I saw a theme this morning as I perused the various other tech sites: Hulu invites! Hulu, the video-streaming partnership between News Corp. and NBC, is throwing open its doors to many early adopters by offering up thousands of invites on several tech sites. If you haven't gotten a chance to play around with Hulu and want to see just what the hell Paul Boutin is complaining about, here's your chance. GigaOm, Read/WriteWeb, TechCrunch, and Mashable are giving away 2,500 invites each. All, we note, are clients of Federated Media, John Battelle's online-ad network. Coincidence, conspiracy, or just part of a future Hulu advertising campaign?
Another startup boy and his girlfriend have started a Tumblr blog to overchronicle their relationship. Shortly after Vimeo founder Jakob Lodwick and TV personality Julia Allison broke up and ended their blog Jakob and Julia, John Shankman (an employee of the Federated Media online ad agency) started the semi-anonymous JohnandJen.net.
WEB 2.0 SUMMIT — At a panel discussion about making money in online video, Federated Media VP of sales Chas Edwards said he'd pulled checks "from a million dollars down to $10,000" for video ads on Federated's network, which includes the popular shows Diggnation and Ask a Ninja. The burning question: Who paid a million bucks to Federated, run by Web 2.0 conference co-chief John Battelle, and for what? We were unable to tackle any of Federated's execs at the jam-packed conference Wednesday. Somebody get Edwards or jbat to spill the details, and send it to us. Otherwise we'll wonder if Edwards wasn't actually referring to Microsoft's non-video advertorial deal for which Federated bloggers wrote ad copy. Why? Because Edwards also said the biggest dollars come from selling "host endorsements" rather than separate advertiser-produced spots.
WEB 2.0 SUMMIT — Is preternaturally tan conference organizer John Battelle, who runs online-ad network Federated Media, here to interview top industry executives — or cut some deals of his own? "There's this idea that you can sprinkle some pixie dust on all this inventory and make more money," he observes, speaking of the mass of Web ads sold at bargain-basement rates. AOL's Curt Viebranz says that ads sold on Tacoda — the startup he just sold to AOL for a reported $275 million — sell at a $4 cost per thousand viewers. When he hears that figure, Battelle raises his eyebrows and asked Viebranz to talk to him after the panel.
"If I wanted a $14 billion advertising business, I could get halfway there by buying Yahoo right now. But that's just me. " Federated Media head John Battelle to Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer at the Web 2.0 Summit.
At times, there's nothing more amusing than watching a blogger in the middle of a meltdown. Barry Ritholz, the CEO of stock-research firm Fusion IQ, has apparently been seized by panic over an interesting, but unthreatening, development: Big media companies getting into the business of selling ads for blogs. They've already built up an expensive ad sales force, and often find it difficult to grow traffic on their websites faster than their salespeople can sell it. A natural solution: Approach blogs covering similar topics and offer to sell ads on their sites, sharing the revenue. The Washington Post was one of the first to do so, and now, apparently, Reuters is getting into the game. The part that has Ritholz alarmed, though, is a requirement that the blogs "assign" their traffic to the larger company for purposes of getting counted by Nielsen/NetRatings and ComScore Media Metrix, the two largest Web-traffic research firms. Why does Ritholz find this so alarming — and why is he utterly wrong?
I stopped by the House of Shields for the "unofficial afterparty" of this week's Federated Media Conversational Marketing Summit and was greeted by a crowd of FM employees and Web 2.0 regulars. You could tell the crowd apart pretty easily — the FM employees wore suitjackets and had the ad-salesman glow to them, the regulars all answered "no" when asked if they attended the conference. A few FM employees indulged my request to pose for a picture doing the John Battelle salute, including Director of Author Services Bill Brazell, pictured above. (Fun fact: he and I graduated from the same high school!) So what is "Conversational Marketing" anyway? New advertising paradigm? Or just a way to keep FM boss Batelle in Mystic Tan? At one point, social media gadfly Chris Heuer and I talked about whether the term itself has a definition beyond "bullshit." He seems to think it does, I'm still undecided. The whole idea has the taint of undisclosed advertorial to me, especially after last June's "people-ready" mini-scandal and its aftermath. After the jump, check out the gallery for more tech marketing people than you can handle.
Could it be true? Eric Savitz of Barron's blogs about the apparent comeback of his former employer, The Industry Standard. The weekly tech trade magazine inflated, and imploded, more or less in sync with the dotcom bubble; shuttered by owner IDG, it's seen a series of mostly pathetic attempts to resuscitate its website, all of which floundered. But the website now promises that the Standard is "coming back." Odd timing, given Time Inc.'s shuttering of Business 2.0, and the discontinuation of the Red Herring's print edition. Founder John Battelle tersely wishes the new Standard luck. I'm betting that the publication bypasses print and goes straight to the Web — just like Battelle's current venture.
Okay, this is ridiculous. On what planet is the bikini-wearing readership of TechCrunch sufficient enough to warrant Federated Media serving up the above ad on its site? None, of course. Federated Media founder John Battelle emails us to point out that the bikini ad from DivaVillage.com and other gender benders displayed to the site's mostly male readers aren't a result of targeting gone awry, but simply the result of Federated Media serving up low-paying, untargeted "remnant" ads when it's not able to sell ads at full price. Battelle also notes that it's TechCrunch's decision, not Federated's, to accept those ads. So there you have it, TechCrunch readers: Michael Arrington, according to John Battelle, thinks you want to buy bikinis.
No wonder Digg, the nerdly news-discussion site, is dumping Federated Media, John Battelle's online-ad network, as the source of its ads. Lately, FM has outdone itself in precisely targeting its clients' demographics. First, it delivered a $15 off coupon for midpriced casual clothing chain Fashion Bug for Michael Arrington's tech news site TechCrunch, perfect for that blog's target audience of middle-aged Midwestern moms. Now FM is displaying banner ads promoting the American Girl line of books and dolls whenever I visit Digg, as pictured in the screenshot above. John Battelle, how did you know I was completely obsessed with those books ... in fifth grade?
Private Equity Hub reports that Federated Media, the online ad network, has raised $4.5 million in a second round of funding, not long after raising $2 million in venture capital, on top of some seed funding. This, of course, after rumors that FM was "overdue" in raising more funds. We're not sure what founder John Battelle plans to do with all that cash, but perhaps, just perhaps, he might want to bankroll some hair-replacement therapy for FM videoblogger Morgan Webb.
TechThatOut believes it's caught Morgan Webb, host of derivative, me-too, copycat tech videoblog WebbAlert, exposing her ... scalp? The screenshot is a bit blurry, raising questions about whether Webb is actually missing some follicles or just had her hair pulled back too tightly. But it does make one wonder why TechCrunch editor Michael Arrington went gaga and declared her "fairly hot." A quick survey of Valleywag's temporary officemates got a different ruling: "fairly scary." But there's something equally scary, and even balder, about WebbAlert.
The first rule of Valleywag: Never pitch Valleywag. But sometimes the temptation just proves too great. In response to a post about Google and Yelp's rivalry in local search, a MerchantCircle employee contacted us to tout the company's supposed leadership in the market, pitching the site for some Valleywag love. Well, here's some tough love. We've looked into MerchantCircle's business model .. and found nothing but self-love.
I haven't seen the actual demographics, but I'd be shocked if TechCrunch's readership, like every other tech site, is anything but crushingly male. Which makes Valleywag reader Mark Mercado's sighting of an ad for Fashion Bug, the discount women's retailer, on the tech-review site quite curious. Either Federated Media, TechCrunch's ad representative, is getting desperate and selling space to so-called "remnant" ad networks — the Ross Dress for Lesses of the online-advertising world — or Fashion Bug, in a savvy move, is marketing to cross-dressing entrepreneurs so desperate to get TechCrunch editor Michael Arrington's attention that they're willing to doll themselves up like Julia Allison, the New York tartlet who made a recent Bay Area tour.
Am I the only one who still thinks "conversation" should mean "How's the family," "How 'bout them Yankees," and "Let's talk about our feelings" and not "I'm in bed with this company because..."? Federated Media (a competitor of Valleywag's parent company) started another "conversation" sponsored by one of the blog network's advertisers. In the last "conversation," bloggers wrote blurbs pushing Microsoft's slogan, "People Ready." The new blurbfest centers on how search services can win users' trust. The answer, according to "conversation" sponsor Hakia, seems to be "give them a poll to fill out and let them comment a bit." Bloggers including Techcrunch editor Michael Arrington and GigaOM manager Om Malik (who was supposedly sorry for his involvement in such a project) gave little quotes tailored to Hakia's message. None of this is evil, or even dishonest. It's just crap. The same kind of crap that supposedly led people to leave corporate-owned newspapers and TV for blogs that wouldn't spew it.
Late to the blogging game and caught in the throes of newbie enthusiasm, Netscape cofounder Marc Andreessen hasn't yet learned the virtues of thinking before clicking the "Publish" button. Here's the story of the post he quickly came to regret.Andreessen picked up a recent Valleywag item on Microsoft's "people ready" ad campaign. In an ethically questionable deal, Federated Media bloggers agreed to tout the slogan. That, in turn, inspired him to claim that blog.pmarca.com is "so not people-ready." (A Google search still shows the missing post.) The Andreessen of the '90s was a famous Microsoft trash-talker, and this seemed like a reversion to form - but not for long. Almost as soon as he wrote it, he reconsidered and deleted the posting. Could his cowardice have anything to do with the booming business that Opsware, his boring but modestly successful software company, does with the giant of Redmond?
It's the usual fluffery in this BusinessWeek love note to John Battelle and his Federated Media, including the literal money shot: "Last year, [FM] sold more than $10 million in advertising for about 90 Web sites. This year, Battelle says it is on track to turn a profit and increase sales fivefold." Check the counter-quote from none other than Jason Calacanis, who dislikes the idea of not owning the blogs in the network: "The second you build your client's business past $500,000 a year, they hire their own sales force." Doesn't leave a lot of room to maneuver with recently acquired FM client Ask a Ninja, reputedly brought aboard with a $300,000 guarantee. That's not the best thing about this article, though.