Friday 22 September 2017

Google ramps up Stamp project

On paper, the features are for the benefit of the user, with the greater control of ad revenue just an added bonus for Google and Facebook. Stock photo: Getty
On paper, the features are for the benefit of the user, with the greater control of ad revenue just an added bonus for Google and Facebook. Stock photo: Getty
Frank Whelan

Frank Whelan

The tech giants have seen news as a coveted commodity for some time now. Facebook launched its Instant Articles feature in May 2015, only for Google to announce its competing Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) project later that year.

Both features require publishers to use a certain framework to provide users with an optimum experience, which often amounts to a stripping back of the most profitable advertisements.

On paper, the features are for the benefit of the user, with the greater control of ad revenue just an added bonus for Google and Facebook.

Why would publishers opt to provide content away from their own site? Well it's all about the visibility, with both platforms preferring their version of the optimised content.

Though ad revenue may be lower, participating publishers are betting on more cheaper eyeballs than fewer full price visits.

Earlier this week, the Wall Street Journal reported that Google, in the form of STAMP, is once again making a move on a competitor's slice of the publisher pie. STAMP, a portmanteau of Stories and AMP, sounds remarkably similar to Snapchat's Discover feature.

For those not up-to-date with the under-25's social media platform of choice, Snapchat's Discover feature presents users with a series of branded channels, each featuring stylised combinations of video, photos, motion graphics and short bursts of copy.

Approaches vary greatly, as you'd imagine when brands are as diverse as Sky News, Vogue or MTV, but the great unifier is the young audience targeted and the serious money required for publishers to access the platform.

Discover is one of Snapchat's big sources of income, charging media partners a fee for placement and a varying percentage of the ad revenue. It's no surprise then that Snap share prices fell sharply when the Wall Street Journal report emerged.

Of course, imitation and innovation is common in the tech industry. In August 2016, Facebook-owned Instagram launched its Stories feature, blatantly targeting the equivalent Snapchat feature.

As of April 2016, Instagram's Stories had more than 200 million active daily users, more than the total Snapchat daily active users. Snapchat is getting beaten at its own game. But if it looks like everyone is out to get Snapchat, the reality is more likely a battle of the two giants.

Snapchat captured the younger users who were growing bored with Facebook, so Facebook fought back with its own cool youth brand, keeping those users in their ecosystem in one way or another.

Google on the other hand is battling to keep users away from Facebook's grasp. There is only a limited amount of advertising dollars out there and the more users who stay within Facebook's walls, the less ads Google can serve.

So what will STAMP mean for publishers? Without concrete details it's hard to predict, but there are risks and opportunities regardless of the fine print. STAMP style stories require more than journalists and photographers. Publishers will need to look at graphic design, video and motion graphics skillsets. Producing effective STAMP stories will not be cheap.

If publishers ignore STAMP, they run the risk of losing prominence in searches, something already seen with publishers yet to adapt AMP.

But the equity of entry is a huge opportunity, where a clever team can make an impact without the big money backing required for Snapchat's Discover feature and if the target audience is similar to that of Snapchat, STAMP could see news brands engage with a whole new younger set of readers.

In the background lurks the further loss of publisher control over content delivery. With Google providing the framework and the ad revenue - minus their share, naturally - publisher commitment to STAMP is more investment and increased reliance on a third party.

With the Wall Street Journal reporting that CNN, the Washington Post, Time and other large networks are already involved, is STAMP yet another inevitable Google juggernaut that publishers need to embrace, or will publishers manage to stay neutral in the war of the tech giants?

Steve Dempsey is away

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