As always, I considered writing about a lot of topics for my column this week. I wanted to talk about Chrome’s 10-year anniversary, how many smartphone cameras is too many smartphone cameras, or that Jack seems eerily quiet about Twitter finally banning Alex Jones.
Instead, I feel I have to say something about this:
VentureBeat has a new “video recommendation player,” joining hordes of media sites across the web that have made similar concessions. I didn’t embed it there, but I know where to expect it, as it’s set to appear after the second paragraph of every article. This is now part of the editorial process: making sure not to reference a video, a screenshot, a quote, or anything else immediately following the second paragraph.
The internet taught a whole generation to obtain content for free, for better and for worse. The standard way to read a newspaper or magazine was to purchase it. The standard way to read an online publication is to simply open it on any device.
This was a conscious decision by many media organizations. Consumers were expected to pay for other form factors in one way or another, but the website was free. When media organizations finally realized their audiences were shifting primarily online, and online-only media organizations came along, the problem ballooned.
The online publishing business is in an incredibly tough industry. Not a month goes by without news of layoffs or downsizing, and every year several publications are forced to shut down.
Publications have experimented with a variety of ways to deal with this long-term sustainability problem. There are subscription offerings and paywalls, anti-ad blockers and donation appeals, preroll ads and midroll ads — plus everything in between.
Tastefully monetizing content online isn’t a problem unique to the online publishing space. Entire online businesses have failed because ads can’t cover their costs. As a result, marketing gets more intrusive in the quest for bigger returns. It’s a slippery slope, but we’ve now fallen off the edge — we’re at the point where Chrome has started blocking some ads by default and Firefox will soon block web trackers by default. The pendulum is now swinging back the other way.
Fortunately, our videos and their accompanying ads are muted by default. But if you’re reading this, or any VB article, on a computer, you’ll also get an annoying popup of the same video in your bottom right-hand corner. It might cover the headline or some other part of the article. Thankfully, it can be closed.
But you have to close it on every VB article you read or it will follow you along as you scroll. And even after you do, the main video player is still there, right in the body of the article.
Can you tell yet how much I hate this thing?
This is a crisis the web has been dealing with from the very beginning. There are countless variations of this experience as everyone tries to find a balance between annoying readers and making money.
I fought this “partnership” from its inception and through all the tests we ran to “prove” it would be OK.
I lost. It was rolled out site-wide this week because the promised money was simply too great.
Are intrusive ads inevitable on media sites? I honestly don’t believe they will be around forever. And I can promise you, dear reader, that editorial divisions across the web are fighting the good fight. We care about how our content is consumed.
The video ads you see on VentureBeat are one of many changes we have made to improve our business. We also recently switched ad providers to a much more performant alternative. We will continue to examine, and re-examine, ways to monetize the great content we deliver to you. Hopefully one day, intrusive monetization options on the web will be unheard of.
I’m sorry these videos are now on every VentureBeat article. But I assure you, I will continue to do everything in my power to fight for the reader experience, as editors do everywhere.
ProBeat is a column in which Emil rants about whatever crosses him that week.