2015 – The Year in Review
- Thursday, December 31st, 2015
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With 2015 drawing to a close, its time for our annual look back over the highlights of the past year. Below youll find a comprehensive round-up of the years biggest stories, good and bad. Enjoy, and well see you in 2016.
As ever, the year kicked off with CES. The show was relatively quiet for big mobile announcements, but came packed with smart home and connected device announcements, typified by Samsungs announcement that all of its products will be connected by 2020. But perhaps the biggest trend of CES was an increased focus on connected cars, with announcements from BMW, Ford, VW and Mercedes-Benz, ranging from self-driving vehicles to gesture controlled displays.
Signalling something that would become a major trend as the year went on, Google introduced viewability reporting for video campaigns on DoubleClick, enabling advertisers to see for the first time whether digital video ads were actually viewable for users – that is, whether more than half of the unit was on-screen for two seconds or longer.
Tesco launched a version of its shopping app on Google Glass, making it the first major retailer to launch its own piece of ‘Glassware’. Its timing could have been better. Just one day later, Google announced it would stop making Glass available for purchase, as it reconsidered the products future. Despite a flurry of rumours, theres been no definite sign of a Glass descendant since.
At an event showing off Windows 10, Microsoft unexpectedly introduced something much more interesting – the HoloLens, an elaborate AR/VR headset that can project holograms onto the wearers view of the real world.
In the first major acquisition news of the year, Hutchison Whampoa, owner of UK operator 3, beat off bids from Sky and TalkTalk to buy O2 from Telefónica for £10.25bn. It wouldnt be the last operator acquisition of the year.
After reports earlier in the month that it was seeking $750,000 a day for its first foray into advertising, with auto-deleting units, Snapchat launched Discover. The new feature added editorial content to the picture messaging app, from the likes of ESPN, CNN, and The Daily Mail, opening a new avenue of advertising opportunity for the app.
Finally, January saw the years first set of quarterly results. In spite of strong mobile growth, Yahoo reported its profits have been cut in half year-on-year; Facebook posted a strong set of results with mobile the undisputed star; while Apple reported record iPhone sales, but a drop in iPad sales. All three of these results set the tone for the rest of the year for their respective companies.
There was more operator acquisition news, as BT confirmed it would be buying EE for £12.5bn, having missed out on the acquisition of O2. And EE made headlines again on 25 February, as the operator brought its ‘Orange Wednesday’ promotion – arguably the most well-known mobile marketing scheme of all time – to a close.
Otherwise, the industry was fairly quiet in February, no doubt as everyones eyes turned to Barcelona, as the single biggest date in the mobile marketing calendar got ever closer.
And sure enough, the month was dominated by news from Mobile World Congress. Samsung unveiled Samsung Pay, offering a mobile payment service compatible with conventional magstripe terminals as well as NFC. HTC unwrapped Vive, the VR headset it developed in partnership with gaming giant Valve. Googles Sundar Pichai confirmed that the search giant would be launching its own mobile network, later given the name Project Fi.
MWC wasnt the only big event in March – but rather than launches, these attracted clever mobile campaigns. At SXSW in Texas, users of the dating app Tinder found themselves seduced by a chatbot named Ava promoting Ex Machina, a film about artificial intelligence which premiered at the festival. In the UK, the Cheltenham Festival was leveraged by online bookmakers Betfair as it launched #InstaBOOM, a way of placing bets on the races via Instagram.
The months biggest acquisition was mobile ad company MobPartner, which was bought by Chinese app publisher Cheetah Mobile for approximately $58m.
There was bad news for Yahoo, which shut down operations in China and cut as many as 300 jobs, and Angry Birds publisher Rovio, which reported a 73 per cent drop in operating profit during 2014 even after cutting 110 jobs at the end of the year. It wouldnt be the last bit of bad news for either company in 2015.
March was also tough for Meerkat, the live streaming app briefly tipped to be the next big thing in social media, after Twitter revoked the apps access to the Twitter social graph API and then launched a rival service, Periscope, which it had acquired a month earlier for a reported $75m.
Amazon chose the first day of the month – April Fools Day – to launch its Dash button, a small wi-fi-connected plastic tag that can be placed around the home to instantly order common household products from partnered FMCG brands. We initially dismissed the product as another hoax, but the eCommerce giant showed over the course of this year just how seriously it takes it, bolstering the Dash line with a number of launches.
April also saw the annual tradition that is the arrival of the IAB and PwCs digital ad spend figures. In the UK, mobile ad spend hit £1.62bn, up 63 per cent year-on-year, and making up just under a quarter of all digital ad spending. This was followed later in the month by the US figures, showing a 76 per cent rise in mobile spend to $12.5bn – just over a quarter of the digital total.
Otherwise, though, much of April felt like a countdown to two dates late in the month: the 21st and 24th.
On 21 April, Google introduced major changes to its search algorithms came into effect, penalising any sites that werent deemed sufficiently mobile-friendly in the search rankings. The change was dubbed Mobilegeddon, and while it wasnt the world-ending scenario that name might suggest, an Adobe report from July suggests that companies which didn’t prepare their sites saw a 10 per cent decrease in traffic.
Capping off the month, on 24 April, was the long-anticipated launch of the Apple Watch, no doubt the biggest hardware release of the year. Apple still hasnt revealed any official sales figures, but anyone that tried to get hold of a Watch at the time will tell you that supply definitely outstripped demand.
Following on from the acquisitions earlier in the year, the UK MNO scene saw yet another shake up in May, as O2 declared it would be taking over mobile marketing firm Weve. Originally a joint venture with EE and Vodafone, these two operators bowed out, leaving the companys operations in the sole care of O2, itself in the process of acquisition.
Millennial Media partnered with Integral Ad Science to introduce a 100 per cent viewability guarantee for in-app mobile ad campaigns, raising more than a few eyebrows with the question of how possible it is to make this guarantee – but a number of companies quickly followed in its footsteps.
Multi-screen ad management platform Sizmek acquired StrikeAd, which claimed to be the worlds first dedicated mobile DSP, for $11.7m. The acquisition was intended to give Sizmek a end-to-end mobile solution that includes building ads, managing and activating data, targeting ads, buying media, and analytics. Meanwhile, Apple snapped up German AR company Metaio, which counted among its clients Macy’s, BMW and Ikea, prompting speculation that the tech giant was planning to make a push into Augmented or even Virtual Reality.
Another annual tradition made an appearance, with Mary Meeker presenting her 2015 Internet Trends report. The report contained its usual flurry of fascinating stats, including that mobile now accounts for 24 per cent of all time spent consuming media but attracts only eight per cent of the spending.
Finally, one of the years hottest topics – mobile ad blocking – reared its head for the first time in a Financial Times report, claiming that mobile operators worldwide were plotting to block all mobile ads on their networks. The company allegedly responsible was Israeli tech firm Shine, which made waves throughout the year – but it wasnt the adblockalypse that it first appeared to be. Thus far, only one operator has adopted Shines technology, and the industry soon had other ad block concerns to worry about…
In the WWDC keynote, Apple unveiled iOS 9, gave a UK launch date for Apple Pay, and showed off Apple Music for the first timestreaming service, which launched to the public at the end of June. But the biggest news followed the event, as people noticed that the iOS 9 version of Safari enabled content blocking extensions, made ad blocking not only possible but relatively simple on Apples mobile web browser.
As the countdown to iOS 9 began, the industry started to panic – understandably, especially in light of a Pagefair report later that month which claimed ad blockers cost Google some $6.6bn during 2014.
Ad blocking wasnt the only story in June, though. There was an unexpected team-up between Snapchat, The Daily Mail and WPP, as they launched Truffle Pig, a content marketing agency for testing social content and marketing. The European Parliament announced it would be abolishing data roaming charges within the EU, coming into full effect in June 2017.
The month also saw a flurry of acquisitions. Comverse bought secure mobile messaging and engagement services firm Acision for $135m in cash, plus stock and potential earning pay-outs. Dentsu Aegis Network acquired commerce specialist agency eCommera. Microsoft bought Berlin-based app developer 6Wunderkinder for a sum reportedly between $100-200m. Dimoco acquired mobile messaging and payments firm Mpulse to expand its operations into France. And finally, video ad tech company Ooyala bought Nativ, a startup which provides cloud-based media logistics and workflow software and services for media production, delivery and workflow.
Microsoft made the biggest headlines in July, though this wasnt necessarily an positive thing for the company. The month saw the release of Windows 10 – allegedly the final version of its cross-platform OS – to desktop and tablet users, though it wouldnt even begin rolling out to smartphones until December.
The same month, Microsoft announced that it was cutting 7,800 jobs, primarily from the phone hardware business it acquired from Nokia for $7.2bn a year earlier, part of a wider restructure that also saw the tech giant writing down around $7.6bn related to Nokia.
The month was otherwise fairly quiet, though two remarkable figures stood out. According to a Meetrics report, that less than half of online ads – 49 per cent, to be precise – served in the UK during Q2 2015 were actually viewable. Meanwhile, eMarketer forecast that Instagrams mobile ad revenues in the US will overtake Google and Twitter by 2017, growing at a CAGR of 117.3 per cent to reach $2.8bn.
The biggest news of the month was the introduction of Alphabet, the new parent company of Google and its associated businesses. The change hasnt had much noticeable impact on the companys operations – beyond the promotion of Sundar Pichai to Google CEO – but the change to one of digitals biggest names took the industry by surprise.
Elsewhere, Adidas acquired fitness app maker Runtastic for €220m, another sign of a major brand investing in mobile. Rovio announced it would be cutting 260 staff – more than a third of its total workforce – as the company refocused on ‘primary business areas’, following early over-expansion. A PageFair and Adobe report predicted that ad blocking would lead to a $21.8bn loss in advertising revenues this year, rising to $41.4bn in 2016.
Finally, one for fans of big numbers: Facebook announced that on Monday 24 August it passed 1bn daily users for the first time ever. “On Monday, one in seven people on Earth used Facebook to connect with their friends and family,” said CEO Mark Zuckerberg about the milestone – and nearly 90 per cent of those users accessed the social network on mobile.