitan, CNBC and The Enthusiast Network (TEN). Ebay, Oracle Data Cloud and digital agency Essence represent brand and agency launch partners.

“A beautiful, well-curated experience lets people dive deep into their passions,” said Mike McCue, Flipboard’s founder and chief executive. “From cooking to product reviews to stand up comedy, video is a powerful part of the media mix people want when staying informed, getting inspired, or learning something new. There’s a growing demand for premium video inventory from publishers and brands — so launching more video on Flipboard is important for all of our audiences.”

With 100 million active monthly users, and over 9m smart magazines created on the platform, the company sees great promise for brands to take advantage of this new opportunity, especially in light of data from PwC’s annual Global Entertainment and Media outlook report which indicates that video is the most requested inventory requested and is expected to grow to $13.3bn in 2020.

Using a private marketplace, this is the first time Flipboard has developed a standard ad unit offering in addition to the company’s existing premium advertising portfolio.

“VAST video, which our publishers are very familiar with, is something they're already selling; they don't have to create something new or sell in some different way,” said McCue. “We can use their existing programmatic infrastructure, their existing data. They can do A/B testing on their creative. There's all sorts of great things that brands can do through publishers and through us now, programmatically, to monetize this video in a very standard way.”

"Digital video is an extremely important — and increasing — part of our media mix," said Jolie Giuffre, global program director at Essence. "Flipboard's adoption of the VAST standard and its programmatic offering allow us to seamlessly buy media and deepen partnerships. The Flipboard environment resonates with the audiences we're after, so we're very excited about these new capabilities."

Algorithms, fake news, brand safety, oh my

Of course, in any conversation around digital advertising, the specter of machines making decisions appears to be central, with brands and agencies grappling with where their ads and money are actually going.

One key aspect of Flipboard that has been around since its inception is that of curation. As brands and agencies flocked to mega-audiences, Flipboard quietly stuck to its guns, taking the hybrid approach of letting the algorithm do its job, with humans keeping their hands on the wheel, alongside a layer of editorial control. In fact, it was none other than the late Steve Jobs who helped cement the company’s focus on humans aiding curation.

In seeing the product for the first time in 2010 pre-launch, Jobs asked about how the content was going to get into the platform. Upon telling him that it was mainly driven by Facebook and Twitter, Jobs interjected.

“[He said] ‘But Facebook and Twitter are spam machines’,” McCue recalled. Jobs challenged McCue and forewarned that the content that people should see wasn’t exactly what was going to surface as popular.

“[Jobs], in that moment, captures a lot of why we wanted to build this company,” said McCue.

Safety in the content is translating to safety for brands, a conversation that is happening with an incredible amount of frequency.

“Every single meeting we're in with a brand or agency, this topic comes up. Every single one, unequivocally,” said Nicole McCormack, SVP revenue strategy and operations at Flipboard. “I feel like the industry is finally coming back around to [our thinking]. I have been vocal for many years about how context and environment still matter, but there have been many years when my conversations fell on deaf ears. With agencies, with brands, it just wasn't important for them. They would say, ‘Okay, yeah, that's nice, but that's not what I'm thinking about right now.

“So now, to actually be sitting in meetings where what we've believed in and championed for years is the first thing they ask us about, the first thing — in some ways it's kind of redeeming,” continued McCormack. “When we explain what we do and also what they know about us, they see us as really a curated environment. They see us as having people who control those algorithms.”

Addressing fake news, Flipboard has a strong point of view on the matter. Aside from its list of ‘white label’ domains, hand-picked, trusted sites that, as McCue says, “we know are of good quality,” the news team works hard — and by hand — to keep untruthful publishers and content at bay.

In a blog post, as part of its Truth series on Medium (which also addresses brand safety), Josh Quittner, Flipboard’s editorial director, in a both lighthearted and serious manner, breaks down how the company, working with both humans and algorithms, can yield better stories that fit the company’s ethos: ‘Great stories move the world forward’.

In another post, Flipboard news editor, Gabriella Schwarz, herself a CNN alumnus, discusses the vetting process and peels back the curtain even further on news decision-making.

Finding better footing (and revenue) with publishers and journalists

Indeed, Flipboard appears to be walking important talk for brands and publishers — quality stories and journalism, strong media sources and a safe place for brands to not be sequestered next to questionable content. Revenue for those creating the content, though, is another sticky issue for platforms, but Flipboard points out that it feels it is more on the side of the publisher.

“[To other platforms], the publisher is almost irrelevant, and the content just becomes commoditized and mixed in with a bunch of link bait and selfies,” said McCue. “There are certainly lots of options, but I think that a lot of publishers are very weary about what they’re seeing from other platforms. I don’t think those other platforms are truly motivated by the publisher.”

To that end, Flipboard has several revenue sharing models — and the new format and commitment to video, interestingly curated on the platform, helps gain more credibility with publishers, but taking it one step further, McCue, who was head of technology at Netscape in the mid-90s, feels as though they are also squarely on the side of journalists, who are in the trenches every day, seeking out a living.

“If we can create an environment where journalists feel like they can actually be subsidized, [then] they can create [stories] and actually have it rise above the link bait and make a living doing that and reach the maximum audience possible.”

But it is up to brands to help see that vision through and, with the spate of conversation around being in a safe place, Flipboard believes that they are on the right path — and have been for a number of years.

“That's where our partners want to be, in environments like that,” said McCue. “And that's really what we're trying to create here, and so it's very different than the kind of Facebook or Twitter kind of newsfeed model. That's what journalists want and it's what publishers need and it's what our ecosystem needs.”

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