Mary Meeker’s math: Old media captures $50 billion in advertising that should go to Internet

Besides Veterans' Day, Thanksgiving and Black Friday, I mark November as the occasion for analyst Mary Meeker's voluminous and always provocative report on the state of the Internet.

The whole thing -- 50 Power Point slides -- is posted on the Web and well worth a look. But I'm particularly intrigued by Meeker's contention that given current usage, let alone future growth, the Internet should be getting $50 billion in advertising worldwide that still goes to print and television. Here is how she figures it.

Time spent with media, using 2009 data, breaks down like this. Twelve percent of all time with media is spent with print, 16 percent with radio, 31 percent television and 28 percent Internet. But print still gets 26 percent of the ad spend and the Internet only 13 percent.

(Television gets proportionately more of the spending and radio less, but together they are about a wash.)

With time spent and ad spending "still out of whack," Meeker argues, there is "a $50 billion global opportunity" to grow Internet advertising, mainly at print's expense.

And if not right now, her numbers imply, that shift will occur gradually over the coming years as marketers correct the imbalance and digital ad formats mature.

I will come to some quibbles later, but I like Meeker's broad term of measurement.  If you are looking for a bottom line of media impressions, surely it is audience multiplied by the length of visits  -- not unique visitors or page views or clicks.

If she is even close to right on the spending gap and the inevitability that it will narrow, that is vindication of a current staple of newspaper business strategy: be sure newspaper organizations get at least their fair share of total digital advertising growth.

How are newpsapers doing by that index? I asked Gordon Borrell of Borrell Associates, who tracks local online ad spending in the U.S., and he told me in a phone interview the results are mixed.

In 2010 estimates, just completed, Borrell said, newspapers raised their share to 24 percent, compared to 23 percent in 2009. But that's still a big drop from the 44 percent share of local digital advertising the newspaper industry commanded in 2004.

As Borrell and many within the industry have noted, way too much of that ad base was pegged to package deals with print classifieds -- and the two have declined in tandem.

The uptick in 2010 suggests that phenomenon may have largely run its course and that rapid experimentation with new formats -- from targeting to video to mobile -- is beginning to show results.

Meeker's big picture measure seems to me to suffer from one critical oversimplification: the notion that advertising is more or less equally effective by platform. Give digital its due with the obviously potent search ad format, but display advertising is a different story entirely.

Newspaper, magazines and television each offer mature formats with particular strengths that advertising professionals know how to exploit. By contrast, way too big a share of digital display consists of banners easily ignored or various pop-up formats that annoy more than they sell.

My hunch is that it will take more like a decade than a year or two for Internet marketers to draw even in effectiveness -- and thus in price -- as measured by cost per thousand impressions. But time is emphatically on their side.

The longer section of Meeker's report explores the ability of the biggest players -- Apple, Google, eBay et al. --- to grow their revenues at double-digit rates typical of start-ups, even now that they are huge companies.

However effective the sale circular in a newspaper or the branding campaign on network TV, those will pack progressively less of a punch as audience and "time spent," to use Meeker's term, continue to decline.


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