The Audience Reach problem is a really really really big problem.
The “audience reach problem” is a distribution problem of the web, inherent to all web publishers. It means that regardless of the size of the visitors, readers, or viewers a website has––each individual piece of content can only reach a fraction of that audience size.
I could make a case that the audience reach problem put both Donald Trump in the White House and also contributed to hundreds of thousands of deaths from Covid19.
How could the audience reach problem cause all of these things?
A quick story
In 2016, Pop Sugar, a popular webzine for females, had a monthly readership of around forty million female viewers a month.
In 2016, Hillary Clinton, famously running for president, wanted to reach a large female demographic with her political messaging, Pop Sugar was an obvious choice to reach this demographic.
The Clinton campaign approached Pop Sugar with an idea; could Hillary Clinton write an editorial article directly to the readership of Pop Sugar?
Hillary Clinton’s article “An Open Letter to Working Mothers” was published on Popsugar Aug 31 directly to women readers.
Exactly how many readers on Pop Sugar did Hillary Clinton reach?
Around ten thousand, out of forty million female viewers visiting Pop Sugar. Out of forty million female readers a month, less than 1% of the readers would even see the article written by Hillary Clinton.
To confirm; out of 40,000,000 monthly readers, only 10,000 of them would be exposed to Clinton’s article. So how would Popsugar, or Hillary Clinton, reach the full audience of readers?
Her campaign would have to take out ads on Popsugar promoting the article on Popsugar.
Can you imagine? You’re one of the larger publishers on the internet, and if you want to reach your entire audience with an article, you have to take out ads on your own publication to reach your own audience, hoping they will click on the ad and go to the article.
Unpacking the 2016 Election
At the risk of running into a political conversation, please stop if you think that is where this is going, because it’s not. I am not making any sort of “case” one way or another by simply relying an anecdote on how this problem likely contributed to Donald Trump becoming president. I relay this problem so the reader will understand the scale, impact, and consequences of this problem.
Let’s first state the obvious, Hillary Clinton lost by small margins in parts of the country where those small numbers made a big difference. Clinton lost Wisconsin by around twenty two thousand votes, Michigan just over ten thousand votes.
Now let’s just follow an assumption, that the announcement by the FBI on July 5th, 2016 that they were opening an investigation into Hillary’s emails contributed to suspicion about Hillary Clinton, even paranoia in a manner that made a difference in the numbers of votes cast for Trump.
The FBI article was amplified by Clinton’s political detractors through ad networks, all of which have 100% audience reach.
News about the investigation, and all paranoia related, was amplified by ad networks and facebook, as the world knows.
The closer we got to the election, the grimmer the reality certainly appeared to the Clinton campaign, and I am sure a huge sigh of relief when James Comey announced, just three days before the election, that Hillary Clinton was cleared of all charges.
But this news and this announcement only has a 1% reach.
Out of 62,984,828 votes for Donald Trump, how many of them were influenced to vote for Trump out of suspicion of Clinton’s email server? A difference of only thirty thousand votes spread across two or three states would have turned the election in Clinton’s favor.
So in this example; let’s just look at these margins and ask a few questions. Hillary lost in key battleground states by only 30,000 voters.
How many voters were influenced by the FBI investigation into her emails across the nation?
Well, if we were to be really conservative here, and assign a very low conversion number of only .1% , around 62,000 votes, and just under a million votes if we raise it a scale of 10. So it is reasonable to assume that if the FBI never opened the investigation into Clinton she likely would have won the election.
But here is the double rub; she could have also won the election if news publishers had 100% audience reach on the internet!
If the news of the FBI clearing Hillary Clinton could have been distributed enough to just make a difference of around thirty thousand voters, not an unreasonable assumption considering the scale of the campaign, Hillary would have won.
So consider, if only 1% of an internet audience has access to a reliable or verifiable piece of information and they have to sift through 100% reach which runs counter, what would anyone expect to happen?
Foreign and domestic political influence spent hundreds of millions of dollars on ad buys that all have 100% reach, which easily overshadows the reach of reliable information on the web.
Now, let’s revisit 2020 and Covid19 response.
The entire world needs access to reliable information on the internet about COVID. And every reliable news publisher in the world is the only source with which to rely, at scale; verifiable information about the spread of COVID, relief funds, and ultimately vaccinations as they became available.
Would ALL of these news publishers face the same problem?
I use “1% Audience reach” as a placeholder for a small value. In our research, we learned that for most publishers on the web, it’s actually far less, in many cases it is like .1% reach, while social media platforms, the reach can get higher, perhaps 10% to 30% in some cases.
Now, at first one might think that this is simply a hurdle for anyone on the internet, and web publishers that face this problem likely don’t see it as an effective of big tech’s takeover on the web, so consider the issue this way; reliable information on the web only has 1% reach while online misinformation has 100% audience reach.
Big Tech owns 100% of the audience online, and only big tech owns this.
Ad networks have 100% audience reach. Primarily, these ad networks are either owned by Google and Facebook or work alongside their standardization.
How does this happen? Well, if you are the New York Times, and you have say 450M readers a month (called an “MAU” or “monthly active users”), where do you get those numbers from? If you put an article on the front page of the New York Times, won’t it reach everybody?
Not even close. We learned from our research only the smallest number will ever actually go to NewYorkTimes.com to access their news.
Rather, news articles published by the Times are discovered by various percentages everywhere else on the web but the New York Times. Google search, Facebook, Twitter, any social media sites, email sharing, referrals from other mentions. This is where all of that audience comes from and their “pathway of discovery” is just one single article that they may read, while never even visiting the Times website at all.
Unless the New York Times takes out ads, they too cannot reach their audience.
Let’s now look at COVID again. This one hurts, really. This was the only situation I think we could ever have where the world, every single nation, both faced the same problem and would then benefit from the same solution, and the distribution of misinformation having 100% reach on the internet while the information we truly need has to compete at 1% is one of the biggest tragedies that the internet has created. It hit hard and low, this fact. If we were successful in getting launch off the ground, could we have saved lives?
Am I mistaken in these soft estimations? I hope I am, but I do not see how.
What should we expect when the verifiable information we need only reaches 1% of us while unverifiable information, misinformation and even disinformation reaches us 100% of the time, all the time? We’ve launched PiP and Decentralized Autonomous Media Networks