Digital appears to have finally reached a tipping point in being able to attract brand budgets away from television. According to IAB data, in 2015, digital continued to gain share and close in on the total spent on all television (broadcast and cable).
Critical audience mass, ad formats that can tell brand stories, and measurement capabilities that brands and their agencies can use to compare performance to television, and the rise of mobile have all contributed to digital’s ability to slowly but surely chip away at TV ad spend.
Here’s a look back at the pieces that came together to make this transition happen. This timeline isn’t exhaustive, but it aims to capture significant milestones in the efforts of Google, Facebook and Twitter to bring brands and television budgets to their platforms.
Why these three companies? Well, Google and Facebook dominate digital ad sales — estimated to capture 85 percent of every dollar spent on digital in the US, according to Morgan Stanley. Twitter’s ad revenues might pale in comparison, but the company was a pioneer in marketing itself, not as a competitor, but as the “second screen” complement to television, and as such, it was as a natural partner for broadcasters and brand advertisers. What about Snapchat? Though just getting started, Snapchat earns a couple of mentions, including Monday’s news that it’s opening up to third-party buying and expanding ad placements to run between Stories.
Here we chart the many steps to getting brands to spend more online:
- Google acquires YouTube (also the year Time selected “You” as the Person of the Year).
- Google launches Google TV Ads in AdWords “to bring digital buying and measurement technologies to traditional TV advertising,” as it was also aiming to do with radio and print advertising.
- YouTube launches overlay ads. In lieu of traditional pre-roll ads, Google launches video overlays that show up as a semi-transparent banner 15 seconds into a video, displaying for up to 10 seconds and closing automatically. Launch advertisers include Fox, “The Simpsons Movie,” BMW and “Hairspray.”
- Facebook debuts Facebook Ads system for businesses to promote brand messages with Facebook Social Ads targeted to when users take actions. Mark Zuckerberg told ad executives, “Now marketers are going to be a part of the conversation. And they’re going to do this by using the social graph in the same way our users do.” The company launched over 100,000 Facebook Pages for brands and other groups.
- Google renames YouTube Sponsored Videos Promoted Videos and expands placement offerings to include spots within the “related videos” section.
- Facebook partners with Nielsen to run BrandLift polls to measure ad recall, message association, brand favorability and purchase consideration of desktop display ads on the social network.
- Twitter starts testing Promoted Tweets in the timeline with Hootsuite. Targeting is based on factors such as who people follow.
- Google launches skippable TrueView Video Ads for YouTube, sold on a cost-per-view basis after 30 seconds, or when the video ends if shorter. GoPro is among test advertisers. (Promoted Videos become known as TrueView in December 2011.)
- Google announces Google Display Network Reserve, bringing programmatic guaranteed buying on bundles of “brand-safe” sites within the Google Display Network. Aimed at driving awareness for brand campaigns and extending the reach of YouTube home page or First Watch buys.
- Facebook and Nielsen partner on Online Campaign Ratings to track ad performance and audience demographics on ads served on Facebook and other sites around the web. Anonymized Facebook demographic data — as well as data from other publishers — is combined with Nielsen impression data to give insights of the sort that Nielsen offers advertisers for their TV campaigns. (OCR became known as Digital Ad Ratings in 2015).
- Facebook starts showing Sponsored Stories in the desktop news feed for brands to target fans.
- Facebook buys Instagram, reportedly for $1 billion.
- The first Digital NewFronts are held in New York with AOL, Google, Hulu, Microsoft, Vevo and Yahoo presenting to tout the value of digital ads — video, in particular — to traditional media buyers.
- Google shuts down Google TV Ads, stating, “ [V]ideo is increasingly going digital and users are now watching across numerous devices. So we’ve made the hard decision to close our TV Ads product over the next few months and move the team to other areas at Google. We’ll be doubling down on video solutions for our clients (like YouTube, AdWords for Video, and ad serving tools for web video publishers). We also see opportunities to help users access web content on their TV screens, through products like Google TV.”
- Twitter acquires Bluefin Labs, which helped brands measure and connect social media conversations with TV shows and commercials. Twitter says Bluefin Labs will help it “create innovative new ad products and consumer experiences” in social TV. (See July 2013)
- Google’s MRC-accredited viewability measurement solution, Active View is not just for measurement anymore. It will be used for viewable-impression buying, allowing advertisers to pay only when ads appear in-view rather than on an impression-served basis on the Google Display Network and DoubleClick.
- Facebook launches 15-second video recording on Instagram and reports that Instagram has more than 130 monthly active users and 16 billion photos posted. Sets the stage for supporting video ads.
- Twitter rolls out TV ad targeting in US to advertisers running national television commercials, thanks to the acquisition of Bluefin Labs. Advertisers can target conversations about shows on which they advertise. With the rollout came a new set of data in the TV Ads Dashboard for TV ad-tracking analytics.
- Twitter officially launches Amplify ad platform. In partnership with broadcast networks, advertisers can run pre-roll ads on video replays in near-real time for sporting and major live events, as well as clips from shows and other content. Revenues are split with the networks.
- Nielsen Twitter TV Ratings launches. The Twitter-Nielsen partnership gives television broadcasters and advertisers the first standard metric for measuring second-screen viewership.
- Google nabs its biggest upfront deal yet with Publicis shop MediaVest worth tens of millions of dollars in guaranteed premium placements on YouTube, the Google Display Network and mobile networks. “In many ways, the deal confirms the tremendous momentum that we have on YouTube and the importance of online video to brand marketers,” Torrence Boone, Google’s managing director of agency business development said.
- Instagram launches ads with Michael Kors as the first brand to advertise on the network.
- Twitter launches TV conversation targeting, an expansion of TV targeting, so networks and brands can promote tweets to users who engage with specific shows, whether or not a brand is running a spot during the program.
- Facebook starts testing Premium Video Ads with Summit Entertainment and Mindshare to promote a series of videos for the film, “Divergent,” in the news feed on mobile and desktop.
- Launches Premium Video Ads out of beta: 15-second spots for brand advertisers. The ads auto-play on mute in the news feed and are bought on Targeted Gross Rating Points (TRP), like TV ads, and measured by Nielsen Online Campaign Ratings (OCR, now Digital Ad Ratings).
- Instagram scores its first upfront agency holding company deal with Omnicom, reportedly worth as much as $100 million in spend from brand clients.
- Twitter starts testing native video in cards, starting with Amplify content partners like the NBA.
- Google launches Google Preferred to sell guaranteed ad buys against the “top five percent” of YouTube content that is packaged into channels for brand advertisers. Beta testers included Johnson & Johnson and Heineken. DigitasLBi is first agency partner as part of an bigger upfront deal.
- Google announces ability for advertisers to measure interest in their brands based on YouTube searches.
- Facebook and Publicis announce multi-year upfront deal reportedly worth $500 million. Carolyn Everson, VP of global marketing solutions at Facebook, said, “This is the first time we have all of the different elements that will allow clients to reach a significant scale of 100 million people a day in the US and [specific] audiences within the 100 million the client wants to reach.”
- DreamWorks Animation launches DreamWorksTV channel on YouTube.
- Twitter launches Promoted Video ads as an extension of Amplify in beta with a cost-per-view model.
- All of the major networks have joined Twitter Amplify, with the final holdout, ABC, coming on board for the Oscars that year.
- YouTube says it reaches more 18- to 49-year-olds on mobile than any cable network, that the number of people visiting YouTube daily has grown 40 percent year over year and that four of the top 10 trending videos from 2014 were from brands.
- Facebook launches Anthology to produce branded video ad content for the news feed with a group of video publishers like Funny or Die, Tastemade and Vox acting as creative agencies, along with the Facebook Creative Shop, taking a page from BuzzFeed.
- Twitter launches Auto Amplify, bringing self-serve automation to the premium video Amplify ads and giving any video publisher on Twitter the opportunity to run six-second pre-roll ads against their content.
- Twitter launches auto-play video and a new measurement standard for viewable video. A view is charged when an ad is 100 percent in view on the user’s device and watched for at least three seconds.
- Launches Video Carousel Ads to give marketers the opportunity to show more video — for example, an automaker could show national and local ads spots in the same carousel.
- Adds Brand Awareness ad objective and optimization bidding for brand ad recall-driven campaigns for managed accounts.
- Starts supporting viewable impression buying on all ad units and third-party viewability verification and measurement for video ad views and view lengths provided by Moat.
- Releases data from a Nielsen study that shows when TV and Facebook were combined, advertisers saw a 19-percent increase in targeted reach versus TV alone across 42 campaigns; 37 percent for Millennials.
- Partners with Millward Brown on mobile campaign polling to measure brand awareness, ad awareness and other brand lift metrics.
- Twitter announces advertisers will have the option to extend Promoted Tweets and Videos to logged-out visitors on desktop — an estimated 500+ million people a month.
- Completes Moat integration for video ad analytics and viewability verification.
- Adds seven publishers to Anthology program for branded video development and syndication in the news feed after adjusting prices from a reported low “millions” of dollars to one million and beefing up audience data insights for brands.
- Launches Canvas ads, a full-screen, multimedia mobile ad format aimed at brands. Wendy’s, Lowe’s, Coca Cola, L’Occitane, ASUS and Burberry are among launch partners.
- Facebook rolls out TRP buying for TV buyers and planners to extend reach of TV ads (“[P]lan a campaign across TV and Facebook with a total TRP target in mind, and they can buy a share of those TRPs directly with Facebook”), adds DMA and daypart targeting and offers tips for brands to optimize TV ads for mobile video. Verification is handled by Nielsen Ad Ratings.
- Google launches unskippable six-second Bumper ads to extend the reach of TrueView campaigns on YouTube. Audi and Atlantic Records among the pilot testers.
- Twitter renews upfront deals with three major agency holding companies in Q1, reportedly with a 40-percent increase in spend commitments.
- Seals upfront deal for Google Preferred YouTube inventory with Interpublic Group’s buying arm, Magna Gobal, valued at a minimum of $250 million between October 2016 and December 2017. Instead of coming from other digital budgets, Interpublic says the spend on Google Preferred will come from clients’ TV budgets — clients like Johnson & Johnson, Coca-Cola and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.
- Announces Google Preferred Breakout Videos ad packages to target fast-rising videos on YouTube.
- Says YouTube reaches more 18- to 49-year-olds during prime time than the top 10 TV shows combined, and the number of hours spent watching YouTube on TV screens doubled year-over-year.
- Makes deal to include all NBA footage in the Google Preferred ad network.
- Says it will shutter LiveRail video ad tech platform it bought in July 2014, puts focus on Audience Network, which launched in April 2014 with app-install ads.
- Expands ad reach on Audience Network to non-Facebook users on other sites and apps — primarily in native ad units — with Custom Audiences and lookalike targeting.
- Google releases early findings that eCPMs on ads on AMP-enabled content are higher than on non-AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) content.
- Facebook brings brand-friendly 10- to 30-second pre-, mid- or post-roll video ads to Audience Network and Instant Articles with cost-per-view or optimized CPM pricing to hit view goals.
- Twitter strikes deal with Univision and Fox Sports to syndicate video clips of the Copa America soccer tournament through the Amplify program. The video highlights will include six-second pre-roll ads from seven global advertisers. Twitter says it has run 300 Amplify programs since launching three years ago.
- Snapchat says it will support programmatic buying from third parties by making its Ads API available to companies like Adaptly, Amobee and TubeMogul, will start running Snap Ads between Stories and is partnering with creative agencies to help brands produce Snap Ads.