Will Orlady, MJLST Staff Member
The Internet is infinite. At least, that’s what I thought. But Ashley Parker, a New York Times reporter doesn’t agree. When it comes to political ad space, our worldwide information hub may not be the panacea politicians hoped for this election season.
Parker based her argument on two premises. First, not all Internet content providers are equal, at least when it comes to attracting Internet traffic. Second, politicians–especially those in “big” elections–wish to reach more people, motivating their campaigns to run ads on a major content hubs i.e. YouTube.
But sites like YouTube can handle heavy network traffic. And, for the most part, political constituents do not increase site traffic for the purpose of viewing (or hearing) political ads. So what serves to limit a site’s ad space if not its own physical technology that facilitates the site’s user experience? Parker contends that the issue is not new: it’s merely a function of supply and demand.
Ad space on so-called premium video streaming sites like YouTube is broken down into two categories: ads that can be skipped (“skip-able ads”) and ads that must be played entirely before you reach the desired content (“reserved by ads”). The former is sold without exhaustion at auction, but the price of each ad impression increases with demand. The latter is innately more expensive, but can be strategically purchased for reserved times slots, much like television ad space.
Skip-able ads are available for purchase without regard to number. But they are limited by price and by desirability. Because they are sold by auction, in times of high demand (during a political campaign, for example) Parker contends that their value can increase ten-fold. Skip-able ads are, however, most seriously limited by their lack of desirability. Assuming, as I believe it is fair to do here, that most Internet users actually skip the skip-able ads, advertising purchasers would be incentivized to purchase a site’s “reserved by” advertising space.
“Reserved by” ads are sold as their name indicates, by reservation. And if the price of certain Internet ad space is determined by time or geography, it is no longer fungible. Thus, because not all Internet ad space is the same in price, quality, and desirability, certain arenas of Internet advertising are finite.
Parker’s argument ends with the conclusion that political candidates will now compete for ad space on the Internet. This issue, however, is not necessarily problematic or novel. Elections have always been adversarial. And I am not convinced that limited Internet ad space adds to campaign vitriol. An argument could be made to the contrary: that limited ad space will confine candidate to spending resources on meaningful messages about election issues rather than smear tactics. Campaign tactics notwithstanding, I do not believe that the Internet’s limited ad space presents an issue distinct from campaign advertising in other media. Rather, Parker’s argument merely forces purchasers and consumers of such ad space to consider the fact that the internet, as an advertising and political communication medium, may be more similar to existing media than some initially believed.