Mary Meeker's annual Internet Trends report is out. It's a very helpful survey and synthesis of what's going on, as ever, all 164 pages of it. But for the past few years it's contained a bit of analysis that's bugged me.
Page 15 of the report (embedded below) is titled "Remain Optimistic About Mobile Ad Spend Growth... Print Remains Way Over-Indexed." The main chart on the page compares the percentage of time people spend in different media with the percentage of advertising budgets that are spent in those media. The assumption is that percentage of time and percentage of budget should roughly be equal for each medium. Thus Meeker concludes that if -- as is the case for mobile -- the percentage of user time spent is greater than budget going there, then more ad dollars (as a percent of total) will flow to that medium, and vice versa (hence her point about print).
I can think of demand-side, supply-side, and market maturity reasons that this equivalency thesis would break down, which also suggest directions for improving the analysis.
On the demand side, different media may have different mixes of people, with different demographic characteristics. For financial services advertisers, print users skew older -- and thus have more money, on average, making the potential value to advertisers of each minute of time spent by the average user there more valuable. Different media may also have different advertising engagement power. For example, in mobile, in either highly task-focused use cases or in distracted, skimming/ snacking ones, ads may be either invisible or intrusive, diminishing their relative impact (either in terms of direct interaction or view-through stimulation). By contrast, deeper lean-back-style engagement with TV, with more room for an ad to maneuver, might if the ad is good make a bigger impression. I wonder if there's also a reach premium at work. Advertisers like to find the most efficient medium, but they also need to reach a large enough number of folks to execute campaigns effectively. TV and print are more reach-oriented media, in general.
On the supply side, different media have different power distributions of the content they can offer, and different barriers to entry that can affect pricing. On TV and in print, prime ad spots are more limited, so simple supply and demand dynamics drive up prices for the best spots beyond what the equivalency idea might suggest.
In favor of Meeker's thesis, though representing another short term brake on it, is yet another factor she doesn't speak to directly. This is the relative maturity of the markets and buying processes for different media, and the experience of the participants in those markets. A more mature, well-trafficked market, with well-understood dynamics, and lots of liquidity (think the ability for agencies and media brokers to resell time in TV's spot markets, for example), will, at the margin, attract and retain dollars, in particular while the true value of different media remain elusive. (This of course is one reason why attribution analysis is so hot, as evidenced by Google's and AOL Platform's recent acquisitions in this space.) I say in favor, because as mobile ad markets mature over time, this disadvantage will erode.
So for advertisers, agency and media execs, entrepreneurs, and investors looking to play the arbitrage game at the edges of Meeker's observation, the question is, what adjustment factors for demand, supply, and market maturity would you apply this year and next? It's not an idle question: tons of advertisers' media plans and publishers' business plans ride on these assumptions about how much money is going to come to or go away from them, and Meeker's report is an influential input into these plans in many cases.
A tactical limitation of Meeker's analysis is that while she suggests the overall potential shift in relative allocation of ad dollars (her slide suggests a "~$30B+" digital advertising growth opportunity in the USA alone - up from $20B last year*), she doesn't suggest a timescale and trendline for the pace with which we'll get there. One way to come at this is to look at the last 3-4 annual presentations she's made, and see how the relationships she's observed have changed over time. Interestingly, in her 2013 report using 2012 data, on page 5, 12% of time is spent on mobile devices, and 3% of ad dollars are going there, for a 4x difference in percentages. In the 2014 report using 2013 data, 20% of time is spent on mobile, and 5% of media dollars are going there -- again, a 4x relationship.
So, if the equivalency zeitgeist is at work, for the moment it may be stuck in a phone booth. But in the end I'm reminded of the futurist Roy Amara's saying: "We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short term and underestimate its effect in the long term." Plus let's not forget new technologies (Glass, Occulus Rift, both portable and large/immersive) that will further jumble relevant media categories in years to come.