New Evidence Google Facebook Ad Cartel Crushing Competition Market Failing

Let’s see what a winner-take-all, market failure looks like as it is happening before our eyes.

The Goobook digital ad cartel is continuing its outsized, abnormally-fast, revenue growth on top of the largest digital ad revenue bases by far. Consequently, their few remaining platform digital advertising competitors are weakening significantly per 1Q17 earnings reporting and other information.

This is how the relevant market players did in 1Q17.

Google (which is 90% digital advertising) grew revenues at a 22% annual rate, or an absolute revenue increase of +$17b to total $95b for the last year.

Facebook (which is basically all advertising) grew revenues at a 49% annual rate, or an absolute revenue increase of +$10b to total $30b for the last year.

Microsoft (which is 6.5% digital advertising) grew its search digital advertising revenues at an 8% annual rate or an absolute increase of +$.4b for a total of $5.7b in digital advertising for the last year. In 2015, Microsoft sold its display ad business to Verizon-AOL. It has little presence in mobile search advertising; and is not investing significantly in its search advertising business going forward since Facebook dropped Bing for search in late 2014. Microsoft keeps a search business to provide a search capability for its Cortana personal assistant.

Yahoo (which is largely advertising) decreased its digital advertising revenue at a -7% annual rate or an absolute decrease of ~-$.3b for a total of $4b for the last year. Yahoo is expected to finalize the sale of its advertising business to Verizon-AOL in June.

Twitter (which is basically all advertising) decreased its social digital advertising revenue -8% annual rate or an absolute decrease of -$.2b to total of $2.5b for the last year. Just nine months ago, Twitter was growing revenue +20%. When it could not sell itself to any buyers, its revenue engine went in reverse, with little prospect of returning to growth, given that a 14% increase in daily active usage yielded a simultaneous -8% decrease in revenue.

Snap (which is largely advertising) grew its digital advertising at a 286% annual rate or an absolute increase of +$.111b to a total of $.15b for the last year. However, in a huge red flag, Snap’s recent quarter-to-quarter revenue growth decreased -10% or -$.016b from $.166b to $.150b. Unless this was a huge anomaly, Snap is “dead viral-growth model walking.” While it may grow fast like small companies do from a low revenue base, the only way Snap is a material competitor long term, is if it can catch up to Google or Facebook. Snap is currently going the wrong way and has lost revenue momentum. Essentially everything Snap can do, Facebook-Instagram can do for twelve times as many existing users. Google and Facebook’ cartel codename for Snap is probably “Snack.”

What does this new data and evidence tell us?

For a baseline growth perspective, IAB, the Internet Advertising Bureau estimated the U.S. digital ad spending to have grown 22% in 2016 from $59.6b in 2015 to $72.5b in 2016. For this year, eMarketer projects this market to grow 16% to $83b in 2017. This is a very rare, fast-growing large market.

For a perspective on  how much Google and Facebook currently dominate digital advertising revenue growth, Pivotal Research senior analyst Brian Wieser estimated that Google and Facebook together commanded 99% of revenue growth from digital advertising in the U.S. last year, based on the most recent Internet Advertising Bureau data.

This estimate mirrors a previous estimate by Jason Kint, CEO of Digital Content Next who estimated Google and Facebook commanded 99% of all digital ad growth in 3Q16. Only six months earlier Morgan Stanley’s analyst estimated Google and Facebook would capture 85% of all U.S. digital ad growth. Only a year ago, top Internet analyst Mary Meeker originally spotlighted this Google-Facebook digital ad dominance phenomenon stating Google and Facebook were then capturing 76% of all digital ad growth. While the 99% number may be slightly high, I believe it is at least in the mid to high 90s and the overall trajectory is obvious and ominous for the future of online content and competition more broadly.

How is this winner-take all market failure, and not just fierce competition between two remaining platforms -- Google and Facebook?

Google and Facebook abruptly and conveniently stopped directly competing in search advertising and social advertising in 2014 and apparently became an anti-competitive de facto winner-take-all digital ad cartel. If you have doubts see the evidence before dismissing the notion.

What the evidence shows is adjacent Google search advertising and Facebook social advertising monopolies (not a duopoly in the same market) that are proving to be synergistic advertising complements to each other in company marketing campaigns, because generally search advertising excels at lead generation and local business visibility, while social media advertising generally excels at building brand awareness and interactivity with consumers. Simply they make more profitable business collaborators than competitors.

Before 2014, Google and Facebook were fiercely competing head-to-head with each other in each other’s core businesses.  Sometime in early 2014 it appears from the public evidence that they concluded they could accomplish more as cartel collaborators than market competitors.

The other compelling evidence of results of this apparent cartel collusion is in this piece. In just over two years’ time, Google and Facebook have totally dominated digital ad growth.

This is either powerful evidence of digital ad cartel collusion, or one of the biggest coincidences in modern business history!

Forewarned is forearmed.  



Scott Cleland served as Deputy U.S. Coordinator for International Communications & Information Policy in the George H. W. Bush Administration. He is President of Precursor LLC, an internetization consultancy for Fortune 500 companies, some of which are Google competitors, and Chairman of NetCompetition, a pro-competition e-forum supported by broadband interests. He is also author of “Search & Destroy: Why You Can’t Trust Google Inc.” Cleland has testified before both the Senate and House antitrust subcommittees on Google and before the relevant House oversight subcommittee on Google’s privacy problems.


Trump Administration Google Antitrust Series


Part 1: America’s Indefensible Media Concentration Double Standard [12-5-16]


Part 2: The Google-Facebook Online Ad Cartel is the Biggest Competition Problem [1-12-17]


Part 3: Twitter & Snap Evidence Confirm Goobook Ad Cartel Crushing Competition [2-15-17]


Part 4: Look What’s Happened Since the FTC Stopped Google Antitrust Enforcement [3-13-17]


Part 5: Google Antitrust Implications of Makan Delrahim as DOJ Antitrust Chief [3-28-17]


Part 6: Trump Administration Implications for Google Antitrust in EU, US & Markets [4-7-17]


Part 7: 6 Reasons Trump DOJ Will Take Lead from FTC in Google Antitrust Enforcement [4-13-17]


Part 8: Google-Russia Antitrust Deal Has Big Implications for EU Cases, Trump DOJ [4-19-17]


Part 9: Google Takeaways from Trump Antitrust Chief’s Senate Confirmation Hearing [5-11-17]