The Year in Digital


Tech IPOs Gone Wrong

The 2011 IPO woes of Groupon and Zynga forewarned the industry that tech vehicles and Wall Street were in for more bumpy rides this year. Even with that in mind, Facebook and Yelp investors had high hopes when both stocks opened at lucrative prices, $38 per share for the former and almost $25 for the latter. Both prices have slid by around 25 percent during the last several months, making stock buyers and startup investors tighter with their cash going into 2013. 


Zynga Acquires, Then Implodes

Zynga would probably prefer 2012 never happened. The social gaming company cruised into the new year riding the high of its recent IPO, a high it should've come down from before dropping upward of $180 million on social game developer OMGPOP in March. That company's crown jewel title Draw Something proceeded to lose users about as quickly as Zynga lost shareholders. Several executive departures, an $85 million to $95 million write-down of the OMGPOP deal and a couple of underperforming quarters later, Zynga is staring into 2013 and hoping the Mayans were right.


The NewFronts Break Out

Several companies in the Web video world have held upfront-like events for years. But in 2012 nearly 20 put on dog and pony shows aimed at getting TV and digital buyers excited about the medium. Mission accomplished. YouTube rented out the Beacon in New York, inviting Jay-Z to perform. AOL gave away a car. While spending didn’t skyrocket overnight, the perception of Web video’s quality surely did.


YouTube Invests in Originals

YouTube dropped $100 million on content production this year, which, in Internet dollars, is roughly the gross national product. The object was to attract and retain seasoned professional video producers who’d either worked in television or run high-level digital studios well enough to suggest that they were playing for keeps. Secondarily, YouTube wanted to expand its user base beyond the Machinimas and MondoMedias of its little world, and channels like Electus' NuevOn have managed to introduce the video site to a new segment of the population. There have been growing pains—after getting a lot of attention and even some seed money from Time Warner, Maker Studios ended up in an ugly contract dispute with one of its stars, Ray William Johnson—but the video portal’s Dun & Bradstreet has gone way up.


Everybody Goes Native

It's nearly impossible to get through a digital conference or conversation about the future of media without the phrase native advertising being relentlessly bandied about. It's arguably the buzziest digital media term of 2012. The idea of rich, content-driven work has advertisers enthused, itching to up their creative game to engage viewers. But while many see native as the future of digital advertising and a sure-fire cure for banner blindness, a select group suggests native ads might be overhyped and a lot of wishful thinking.


Ads You Can See

This past year was the year in which the conversation on viewable ad impressions went from hypothetical to reality. Driven by the IAB, 4A's and the ANA, all the steps have been put in place for accredited institutions to finally start counting only the ads that you can actually see on a page. It's been a long time coming for the digital media industry, which is plagued by scores of cheap and unviewable inventory. But that doesn't mean it's going to be easy. With confusion on both the advertiser and publisher sides as to when vendors will be accredited to supply viewable impression metrics, expect 2013 to be an exciting but chaotic time for digital ads.


Digital Gold

They said the London Games would be the first truly digital Olympics, and they were right. Sure, there were growing pains and a few bumps in the road for NBC on social media during the event—viewers frustrated by glitches in the livestreams and NBC's live programming took to Twitter using the #NBCFail hashtag, which some speculated was seen by more than 2 million Twitter users. Ultimately the numbers prove that NBC's decision to stream an unprecedented 3,500 hours of HD digital content in the U.S. across desktops, tablets and mobile phones was a sound one. In the end, NBC more than doubled its Beijing digital numbers, delivering 159.3 million video streams, 64.4 million of which were live. And ad sales were outstanding.


Tweet the Vote

By now you know that Twitter was a force to be reckoned with throughout the horse race of the 2012 election. From the Republican primaries onward, the social media platform became the go-to space for the political chattering class. The stats speak for themselves. As the campaign hit the home stretch, Twitter broke records almost daily with 10 million tweets on the night of the first presidential debate and an astounding 31 million tweets throughout Election Day. The site hit a peak of 327,000 tweets per minute when the networks called the election for President Obama, cementing the 2012 campaign as the most tweeted moment in history. There'll be much debate down the line as to whether condensed Twitter news cycles were ultimately a positive or negative addition to political discourse, but one thing's for sure: When it comes to social media, Twitter won 2012 hands down.


The Facebook IPO

Investors were warned. When Facebook initially filed to go public, CEO Mark Zuckerberg included a letter looking to steer prospective shareholders away from investing money with the expectation of making a quick buck. Investors didn't listen. In May Facebook went public at $38 before falling below $19 amid concerns the company wouldn't be able to make money off its growing mobile user base. Those investors might have clamored for their shares back after Facebook reported—six months after it rolled out its first mobile ads—that the company's mobile ads business contributed 14 percent of its total third-quarter ad revenue.


Mobile Grows, but Not Fast Enough for Some

Mobile advertising expenditures grew dramatically this year, as Facebook, Google and Twitter angled for the big stream of dollars. Digital-focused researcher eMarketer says mobile ad industry spending skyrocketed from $1.45 billion to $4.06 billion year over year, a 180 percent increase. But questions still abound whether mobile ads drive sales for brands. Sure, the eyeballs are there, but are they engaged with the message?


The Last of the Indie Digital Shops?

For the past decade, holding companies have gobbled up emerging digital shops in order to seize the growing interactive advertising marketplace. But two big fish—AKQA and LBi—remained in the pond at the beginning of the year. But before Q3’s end, both were snatched up. WPP purchased AKQA and Publicis bought LBi, each reportedly paying around $540 million. Going into 2013, industry watchers will speculate if SapientNitro, an independent but publicly traded firm, will sell off to one of the holding companies.


Kony, Psy and Mercedes Craft Top Digital Campaigns

The “Stop Kony” video—which aimed to bring international fugitive Joseph Kony to justice—was one of 2012’s most enduring campaigns. The 30-minute spot—which claims Kony is responsible for the murder of countless African children—has well over 100 million YouTube and Vimeo views. What’s more, thousands of individuals put up posters for the cause around the country last spring. Later in the year, a much more lighthearted initiative took center stage. “Gangnam Style” created a pop music star in Psy, whose goofy cowboy dance entertained hundreds of millions of online viewers and earned him a lucrative record deal. More formally, Mercedes-Benz’s “invisible car” campaign for its F-Cell model exemplified creativity in an effort that emphasized the vehicle has no exhaust emissions.


GM and Facebook Are Maybe Never Ever Getting Back Together

General Motors had the “Oh, no, you didn’t!” moment of 2012 when it proclaimed it would stop buying Facebook ads two days before the social giant’s hugely anticipated IPO. A month later, the two sides met at the Cannes Lions to try to patch things up. But GM has stayed true to its word in the last several months by only participating in earned media marketing on Facebook. Whether the car brand returns to paid Facebook advertising will be one of next year’s more interesting questions.