NewNet Q1: Advertising, commerce and discovery dominate

1Executive Summary

Media issues like advertising and discovery along with commerce dominated the activity in social and real-time Web technologies during the first quarter of 2012. Google raised some hackles, Facebook responded to demands from traditional advertisers, and Yahoo got a new chief executive.

Google turned in what most companies would call good quarterly results — 25 percent growth — but raised concerns over shrinking cost-per-click figures. Some blamed mobile search, which, if that’s the case, will not only linger as an issue but also increase in importance. To diversify its revenues, Google integrated its own products and services deeply into a new personalized search initiative. That and continuing privacy gaffes fueled a storm of criticism around the company. But so far, customers aren’t fleeing.

Facebook has often tried to convince Madison Avenue it should rethink advertising in a social context. Yet most of the ads Facebook sells are low-priced direct marketing pitches that take advantage of its plentiful, inexpensive inventory. In Q1 Facebook took some steps to address that, introducing changes in what and how it sells advertising that will be more familiar to traditional buyers. That will help it maintain its rapid growth. At the same time, several big brands shut down their Facebook stores, causing merchants and retailers to rethink the opportunities for f-commerce. Actual transactions will take the backseat to marketing objectives in the near term, and companies like American Express may be able to apply loyalty-program expertise to social commerce. That would help evolve the overall market.

In stark contrast to Google and Facebook, Yahoo’s ad business has been stagnant for years. Scott Thompson, its new CEO, arrived in January, but he’s from PayPal and has more of an e-commerce and technology approach. There’s still plenty of media expertise at Yahoo, so it’s up to Thompson to harness and reenergize it, as well as to see if there are some e-commerce opportunities for the aging portal.

And Pinterest emerged as the newest social-media star. The female-focused curation site shows signs of staying power and is starting to be a force in content discovery. No revenues are attached yet. That means it might be a good idea for media companies and merchants to get on board with Pinterest fast, before it decides to charge for services.

Looking forward, Facebook’s IPO should arrive in May, possibly preventing the usual stock market summer doldrums. It will set the stage for more social consumer offerings, including some Facebook spin-offs. Connected work activity should increase after a relatively quiet quarter. And the never-ending debate over Web versus apps will continue, with HTML5 at the center of the discussion and perhaps the solution.

Relevant Analyst
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David Card

VP Research Gigaom Research

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