It is called the duopoly, the combination of the digital ad market taken up by Facebook Inc. (NASDAQ: FB) and Alphabet Inc.’s (NASDAQ: GOOGL) Google. Last year, the two sucked up about two-thirds of the entire industry’s revenue, leaving even the largest online properties scrambling for marketer dollars.
Due to worries about the use of data gathered by the two properties and used by third parties, advertisers have suddenly started to question their investments. The Facebook scandal over Cambridge Analytica’s use of data on about 50 million users, presumably to help influence the 2016 presidential election, has caused a rush of government investigations and potential regulation. Politicians and marketers worry that Google has similar issues with the use of its data.
Rising distrust in the duopoly could loosen the hold the two companies have on the digital ad market. The largest digital advertisers that could be wary of public opinions include Bank of America, Coca-Cola, Ford, Johnson & Johnson, McDonald’s and Procter & Gamble. Each has a huge consumer base, some portion of which may object to how their data may have been used by Google and Facebook.
If one or more of these huge advertisers make a spectacle about withdrawing ads from Google, Facebook or both, it could cause a reaction like a falling line of dominos. The largest online marketers could flee the two en masse and very quickly.
The largest beneficiaries of a breakdown in trust in Google and Facebook would be the three online portals, each of which has huge audiences. Microsoft Corp.’s (NASDAQ: MSFT) MSN and Verizon Communications Inc.’s (NYSE: VZ) AOL and Yahoo used to hold the lead in digital market share. Each has suffered at the hands of Google and Facebook. Now, they may take some of that revenue back.
The next tier of online properties likely to benefit is those owned by the largest media companies, which have audiences nearly as large as the portals. These include Comcast Corp.’s (NASDAQ: CMCSA) NBCUniversal properties, Time Warner Inc.’s (NYSE: TWX) Turner Digital (which included CNN and the former Time Inc. properties) and Gannett Co. Inc.’s (NYSE: GCI) USAToday.
A sharp weakening of the digital ad duopoly as marketers lose trust in the properties they have relied on for so long could be a windfall larger than other media properties ever could have expected.