Home Page Advertising Mixed In Q3, YouTube Has Best Showing

Home page ad performance for the major portals was mixed in the third quarter, with YouTube turning in the strongest results and Yahoo showing continued weakness in its display business.

That’s the overall takeaway from the latest report from Macquarie Securities tracking display ad sales across Yahoo, AOL, YouTube, Amazon and MSN, based on the quality and quantity of advertising appearing on the home page.

The Macquarie study found oversized/custom ad units -- typically the most lucrative -- represented 32% of the ads on the Yahoo home page, down from 32% a year ago -- excluding house Fantasy Football ads. Furthermore, Yahoo sold out its login page on 53% of the days in Q3 -- down from 73% a year ago, although up from 44% in the second quarter.

After building momentum the last three quarters, AOL saw a slowdown in the third quarter. Sales of oversized/custom ads were flat with a year ago at 32% of home page ads, but down from 51% in the previous quarter. Purely brand-focused ads fell to 37% from 55% a year ago, but were improved from 29% on a quarterly basis.

Macquarie analyst and report author Ben Schachter suggested that both Yahoo and AOL are suffering -- at least partly as a result of Facebook taking some display dollars from more traditional home page ad sales. Google will account for 17.6% of U.S. digital display ad spending this year, followed by Facebook at 15.5%, and Yahoo at 7.7% (down from 9% in 2012), according to eMarketer.

The picture was brighter for YouTube, which sold out its high-impact masthead unit nearly three-quarters (74%) of days in the quarter, with sponsored video units accounting for 26% of the total. That compares to a 79%/21% split in the year-earlier period. The advertiser base also continued to diversify on a yearly basis, with media advertising slipping to 46% from 52%.

Still, media remains by far the driving ad vertical on the YouTube home page, and was the largest category overall in the third quarter because of promotions for new fall TV shows. Media accounted for 21% of total home page ads observed, followed by financial services and auto, each at 14% each.

At MSN, the share of oversized/custom ads increased to 38% from 31% a year ago, although well below the all-time high of 56% reached in the first quarter. While purely brand-focused advertising fell to 28% from 36% in the quarter, this was mainly the result of a larger share of ads combining branding elements with a call-to-action, according to the study. These combination units rose to 46% from 38% a year ago, while direct-response ads remained at 26%.

For Amazon, the latecomer of the bunch to display, the quarter brought signs of improvement. House ads no longer made up the majority of home page advertising, at 42%. That level is still well above the 18% a year ago, but substantially down from 65% and 79% in the first two quarters of 2012. Oversized/custom units doubled to 8% from the prior quarter and 3% a year ago.

But there was also a sharp rise in direct-response ads, at 51% of the total -- up from 26% a year ago.

Conversely, brand-focused ads dropped to 18% from 23% a year earlier. “We continue to believe that, over time, Amazon has meaningful plans to ramp its display advertising business (not only on its own sites, but on third-party properties as well),” stated Schachter in the report.
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