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InContext / An inside look at the business of digital content

Improving viewability creates new opportunities for premium publishers

January 16, 2019 | By Tim Bourgeois, Partner—East Coast Catalyst @ChiefDigOfficer

The calendar has flipped to a new year. Strategies formulated in are being put into action. CES has wrapped in Las Vegas. Gaudy digital advertising forecasts have been delivered by prognosticators. And advertisers are jumping up-and-down and complaining about fraud, brand safety, transparency, and viewability.

Actually, not so fast on that last point.

Favorable reports issues by several analyst groups – some of which have a vested interest in marketplace chaos and inefficiency – suggest progress is being made on thorny issues that have plagued the digital advertising category for years. Specifically, there appears to be improvement in the area of viewability, which is considered a bellwether metric by many in the business. One report by Integral Ad Science’s found that overall desktop display ad viewability rate across buy types was 60% in H1 2018, up from 55% in H2 2017.

Clearly, there’s a long way to go to get the issue under control. It’s widely acknowledged that billions of dollars will continue to be wasted this year, the market appears to be stabilizing. Marc Pritchard, the  Chief Brand Officer at Procter & Gamble – and unofficial industry spokesperson for all things related to digital advertising problems – summed up the state of affairs neatly at CES this week when he described the situation as “largely finished with round one.”

Double-Edged Sword For Publishers

This market trend has a few different implications for publishers specifically, especially as more granular aspects of the trend are examined.

For example, while publisher-direct advertising continues to outperform programmatic across most categories, the performance gap is closing.  Programmatic made a bigger improvement during the time period. That’s an angle that will be celebrated by the duopoly (Google, Facebook) and big media agencies alike (agencies generally prefer programmatic because of its ability to scale).

On the other hand, the display advertising category hasn’t had much positive news to share in recent years – if any at all, with FBI probes and such dominating headlines. And these overall improvements help the sales pitch for everyone competing in the sector. Display advertising remains a relatively new and oft-misunderstood channel, and these developments will resonate with increasingly skeptical media buyers (and, as importantly, their financial backers).

Publishers’ Marching Orders

In the wake of recent news and developments, publishers have myriad opportunities for consideration in the wake of improving market conditions.

Start Spreading The News

Media buyers are overwhelmed with pitches from all directions: Google has stepped up its outreach efforts. Companies sprout up daily with new ways to execute online advertising. And their clients (internal and external) are constantly demanding increased ROI on ad spend. “In spite of all the talk of how ‘easy’ it is to advertise online and the incredible level of investment in the marketing automation sector, I’ve never see the ad business as complex or noisy as it is today,” says Karen Moked, vice president of marketing at Digilant, a programmatic ad company. As a result, reaching media buyers through the haze of activity swirling around them isn’t easy, but getting to them and helping them understand how viewability is evolving and the increasing role it can play in their operations in light of improving effectiveness is critical, for obvious reasons.

Minimize Friction in the Buying Process

Perhaps the biggest obstacle publishers have to engaging with advertisers is the fact that their customer experiences are not always optimized. In fact, it can be downright difficult for consumers to purchase some publishers’ ad products. New market developments such as increased viewability can be used as a talking to point to help jump start internal discussions around how to streamline the customer buying process. Given that most publishers can’t invest hundreds of millions of dollars into the automated systems that Google and Facebook have in place, some creativity is required.

Performance Close the Loop with Compelling Reports

Media buyers spend half their time planning and executing programs, and the other half creating reports. Publishers are well-served by providing post-campaign analysis and reporting support in two ways. First, it helps advertisers understand the performance of their investments, and premium publishers have a great story to tell around engagement and audience quality. Second, when done effectively, performance reports it helps streamline the buyer’s workflow, which is always a welcomed offering, and by extension positions the publisher favorably for the next campaign.

Opportunity is Knocking

For the first time in recent memory, the digital advertising community is headed into a new year demonstrating optimism about its state-of-affairs, specifically in relation to pressing issues related to viewability, fraud and brand safety. This environment should translate to attractive new opportunities for top-tier publishers. This is not just because a rising tide lifts all boats, but also because of the group’s differentiated value propositions vis-à-vis the duopoly’s. Realizing new successes is by no means a foregone conclusion and will require savvy execution, but 2019 is poised to offer favorable conditions for high-end publishers.


About the Author

Tim Bourgeois (@ChiefDigOfficer) is a principal at East Coast Catalyst, a Boston-based digital media audit company.

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