By Ross Benes

Publishers have gotten data religion.

A few years ago, publishers began enlisting data scientists to help with audience building and monetization. But back in 2014, publisher data teams usually consisted of only a person or two. Since then, several publishers have expanded their number of full-time data experts. And their roles have grown too. Media data scientists are now developing apps based on machine learning, shaping content-management systems, teaming up with first-party data providers and testing augmented reality features. Here are a handful of large publishers that have increased their emphasis on data analysis.

In 2013, Mashable brought on Haile Owusu, who has a doctorate in theoretical and mathematical physics, as its chief data scientist to work on the site’s analytics tool that predicts which articles will go viral. Since then, Mashable has hired two additional full-time data analysts and added an intern. In the past year, the data team led by Owusu has helped shape Mashable’s new CMS and its Knowledge Graph tool, which tracks how branded content on Mashable is shared through social platforms, email and text messages. The team was not affected by the round of 30 layoffs Mashable did in April. “There was a pent-up demand for insights around the performance of our content,” Owusu said.

The tech network, which publishes Top Ten Reviews and Live Science, is a different type of publisher in its data focus and commerce-heavy strategy. Purch launched its own ad tech platform, Ramp, in 2014. Since then, its number of data scientists grew from one to five. Their focus is mostly on creating recommendation models that pair content with related consumer products. “We realized how much data we had and that we needed to analyze it to know whether we were charging the right price for advertising,” said Purch CTO John Potter. With Microsoft’s HoloLens, Snapchat’s Spectacles and Google Glass in the news, Purch’s data team has been testing augmented reality features in Purch-owned shopping app ShopSavvy.

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By Lucia Moses

If some publishers are cooling on Facebook Instant Articles, they’re becoming hot and heavy with Google AMP, the search engine’s answer to Instant Articles.

In February, Google rolled out AMP, which stands for Accelerated Mobile Pages, on mobile search results in Google News. Publishers scrambled to adopt Google’s open-source code on their pages because search still drives close to 40 percent of referral traffic overall, and they know that as their audiences shift to mobile, having fast mobile pages can only help them get surfaced by Google’s algorithm.

“We love it,” said Ben Robinson, Thrillist’s editorial director. Thrillist is getting 15 percent of its search traffic from AMP, boosting its search traffic by more than a third, which he called “exciting,” given the company is more lifestyle than news. At news-heavy USA Today Network, AMP is generating 12 percent of all mobile page views, said Michael Kuntz, svp of digital there.

So although Instant Articles is a new channel, AMP is fast becoming the de facto mobile web, so publishers have little choice but to get on board. “You really need access to that audience,” said John Potter, CTO of Purch.

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By John Potter

The battle against ad blockers is heating up. Last week, Facebook announced it had found a way to circumvent ad blocking technology in what is perhaps the most extreme measure against ad blocking to date. Then, only two days later, the Adblock Plus community found a way to block ads again. Now, Facebook is rolling out new code to disable Adblock’s workaround. It’s only a matter of time before Adblock comes back with another solution. In the long-term though, the fact that Facebook has total control over the advertising environment means that it will almost certainly win this battle.

In particular, Facebook brings several unique advantages to its fight against ad blockers:

  • It serves all its ads from its own domain, so the ad blockers cannot simply block http calls to that domain.
  • Advertisers buy ads on Facebook based on Facebook’s data, not their own or third-party data. Therefore, no non-Facebook sourced pixels or scripts are necessary.
  • Most importantly, Facebook offers a unique service that users running ad blockers cannot easily find a substitute for.

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By Anne Lu

Facebook has announced the official release of its updated Instant Articles to all publishers in the recently held Facebook F8 conference. This new platform is set to feature fast-loading and responsive posts compared to the usual posts on Facebook. Additionally, the social media giant opened up its Instant Articles to all publishers to create more interactive and shareable content on Facebook.

There were mixed speculations from publishers on the release of the Instant Articles platform which Ad Week has captured. The platform lets publishers post their content directly in the Facebook Instant Articles news feed as well sell ads other than their brand.

“Facebook Instant Articles is neither an ally nor a threat since the war is already over, and Facebook won,” said Sean Cullen, Fluent EVP for product and technology. “Publishers have no choice but to adopt Instant Articles in order to maintain their existing traffic levels and many will have no choice but to buy advertising from Facebook to grow.”

John Potter, CTO of Purch, told AdWeek that Facebook Instant Articles is an ally more than a threat. However, Potter reminded publishers that Instant Articles is just one of the many platforms to reach an audience.

Aside from Instant Articles, WordPress, Tumblr and LinkedIn are also considered alternative blogging and publishing platforms where publishers can showcase their products and articles. These platforms also contain plug-ins, customization and analytic tools that can benefit publishers.

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Quick poll of tech players after a big day at F8

By Christopher Heine

Of the many talking points Tuesday at Facebook’s F8 conference, two stood out because of their potential ramifications: the full rollout of Instant Articles andFacebook Live opening up to developers.

We did a quick poll of tech players to gain insight into whether media companies should fear the two features. Here’s what they told us:

Instant Articles

The program lets publishers post whole text stories and other multimedia content directly to the news feed while selling ads against them, though it threatens to siphon traffic from their proprietary websites.

Is Facebook, with the initiative, being a friend to publishers or a foe?

“Facebook Instant Articles is neither an ally nor a threat since the war is already over, and Facebook won,” said Sean Cullen, evp product and technology at Fluent. “Publishers have no choice but to adopt Instant Articles in order to maintain their existing traffic levels and many will have no choice but to buy advertising from Facebook to grow.”

Yaniv Makover, CEO of content marketing vendor Keywee, said, “Facebook is a long-term gain for publishers that provide long-term value. However, publishers looking for a quick fix will be discouraged. Some publishers might think Facebook has overly onerous user-experience guidelines that favor quality content over content whose chief purpose is to go viral.”

There are, of course, other viable platforms for publishers to push their content including Twitter, Snapchat, Google AMP and Apple News, noted Gil Regev, CMO of tech vendor Marfeel.

“One thing publishers do need to keep in mind is that Facebook is just one channel,” he said. “They should not pick and choose between these but rather utilize them all. [It's important to stress] the need to continue grooming their own mobile properties, making sure that they provide attractive, interactive, cohesive, engagement and monetization-driven layouts that act as landing pages, keeping users engaged and coming back for more.”

John Potter, CTO of Purch, views Facebook as more of an ally than a threat for publishers.

“On the other hand,” he said, “Facebook could become a threat in the future if publishers become too reliant on the platform to reach an audience, which is no different than the current situation with Google.”

Potter also said, “Given the growth of other social platforms such as Snapchat and Twitter, you can plausibly make the argument that Facebook will never be as dominant as Google has been on the web.”

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