Thursday, December 5, 2013

Microsoft Adds More Debt...Why?

With Microsoft launching its latest gaming platform, Xbox One to solid revenues and planning a change to its executive ranks with the retirement of Steve Balmer, the latest news may make you wonder.  According to Bloomberg, "Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) sold $8 billion of bonds in dollars and euros, a record offering from the world’s largest software maker".  Perhaps one reason is to take advantage of lower interest rates as many speculate that they will be rising; Microsoft says that the funds will be used for "general corporate purposes". 

Certainly, Microsoft has watched as Google, Samsung,  and Apple have taken the lead in the hardware race.  Their tablet, the Surface 2 lacks the buzz that other tablets offer.  And both Google and Apple have invested in the infrastructure to provide content to their devices.  With PC sales waning, Microsoft's success with Office may diminish too.  Today their best new product is the Xbox. 

So perhaps, Microsoft may be wanting to enlarge its cash war chest for a possible purchase.  A cable operator like Time Warner Cable or content creator like AMC Networks,  or perhaps an OTT content distributor like Netflix.  Where does Microsoft want to be in 5 years and what do they want to be known as, a hardware company, software company or a content company. 

Should Native Advertising Be Regulated?

As consumers become less susceptible to clicking on display advertising, web publishers have relied on other technological moves to assure that ads get seen and hopefully clicked.  From launching web pages under and over existing pages to expanding content to fill the screen.  All done to assure that access to free content enables revenue monetization.  While pre-roll of ads on video is one way to force consumption, another has been to use advertising that looks like editorial to encourage viewership.  Dubbed native advertising or content sponsorship, it has quickly become a successful means to increase web clicks.  Some sites highlight the block to indicate that it is sponsored, others might actually put a footnote or header to indicate it.  And still others let the native ad content blend seamlessly with the other editorial content.  But should it be a case of buyer beware?

Such was the case of a conference held to discuss native advertising.  "Consumer advocates, publishers and advertisers who spoke at the event generally expressed agreement with the idea that Web sites should make clear when they are running native ads -- at least when the ads directly hawk a product."  An example that has been used is that of a drug company that promotes an article about management of a health problem and cites its drug as a possible remedy but not other alternative options.  When not labelled clearly as sponsored, consumers may be confused in thinking that the drug mentioned was an "independent analysis" and a "best remedy"  And it is that possible confusion that has the FTC wondering how native advertising needs to be distinguished from editorial for the consumer.  

Not all native advertising sells products or services.  Some are actually used for content recommendation to encourage viewers to visit another website.  " In some cases, the sponsored content is just an item that advertisers think readers will find interesting.  But some advocates say that even those types of native ads should carry a disclosure, so consumers will know that the article didn't originate with the publisher."  So should all native advertising or sponsored content be treated equally?  I maintain that some notification may seem helpful, users are apt to overlook.  The idea of "caveat emptor" or buyer beware still should hold true.  Should these ads become more deceptive the consumer will engage and fight back and the marketplace will feel the effect.