5 biggest 2017 media predictions from CarThrottle's CEO [interview]
Adnan Ebrahim is the 26-year-old CEO and founder of CarThrottle.com, the world’s biggest car enthusiast website with over 11 million cross-platform followers, 200 million monthly video views and a multi-million dollar valuation. Ebrahim’s story is a classic start-up story, having started CarThrottle.com from his University bedroom in 2009 and grown it into the phenomenon it is today, whilst picking up over $2 million in funding along the way.
As with all start-ups, as rosy as Ebrahim’s zero-to-hero start-up story seems from the outside, the real story from the inside of being a founder of publishing company for the last 8 years is strewn with learnings and pivots galore.
Hackers.Media sat down with Ebrahim in his favorite Clerkenwell restaurant to chew the Millennial publishing fat, and discuss his experiences leading a start-up media company in 2016 and his predictions for 2017.
The .com is dead
Two years ago the CarThrottle pitch was that we were ‘Facebook for car fans’. We learnt pretty quickly that trying to build another Facebook was the wrong strategy for numerous reasons, but largely because Facebook does community, and the technology around community, better than anyone else. Having learnt that lesson, we then learnt that monetising CarThrottle as a .com (a destination site) is also difficult, as millennial car enthusiasts now consume their favourite content within the feeds of their chosen social platforms. Being a relatively small team allows us to be agile, and so we’ve pivoted away from these two early strategies to being a ‘platform publisher’, publishing content across the 5 major social platforms - along with our .com.
Big platforms giveth and taketh away in equal measure
Life as a platform publisher isn’t all rosy, as we’re at the behest of a platform’s algorithm and strategic decisions. Just as CarThrottle was a winner last year thanks to Facebook changing their algorithm to benefit video publishers, at the same time a whole number of major YouTubers like PewDiePie saw their video numbers and subscribers dive as YouTube changed their algorithm. Monetisation models are also very restrictive when you’re 100% reliant on 3rd party platforms, as Discover publishers on Snapchat found out recently with the changes in their commercial positioning.
The key is to carefully build your business to match the business models of your platform partners. This in many ways means keeping relatively lean, and focusing on native monetisation strategies.
Video will mature - especially on Facebook
The biggest change for us in 2016 was the rapid growth and importance of video. Over the last year, CarThrottle saw over 850 million video views across its videos on the major social platforms we’re present on - predominantly Facebook, YouTube and Instagram.
Facebook changing its algorithm and prioritising video in its feed was the biggest game changer for us and similar Millennial publishers, meaning that publishers like Unilad and LadBible that have only been around for a few years now have more video inventory than the BBC.
Rapid scaling has also led to questions around the ‘value of an eyeball’, especially when there’s no unity of metrics across platforms and questions from advertisers over whether they should put as much value of an eyeball on Facebook as they would on a publisher’s .com. Facebook's admittance that they’d been cooking the books on their video metrics hasn’t helped the matter.
But given the ad industry’s hunger for video at scale will mean that Facebook will sort out their metrics issues in 2017 and I’d predict we’ll see some cross-platform consolidation of video metrics driven by agencies using services like Tubular Labs.
Publishers will continue to eat creative agencies' lunch
In parallel with the growth of video on CarThrottle, we’ve also seen our revenues grow 150% mainly driven by branded video campaigns (or what some people call native advertising). The interesting thing we’re seeing on this front is that the people we’re pitching against are mainly creative agencies, who have traditionally been the go-to people for 'creating content'. Because we’re 100% a content engine focused on creating car content day-in-day-out we have a huge advantage over creative agencies as we not only know the car community better than anyone else, we can also do it more efficiently (i.e cheaper) and can guarantee engaged eyeballs via our CarThrottle’s 11 million user strong community. Hence why our revenue is scaling so rapidly, as CarThrottle’s win rate against traditional publishers continues to climb.
Of course, this trend of publishers becoming agencies isn’t lost on the more forward-thinking of agencies, with Vayner Media in the US recently buying PureWow.
Display is dead. Content is key. Commerce is increasingly important
The Economist's Digital Strategy Chief recently announced that he expects display advertising to vanish by 2025. We’ve never been 100% reliant on display unlike many bigger publishers, and so the fact that display revenues are shrinking hasn’t affected us that much. It's also worth noting that our audience has the highest level of ad blocking in the industry at around 35-40%. Our revenues are now close to 80% driven by branded content - creating content for brands, largely video, and distributing that content to guarantee an engaged audience.
We understand that diversification of revenues is important however, and one area we’re exploring seriously is around ‘e-commerce’. This is something that a number of publishers have experimented with with varying levels of success, Refinery29 for example, and is something that we plan to look at more seriously in 2017.
Focus on micro-communities
CarThrottle’s biggest major strategic shift for 2017 is towards micro-communities. When you’re a niche interest publisher like CarThrottle you understand that car enthusiasts aren’t a homogenous group - some may be big F1 fans, others supercar fans, others modded and tuned car fans. To date we’ve proven that CarThrottle has the expertise to build content-based communities, so our route to further scale both audience and revenue is to go deeper down more niche car interests - building a subset of micro-community brands under the CarThrottle umbrella.