Forbes, an organization with a website presumably built on the value of its content, also has made the unfortunate decision recently to try to block off access to anyone using adblocker software, apparently so that it could successfully allow malicious "ads" to infect its readers' machines. This set of circumstances would seem to be one that would have Forbes re-thinking its adblocker policy, assuming it wishes to retain the trust of its readership. And it turns out that Forbes is doing so. And then not! Or maybe? Allow me to explain.
Rob Leathern recently noticed that going to Forbes.com and refreshing the screen after being told that he should disable his adblocker suddenly offered up a new option: becoming a member. That membership would allow the viewing of the content for free. And, hey, all it wanted in return was the ability to manage his social media contacts for him.
Forbes, a site that in the past has allowed malicious ads to be presented to its readers, would now like access and control of those readers' social media contacts, which sounds like a terrible idea. But even more strange was when Leathern bothered to look into the terms of services that such a membership with Forbes entailed.
If you aren't laughing by now, you should be. Because the ToS for a membership which would allow readers to access the site's content while using an adblocker contain language asserting that you cannot use an adblocker. Whatever else you may think of Forbes in general, having multiple personalities running policy for the site seems like a bad strategy. Leathern's conclusion summarizes it nicely:
So I’ve basically agreed now to not block their ads, after signing up for the express purpose of being able to see their content while blocking their ads.
Forbes: a confused schizophrenic that would like to serve you some malware, please. I can just hear the dollars rolling into the coffers now...
You should know by now that YouTube's ContentID system is a horrible mess. This system, which allows purported intellectual property owners to claim other people's uploads as containing their content, and then allowing those purported owners to either take the videos down or monetize them for themselves, is so rife with abuse, trolls, and mistakes that it's a wonder anyone at any point thought this was an idea that could work. Lost in all of this bowing towards intellectual property owners has bred some creative methods for getting around ContentID abuse, but it's still a problem. A problem particularly challenging in the video game reviews space on YouTube, where entirely too many game studios think that using ContentID to flag game reviews is a practice worth repeating.
But one game reviewer, Jim Sterling, decided to test out a way to keep his videos advertising-free. The method? Include all kinds of previously flagged content in his new videos from different IP owners and set them all into a ContentID war with one another.
Earlier this week, game critic Jim Sterling uploaded an episode of his Jimquisition series, where he skewers the recently released Wii U game Star Fox Zero. The entire episode is worth a watch based on Sterling's well-reasoned arguments. But the thing that really sets it apart is a revelation near the end of the video, where Sterling explains why he makes such ample use of footage that is completely unrelated to what he actually discusses throughout the video.
"You may have noticed this week's video had footage from Metal Gear Solid V, Grand Theft Auto V, and Beyond: Two Souls in it," Sterling said. "Now, there's a reason for that. The reason is Nintendo. Because I'm talking about a Nintendo game this week, I've used Nintendo game footage, and that means Nintendo will attempt to monetize this video even though the point of the Jimquisition is to be ad-free, thanks to your lovely help on Patreon."
But by including game footage that had been previously flagged through ContentID by other studios, particularly studios known to not try to monetize game reviews, he created a ContentID race between the different studios. The result?
"I can confirm it works," Jim Sterling said over email. "It's worked several times before. WMG tried to monetize the video for the Erasure music, but couldn't because Nintendo and Take-Two had set their ContentID in this particular case to Not Monetized."
It's like beating cancer by contracting herpes and having the herpes eat the cancer... or something like that. Look, I didn't go to medical school, alright? The loophole in the ContentID system is that it's not like all kinds of people can flag a video for monetization. It appears to be a first-to-flag-wins sort of scenario. So, just include some completely unrelated footage from a studio that is known to flag reviews as "Not Monetized" and the content remains ad-free.
It's clever, to be sure, but some of us long for the day when such workarounds aren't needed just to produce a simple video game review.
For several years now we've noted how instead of adapting to the cord cutting age, many in the cable and broadcast industry have responded with the not-so-ingenious approach of aggressive denial, raising rates as fast as humanly possible, and stuffing even more ads into every television hour. And when broadcasters can't get the ads to fit, they'll just resort to speeding up or editing programs to ensure that they're hammering paying customers with more ads than ever. Given the rise in alternative viewing options, this obviously isn't the most ingenious form of market adaptation.
But in a sign that somebody over at the Comcast NBC Universal media empire is at least making a fleeting attempt at sector evolution, the company has announced that it will be dramatically reducing ad loads in some programs. More specifically, the company says it will be reducing the advertising load in each episode of "Saturday Night Live" by around 30%:
"NBC's "Saturday Night Live" is paring down its commercial load, with plans to cut about 30% of ads out of the sketch comedy show next season. It will do this by removing two commercial breaks per episode, giving viewers more content, said Linda Yaccarino, chairman-advertising sales and client partnerships, NBC Universal."
The catch? The company's going to be experimenting with more native, sponsored, and product placement advertising as part of the attempt to combat cord cutting and ad-skipping simultaneously:
"And for advertisers, NBC will also be offering a limited opportunity to partner with "SNL" to create original branded content. These native pods will only occur six times a year, Ms. Yaccarino said. "As the decades have gone by, commercial time has grown," Lorne Michaels, creator and executive producer, "Saturday Night Live," said in a statement. "This will give time back to the show and make it easier to watch the show live."
While it's not entirely clear what these "native pods" will exactly look like, it's not so much an evolution in advertising as it is a return to the bygone era of fifties TV sponsored product placement:
This isn't NBC's first flirtation with making a 180 industry turn back to content of this type, and the company has previously stated that advertisers can pay $300,000 or more just to get their feet in the door with product placement and native ads. And while quality and humor are certainly subjective, the problem is NBC's past experiments on this front really aren't that funny, and occasionally stumble into what feels like desperation. That opens the door to damaging your brand if your attempt to pitch laundry detergent or pharmaceuticals during a sketch is too ham-fisted.
NBC and advertisers are responding to the fact that prime time ratings and traditional cable TV subscribers continue to drop. Nielsen (the same company that used to call cord cutting "purely fiction") notes that most broadcasters continued to see up to a 4.1% decline in the number of homes tuning in to traditional television last month. That's again thanks to both cord cutting and "cord trimming," or the act of cutting back on the number of channels or premium networks a users subscribes to -- both in turn a response to high prices, restrictive viewing options, and flagging quality.
And while creatively experimenting with how ads get delivered is certainly part of the solution, it's not going to be a substitute for the one thing broadcasters (and by proxy cable companies) have been totally unwilling to do: offer the same content at a lower price. Ultimately the sector's going to have to take it on the chin, lose significantly more money, and begin seriously competing on channel bundle flexibility and price. That's an utterly unappealing proposition for an industry used to raising prices at four-times the rate of inflation, but the alternative is letting pesky, innovative upstarts walk away with legions of younger, disenfranchised television viewers.
You may recall a story from a few years back involving self-proclaimed "corporate virtue advisor" Dov Seidman and his quest to sue Chobani for using the phrase "How food is made matters" and the social media hashtag #howmatters. Seidman's problem with all of this? He had a trademark registered for the word "how." Yeah, seriously. Seidman claimed that his super-awesome transformational use of "how" as a noun instead of a verb had been trademarked and that this somehow meant that a company that sells yogurt couldn't use the word in any way similar.
Well, it turns out that Seidman has since sought to drop that case, because he claims that Chobani is no longer using the hashtag and slogan, so all is fine in the world again. Except that he's now suing his own agent for breach of fiduciary duty, because that Chobani campaign came out of an advertising company called Droga5, in which the agent's agency, William Morris Endeavor, holds partial ownership.
"WME actively encouraged Droga5 to use WME's own client's intellectual property to land this lucrative advertising contract with Chobani and then to create a campaign that would make use of, and dilute the value of, its client's intellectual property — all without the knowledge or permission of its client," states the complaint filed Monday. "Seidman's use of 'how' as a noun has given it a distinct meaning, expressing the values-based ethos of individual and organizational behavior at the center of his how philosophy," states the complaint. "Phrases such as 'how is the answer,' 'how matters,' and 'get your hows right' are uniquely identified with Seidman."
The suit claims Seidman's agent, WME partner Jay Mandel, not only knew of his philosophy but actually helped him develop it over a decade of working together. Seidman says Mandel also failed to disclose WME's involvement in the Chobani campaign when Seidman approached him after it launched.
Okay, let's summarize so you can get a clear understanding of what's occurring here. Seidman has a federal trademark registration on the word "how" as a noun for his business, which is corporate virtue advising. Consulting, in other words. Chobani uses the word "how" in a way that Seidman declares to be infringing, then stops, placating him. Seidman's agent helped Seidman come up with this transformational use of the word "how" and works for a company that holds a 49 percent stake in the advertising agency that produced the Chobani ad he was previously upset about. The claim is that the agent used Seidman's intellectual property by pushing the ad agency to use it, getting the Chobani campaign contract and enriching the agency.
Except we're still talking about the word "how" here. And Seidman and Chobani, who actually used the word in the marketplace, aren't in remotely the same industries. If the claim about breach of fiduciary responsibility centers on Seidman's trademark property, and it does, then there's nothing here, because there was no infringement to be had. As for the fiduciary responsibility bit, it's obvious that Chobani wanted an ad campaign, not someone to advise them on corporate virtue, so I'm not clear what Seidman is even talking about here.
And yet Seidman must share the blame for this stupid, idiotic mess with the USPTO, who granted a federal trademark on the word "how". Were it to have never done so, absolutely none of this nonsense would be occurring. Trademarking the word "how" sounds like one of the sarcastic exaggerations we see in the comments section whenever we write about a slightly less abusive trademark case. But, with the culture of permission fermenting, parody has given way to real life examples of just how ridiculous this has all become.
By now, usage caps on both fixed and wireless networks have grown increasingly common. And while broadband carriers are endlessly looking toward caps and zero rating for a competitive and financial advantage, overlooked is the fact that a huge amount of a user's monthly bandwidth allotment is now being eroded by good old advertising. How much? According to a new study by Enders Analysis, anywhere from 18% to 79% of your monthly data bucket can go toward delivering advertising. Previous studies had pegged this between 10% and 50%.
Especially if you're on a fixed-income using a limited data plan, current, bloated ads can become a real problem:
Entry-level mobile data plans start at around 500MB/month — which Enders says could be used to load the text of the King James Bible around 100 times. So "resource-hungry" advertising could clearly become a concern for some users. That's not to mention that ads can increase page-load time, Enders adds.
It's important to remember this as websites begin waging all out war on ad blockers. Users aren't just using ad blockers because they think it's fun to generate industry histrionics about the end of publishing and journalism as we know it. Users are using ad blockers to protect themselves from annoying malware and poorly-designed advertising and web formatting. They're also using ad blockers to help protect their wallet from broadband provider overage fees. Block the blockers, and you're blocking an effective consumer technology tool.
You also have to keep in mind that usage caps (especially on fixed line networks) are entirely arbitrary constructs, not tied to any real-world costs or engineering necessity. And while carriers have worked tirelessly to zero rate their own content or content from the biggest companies on the Internet, so far nobody's rushing to cut consumers a little slack and zero rate advertising at any meaningful scale. In other words, not only are consumers paying an arm and a leg for mobile data, they're paying an arm and a leg predominately so they can be marketed to.
When these consumers turned to ad blockers to reduce costs, websites like GQ, Wired, Forbes, and the New York Times decided the best course of action was to accuse these ungrateful bastards of selfishly trying to demolish online content creation. Wired was in such a rush it designed a miserable adblock blocker that's still blocking users that don't use adblockers (or in my case have whitelisted the site). It's just one more reason why adblocker blocking is a lazy "solution" to a misunderstood problem. Don't want users using ad blockers? Design better, leaner, more efficient and more intelligent ads.
Ad blocking and the software that powers it seems to be in the news lately, and for all the wrong reasons. Recently, several prominent sites have attacked ad blockers in several different ways, ranging from lawsuits on the extreme end down to simply withholding content. These attempts are all misguided in the same way, however, in that they attack the software that readers find useful rather than attacking the core problem that makes users turn to ad blockers in the first place: incredibly crappy and occasionally downright dangerous advertising inventory.
One would think that websites and online advertisers would have much to learn from the providers of ad blockers. It seems there is little appetite for education amongst them, however, as we've recently learned that the Interactive Advertising Bureau has flat out barred Adblock Plus from its annual conference.
According to a post on the Adblock Plus blog, the company had bought a ticket for the IAB conference, which takes place in Palm Desert, California at the end of January. The ticket was not cheap: they start at about £1,750 for members, scaling up to £2,600 for non-members. Then, last week, Adblock Plus received an e-mail from the IAB stating: "We are returning your registration fee and cancelling your registration for the IAB Annual Leadership Meeting." That was the entire content of the communication; according to Adblock Plus, there was no reason given for the cancellation.
Adblock Plus employee Mark Addison e-mailed the IAB and asked if "there must be some confusion" as he hadn't asked for a cancellation or refund. All he got was another inscrutable email from the IAB, confirming that his ticket had indeed been cancelled, but offering up no reason for the cancellation.
The reason for the summary refusal to allow Adblock Plus into the conference isn't difficult to surmise, of course. Online advertisers must certainly cast an unfriendly eye towards ad blockers, seeing them as the enemy. And, in online advertising's current iteration, they are. But, as we've stated before, that's because online advertising first made itself an enemy of the public by being annoying, useless, and even a vector for malware. Refusing to let Adblock Plus into the conference equates to online advertisers sticking their fingers in their ears, refusing to listen to what should be a very important voice in the industry.
Adding to how silly this is is the fact that ad blocking is regularly discussed at the conference.
The IAB has previously acknowledged that adblocking is a huge problem for the industry, and the topic of adblocking was discussed at length at last year's annual conference. If a solution is to be found, it will almost certainly require a dialogue between the advertisers and the advertising blockers.
Imagine if, instead of turning a deaf ear towards ad blockers, the IAB instead encouraged a dialogue to find out how to make their advertising more desirable to those using the software. Adblock Plus must have a ton of data that's useful to advertisers, but they won't get it by keeping their little club exclusive.
We had just discussed a couple of websites, Forbes amongst them, joining the ranks of sites that were attempting to hold their content hostage over people's use of adblockers. The general point of that post was that the reason people use adblockers generally is that sites like Forbes serve up annoying, irritating, horrible ads, such that the question of whether the site's content is worth the hassle of enduring those ads becomes a legitimate one. The moment that question becomes relevant, it should be obvious that the problem is the ad inventory and not the adblocking software.
But of course that isn't the only reason that people use adblockers. The other chief impetus for them is security. Here to show us why that is so is...well...Forbes again. One security researcher discusses his attempt to read a Forbes article, complete with the request to disable his adblocking software, and the resulting malware he encountered as a result. Ironically, the Forbes article in question was its notable "30 Under 30" list, and the researcher wanted to check out the inclusion of a rather well-known security researcher.
On arrival, like a growing number of websites, Forbes asked readers to turn off ad blockers in order to view the article. After doing so, visitors were immediately served with pop-under malware, primed to infect their computers, and likely silently steal passwords, personal data and banking information. Or, as is popular worldwide with these malware "exploit kits," lock up their hard drives in exchange for Bitcoin ransom.
One researcher commented on Twitter that the situation was "ironic" -- and while it's certainly another variant of hackenfreude, ironic isn't exactly the word I'd use to describe what happened.
Vindicating might be a better word, I think. Vindication for those who insist that adblockers are not only beneficial, but may well be necessary. Necessary because, as we stated before, too much online advertising is garbage, whether that means the ads just suck, or are downright security threats. Ad networks have been a known vector for this type of malware, which can attempt to infect machines with fake antivirus software or compromise personal information from the infected machines. It's important to understand that this is neither new nor is it some small thing.
Less than a month ago, a bogus banner ad was found serving malvertising to visitors of video site DailyMotion. After discovering it, security company Malwarebytes contacted the online ad platform the bad ad was coming through, Atomx. The company blamed a "rogue" advertiser on the WWPromoter network. It was estimated the adware broadcast through DailyMotion put 128 million people at risk. To be specific, it was from the notorious malware family called "Angler Exploit Kit." Remember this name, because I'm pretty sure we're going to be getting to know it a whole lot better in 2016.
Last August, Angler struck MSN.com with -- you guessed it -- another drive-by malvertising campaign. It was the same campaign that had infected Yahoo visitors back in July (an estimated 6.9 billion visits per month, it's considered the biggest malvertising attack so far). October saw Angler targeting Daily Mail visitors through poisoned ads as well (monthly ad impressions 64.4 million). Only last month, Angler's malicious ads hit visitors to Reader's Digest (210K readers; ad impressions 1.7M). That attack sat unattended after being in the press, and was fixed only after a week of public outcry.
Insisting that users turn off their adblockers in this ecosystem is akin to refusing to allow people to tour the wing of a hospital dedicated to combatting highly infectious disease if they want to wear a bio-hazard suit. It makes no sense. "We can't confirm that our ads are safe, but we insist you not block them." Who actually wants to suggest that this stance makes sense?
What should the websites do? The ad networks clearly don't have a handle on this at all, giving us one more reason to use ad blockers. They're practically the most popular malware delivery systems on Earth, and they're making the websites they do business with into the same poisonous monster. I don't even want to think about what it all means for the security practices of the ad companies handling our tracking data or the sites we visit hosting these pathogens.
What should websites do? Well, how about they start treating their ad inventory with at least a percentage of the care with which they treat their content? After all, advertising is content, as it is consumed by the reader/viewer, so why not at least bother to make sure it's palatable? Or maybe start putting in place stricter controls to weed out the malvertising and adware? That too could be helpful.
Guess what's not anywhere on the list of things websites should do, though. If you answered "Insist that customers open themselves up to these security threats by demanding they turn off adblockers," then you win.
Several weeks back, the FTC posted some guidelines on how it expects disclosures to be used in native advertising campaigns. The short of it is that advertising campaigns should come with some kind of prominent disclosure, one easily read and understood by the public. Specifically regarding online content, the FTC guide states:
The Federal Trade Commission Act prohibits deceptive or unfair practices. It’s the FTC’s job to ensure that long-standing consumer protection principles apply in the digital marketplace, including to native advertising. The FTC has issued an Enforcement Policy Statement on Deceptively Formatted Advertisements that explains how the agency applies established truth-in-advertising standards in this context. This Guide for Businesses supplements the Enforcement Policy Statement by offering informal guidance from FTC staff to help companies apply the Policy Statement in day-to-day contexts in digital media.
And it goes on to discuss more specifically about the manner in which disclosures should be included in campaigns:
Disclosures that are necessary to avoid misleading consumers must be presented clearly and prominently. Whether a disclosure of a native ad’s commercial nature meets this standard will be measured by its performance – that is, do consumers recognize the native ad as an ad? Only disclosures that consumers notice, process, and understand can be effective. Inadequate disclosures can’t change the net impression created and won’t stop consumers from being deceived that advertising or promotional messages are something other than ads.
After that section comes the criteria by which disclosures shall be deemed adequate for the purposes of informing the consuming public that they are viewing a form of advertisement. That criteria appears to be of little use to several ESPN employees, however, who have decided to simply omit any disclosure in several Twitter-related advertising partnerships that may or may not be official campaigns between ESPN and the brands being advertised. This all started with tweets from Adam Schefter and Chris Mortensen, both of whom are NFL reporters for ESPN, tweeting out blatant native advertising for Domino's Pizza.
As of this writing, those two tweets remain in their original form, but in case they disappear, here are some screenshots:
When Deadspin contacted ESPN to ask what was up with the lack of disclosure, the sports network responded saying that the lack of disclosure was an error, as the tweets were part of a marketing campaign partnership between ESPN and Domino's.
ESPN says this is all a mistake and that future tweets associated with Domino’s ad buy with the network will be compliant with federal law. Which is fine, though we’re still skeptical that New Year’s Eve means either college football or pizza—and so were the millions of fans who didn’t tune in for this year’s college football playoff games.
ESPN told us yesterday that tweets from NFL reporters Adam Schefter and Chris Mortensen in which they implausibly expressed strong desires to spend New Year’s Eve eating Domino’s pizza were improperly not labeled as ads, and that in the future all promotional tweets from ESPNers would be properly labeled. Today, an ESPN reporter did it again. This afternoon, college football reporter Kaylee Hartun tweeted some junk about Buick:
"If you’re in Phoenix for #CFBPlayoff, look for me at the @Buick tent. #ThatsABuick"
That tweet, unlike the other two, was deleted when people began asking, again, why there was no disclosure. It was replaced with a nearly identical tweet with an added "#ad" hashtag. Hartung had also reportedly tweeted out several more times in the past about Buick, also without a disclosure that the tweets were a form of advertising. It seems ESPN and its employees are playing very loose with FTC rules, which may not end well.
This isn’t just some hoary ethics sermon. Three years ago the Federal Trade Commission released its .com Disclosures to offer guidance for how ads online should be labeled to avoid running afoul of the law. And as they note, the FTC Act’s prohibition of “unfair or deceptive acts or practices” doesn’t make an exception for the internet. The FTC has popped Deutsch LA and Kim Kardashian, among others, for deceptive tweets.
There's nothing wrong with native advertising, but for one of the largest sports broadcasters on the planet to be actively attempting to deceive the public is shameful. Especially when there's enough of a legal team at ESPN that they absolutely know better. These types of ad campaigns could be the way of the future, but not if companies kill it all off by training the public to suspect deception at every turn.
As you hopefully already know, we take a bit of a different view of ad blockers around here on Techdirt, recognizing that many people have very good reasons for using them, and we have no problem if you make use of them. In fact, we give you the option of turning off the ads on Techdirt separately, whether or not you use an ad blocker. And we try to make sure that the ads on Techdirt are not horrible, annoying or dangerous (and sometimes, hopefully, they're even useful). Most publications, however, continue to take a very antagonistic view towards their very own communities and readers, and have attacked ad blockers, sometimes blocking users from reading content if they have an ad blocker. Perhaps no publication has fought harder against ad blockers than German publishing giant Axel Springer, the same company that frequently blames Google for its own failure to adapt.
Axel Springer has been suing the makers of various ad blockers. So far, those cases have failed miserably, making Axel Springer look like a whiny, out-of-touch publication that refuses to get with the times. But, instead, it just keeps on suing. From TechCrunch:
German media giant Axel Springer, which operates top European newspapers like Bild and Die Welt, and who recently bought a controlling stake in Business Insider for $343 million, has a history of fighting back against ad-blocking software that threatens its publications’ business models. Now, it’s taking that fight to mobile ad blockers, too. According to the makers of the iOS content blocker dubbed “Blockr,” which is one of several new iOS 9 applications that allow users to block ads and other content that slows down web browsing, Axel Springer’s WELTN24 subsidiary took them to court in an attempt to stop the development and distribution of the Blockr software.
Specifically, explains the law firm representing Blockr, Axel Springer wanted to prohibit Blockr’s developers from being able to “offer, advertise, maintain and distribute the service” which can be used today to block ads on http://www.welt.de, including the website’s mobile version.
Isn't that nice. Rather than recognize that people don't like your ads, you try to sue the companies serving an actual consumer need so that you can continue to piss off your readers. It's the dinosaur strategy -- rather than innovate, you sue to try to stave off the inevitable decline.
Historically, the cable and broadcast industry has responded to Internet video competition in the only way a mammoth legacy industry knows how: denial, dirty tricks, price hikes, more dirty tricks, and more denial. And instead of giving customers what they want (lower prices, ad skipping technology, more flexibility in programming packages) they've arguably often made things worse -- like stuffing more ads into every viewing hour.
Nielsen data suggests that ad time per hour on has gone up from 14:27 to 15:38 minutes per hour on cable, and 13:25 to 14:15 minutes per hour on broadcast -- since 2009. When all the ads wouldn't fit, they'd just edit or speed up the programs, or utilize more product placement. All while raising rates on consumers at four times the pace of inflation. But there's a small indication that the cable and broadcast industry may have finally started realizing they can no longer get away with this in the Netflix age.
"We know one of the benefits of an ecosystem like Netflix is its lack of advertising,” Howard Shimmel, chief research officer at Time Warner’s Turner Broadcasting, said in an interview. “Consumers are being trained there are places they can go to avoid ads."
"Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman talked about cutting ad loads during an investor conference in September. Viacom has been working on non-Nielsen metrics to sell advertising as more of its younger viewers watch on non-traditional platforms..."With those kicking in we’ll be in position—we’ve been talking to a lot of advertisers about it, which they like—to reduce ad load in primetime across our networks, which will improve the consumer experience and drive pricing," Dauman said.
Granted we're not out of the deep, dark denial woods quite yet. These companies may be cutting ad load but they're just charging more for the same ads, hoping they can rebalance the books and ignore the Internet video revolution waiting in the wings. Many other execs still see cord cutting as a bit of a fad, one that will reverse itself once Millennials procreate. The reality is that you'll know the cable and broadcast industry is finally taking Internet video seriously when they do the one thing most of the industry's execs are utterly terrified of: competing on price.