Good Fences, Right, YouTube? And Good Fences in Winter Even Better

December 4, 2023

green-dino_thumb_thumb_thumbThis essay is the work of a dumb dinobaby. No smart software required.

Remember that line from the grumpy American poet Bobby Frost. (I have on good authority that Bobby was not a charmer. And who, pray tell, was my source. How about a friend of the poet’s who worked with him in South Shaftsbury.)

Like those in the Nor’East say, “Good fences make good neighbors.”

The line is not original. Bobby’s pal told me that the saying was a “pretty common one” among the Shaftsburians. Bobby appropriated the line in his poem “Mending Wall. (It is loved by millions of high school students). The main point of the poem is that “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall.” The key is “something.”

The fine and judicious, customer centric, and well-managed outfit Google is now in the process of understanding the “something that doesn’t love a wall,” digital or stone.

Inside the Arms Race between YouTube and Ad Blockers” updates the effort of the estimable advertising outfit and — well — almost everyone. The article explains:

YouTube recently took dramatic action against anyone visiting its site with an ad blocker running — after a few pieces of content, it’ll simply stop serving you videos. If you want to get past the wall, that ad blocker will (probably) need to be turned off; and if you want an ad-free experience, better cough up a couple bucks for a Premium subscription.

The write up carefully explains that one must pay a “starting” monthly fee of $13.99 to avoid the highly relevant advertisements for metal men’s wallets, the total home gym which seems only inappropriate for a 79 year old dinobaby like me, and some type of women’s undergarment. Yeah, that ad matching to a known user is doing a bang up job in my opinion. I bet the Skim’s marketing manager is thrilled I am getting their message. How many packs of Skims do I buy in a lifetime? Zero. Yep, zero.

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Yes, sir. Good fences make good neighbors. Good enough, MSFT Copilot. Good enough.

Okay, that’s the ad blocker thing, which I have identified as Google’s digital Battle of Waterloo in honor of a movie about everyone’s favorite French emperor, Nappy B.

But what the cited write up and most of the coverage is not focusing on is the question, “Why the user hostile move?” I want to share some of my team’s ideas about the motive force behind this disliked and quite annoying move by that company everyone loves (including the Skim’s marketing manager?).

First, the emergence of ChatGPT type services is having a growing impact on Google’s online advertising business. One can grind though Google’s financials and not find any specific item that says, “The Duke of Wellington and a crazy old Prussian are gearing up for a fight. So I will share some information we have rounded up by talking to people and looking through the data gathered about Googzilla. Specifically, users want information packaged to answer or to “appear” to answer their question. Some want lists; some want summaries; and some just want to avoid the enter the query, click through mostly irrelevant results, scan for something that is sort of close to an answer, and use that information to buy a ticket or get a Taylor Swift poster, whatever. That means that the broad trend in the usage of Google search is a bit like the town of Grindavik, Iceland. “Something” is going on, and it is unlikely to bode well for the future that charming town in Iceland. That’s the “something” that is hostile to walls. Some forces are tough to resist even by Googzilla and friends.

Second, despite the robust usage of YouTube, it costs more money to operate that service than it does to display from a cache ads and previously spidered information from Google compliant Web sites. Thus, as pressure on traditional search goes up from the ChatGPT type services, the darker the clouds on the search business horizon look. The big storm is not pelting the Googleplex yet, but it does looks ominous perched on the horizon and moving slowly. Don’t get our point wrong: Running a Google scale search business is expensive, but it has been engineered and tuned to deliver a tsunami of cash. The YouTube thing just costs more and is going to have a tough time replacing lost old-fashioned search revenue. What’s a pressured Googzilla going to do? One answer is, “Charge users.” Then raise prices. Gee, that’s the much-loved cable model, isn’t it? And the pressure point is motivating some users who are developers to find ways to cut holes in the YouTube fence. The fix? Make the fence bigger and more durable? Isn’t that a Rand arms race scenario? What’s an option? Where’s a J. Robert Oppenheimer-type when one needs him?

The third problem is that there is a desire on the part of advertisers to have their messages displayed in a non offensive context. Also, advertisers — because the economy for some outfits sucks — now are starting to demand proof that their ads are being displayed in front of buyers known to have an interest in their product. Yep, I am talking about the Skims’ marketing officer as well as any intermediary hosing money into Google advertising. I don’t want to try to convince those who are writing checks to the Google the following: “Absolutely. Your ad dollars are building your brand. You are getting leads. You are able to reach buyers no other outfit can deliver.” Want proof. Just look at this dinobaby. I am not buying health food, hidden carry holsters, and those really cute flesh colored women’s undergarments. The question is, “Are the ads just being dumped or are they actually targeted to someone who is interested in a product category?” Good question, right?

Net net: The YouTube ad blocking is shaping up to be a Google moment. Now Google has sparked an adversarial escalation in the world of YouTube ad blockers. What are Google’s options now that Googzilla is backed into a corner? Maybe Bobby Frost has a poem about it: “Some say the world will end in fire, Some say in ice.” How do Googzilla fare in the ice?

Stephen E Arnold, December 4, 2023

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