The Disappearance Of Advertising-Supported Media

We, consumers of media, have access to an ever growing number of platforms and providers all ready to entertain, inform and engage us. The biggest challenge seems to be not figuring out the limitations of what new technologies and creative minds can come up with, but how to make a decent living creating it all.

This week saw the release of an incredibly ambitious, well-crafted USA Today publication about the border wall, pulled together by 30 journalists who literally traveled and documented stories along the full length of the U.S.-Mexican border. The USA Today effort online contains video vignettes, long form content, interactive maps and, how could they not, a VR experience. If you want to check It out, here is the link.

What you will not see if you follow this link is advertising or sponsorship. No ad interruptions, no “brought to you by,” not even a sponsored message from the four-wheel drive cars journalists drove through the rough terrain or the hotels where they stayed. No commercial interruption.



I don’t know if this is because the subject matter was too politically sensitive for advertisers, or if USA Today even tried to find sponsors. But fact is that an enormously costly effort was created without direct income generated from it.

You may like the fact that there is no commercialization. I did. I didn’t even think about the fact that I had not seen any monetization until later, I when thought about some of the fascinating stories and arresting visuals I had just spent 45 minutes with.

I experienced the direct opposite when I watched the Singaporean Formula 1 Grand Prix last Sunday morning on my iPhone. NBC Sports covered the race, and it certainly decided to monetize the mobile effort. In doing so, NBC Sports ruined any kind of viewing pleasure, as it saw fit to literally repeat the same block of advertising in EVERY SINGLE BREAK. In a broadcast of well over two hours, I think I saw that same ad break at least 15 times. It made me dislike NBC Sports strongly, and I also developed an immediate hate for the advertisers torturing my fragile early Sunday morning mood (I am looking at you, Mobile Oil).

And then we saw the Emmys, where a wide selection of noncommercial content was nominated and won. The cord-cutting trend is slowly but surely continuing, limiting the impact of advertising and creating opportunities to buy ad-free environments. TV ratings for live sport events are falling. Facebook is fudging its numbers, and YouTube places your ad next to questionable content -- if it even reaches real humans to begin with.

So what’s a marketer to do?

The answer is: Put your consumer at the center and start learning where your audience is. No, not you, Mobile Oil with your (in)effective frequency of 15+ aimed at a 50- to 64-year-old male who has never -- and will never, ever -- change his own oil.

But those of you who are using data and analytics to know that, if you want to reach me, I might be watching live sports on my phone on a Sunday morning or might read USA Today on my laptop on a Thursday evening and binge content on my TV late into Saturday night. Or whatever the target you are after is doing. Hey -- didn’t we used to call that media planning?

7 comments about "The Disappearance Of Advertising-Supported Media".
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  1. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, September 22, 2017 at 3:41 p.m.

    Maarten, the complaint you make is perfectly valid but the same kind of observations about not only examples of poor ad scheduling but also misleading commercials, too much clutter, bad TV programming, etc. have been made many times in the past---remember Newton Minow's "Great Wasteland " speech? Now we are hearing them again, not only about TV---the usual culprit----but digital media and, yes, there are too many examples of sloppy or ill-advised behavior. However, advertisers are mainly in the business of providing goods and services to the public, not entertaining or informing it, generally. So, I'm afaid you are barking up the wrong tree if you believe that countless thousands of advertisers representing all types of businesses and agendas will band together to make things better.What individual advertisers can do is try to avoid situations such as the one you described as well as sponsoring unsavory TV shows, having their ads appear on rascist or terrorist websites, etc. If enough take some sort of action, that may clean up some of the more annoying problems, but ad-free media is not the answer. Paying much more attention to the media function might help, over and above the bean counting level, and by CMOs, not just their media watchdogs----but, frankly, despite a great dal of jabbering about this I don't see it happening. Not yet, anyway.

  2. Mario L Castellanos from New Ventures Technologies, September 22, 2017 at 4:46 p.m.

    Ed beat me to a lot of what I would have said. But I'll add (pun intended) the culprit is also a combination of greed and need to stay in the black by the companies that display these ads, be they print, linear, digital or what have you. Advertising, particularly TV advertising will continue. Documentaries like this as well as a plethora of additional TV entertainment and education will proliferate and be supported by ads, because not everyone can afford the cost nor the magnitude of ever increasing costly platforms just to view one interesting piece of content. It’s just that the “platform” I speak of hasn’t made itself known yet.

  3. Maarten Albarda from Flock Associates (USA), September 22, 2017 at 5:36 p.m.

    Ed: thanks as always for thoughtful comments. I would say I am not barking up one particular tree, but at least three:

    • Advertisers need to do a better job briefing what they want/need, and use the (growing) data for insights around understanding their target audience, and where the advertiser might have an opportunity or permission to inject their message. Advertisers also need to do a better job at evaluating and optimizing their buys, regardless of the medium. Mobile Oil wasted money on me, but more importantly, in general with an over-the-top frequency.

    • Agencies need to do a better job planning and buying. They need to educate and evolve the advertisers (back) to media planning principles that actually haven't gone away but have been neglected. They need to push back on briefings that are mostly focused on "efficient", "reach" or "low cost" to a better articulation of who they need to reach, how/when/where they might reach them and how much they need to be in front of them and with what type of content. 

    • Platforms, whether TV, USA Today or Facebook (or any programmatic related entity), need to do a much better job at setting some guidelines and monitoring buys to ensure they are not counter-productive to the consumer experience. Mobile Oil should absolutely advertise in an F1 race. But perhaps 4x and not 15plus times. NBC should "protect" Mobile from itself (if their instruction led to this waste of ad budget) or their agency (if they were the ones instructing).

    In our work with advertisers, we absolutely call them out on this. It is, after all, their money. And I can dream, can't I?

  4. Scotty Reiss from A Girls Guide to Cars, September 23, 2017 at 12:47 p.m.

    When we started SheBuysCars, a content site, 5 years ago, our business plan included zero advertising. That's becasue it's a losing game: it costs more to produce content than advertising will pay. And, we risk having ads that push our audience away, like your experiene with NBC Sports. We have to be creative, innovative and in tune with what our audience wants and what our client partners need. None of that can be programmed or achieved through an algorithm. 

    And those journalists who produced that wonderful piece for USA Today? I'll bet they earn a fraction of what they earned 10 years ago. Journalism is becomming a victim of 20th centruy revenue models trying to function in a 21st centruy media environment. The tight loop of annoying Mobil ads is an example of desparation, not greed, at work.

  5. Brian M. from, September 25, 2017 at 12:57 p.m.

    (WARNING: I'm an investor in

    A few months ago, an ad agency veteran friend of mine had an idea that is relevant to this discussion. The current model is, Advertiser pays Content Creator to run ads that Consumer hopefully pays attention to while enjoying content. Consumer is there for the content, and watching ads are a necessary evil. There are certainly lots of variations of this, but that's the basic calculus.

    So what if Advertiser paid Consumer to watch ads, then Consumer used that money to pay Content Creator for content? Instead of cramming ads into content or blurring the line between ad and content in the hopes that Consumer pays attention (and doesn't have an adblocker or, heavens! a television remote), we create a clear delineation between ads and content. Consumer is paid directly by Advertiser to watch ads if and when Consumer wants to do so, Advertiser knows Consumer watched the ad and only pays for the impression upon confirmation that Consumer paid attention, and Consumer can then use the money they earn to pay for content (Hulu, Netflix, NYT, HBO, etc.). Content Creator is now beholden to its audience for funding rather than its advertisers, Advertiser gets more bang for their media buck, and Consumer gets to choose what to watch and when.

    I'd invite you all to check out and see what you think. 

  6. John Grono from GAP Research replied, September 25, 2017 at 6:34 p.m.

    You beauty!

    I am just about to launch   Show me the money!!!

  7. Daniel Ambrose from, corp., September 28, 2017 at 3:50 p.m.

    Thought you were going to point out that when it comes to 'the good stuff" among content, it will be increasinly supported by subscriptiosns.  That is the actual answer.  

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