Digital advertising is growing. However, the Duopoly continues to dominate and capture the majority of the market share. While the Duopoly drives growth in terms of scale, publishers are actually seeing a decline in revenue. And, in turn, newsroom employment has declined by nearly half in the last decade as users spend more time consuming “free news content” through platforms. For quality journalism to survive, the advertising industry has a responsibility to open new revenue opportunities for publishers that can level the playing field with the Duopoly outside of traditional ad units.
Today, traditional ad servers and SSP providers are relatively commoditized and while they have been beneficial in driving some revenue to publishers, Google’s dominance in this area has stifled innovation. In turn, this has provided even more leverage to Google’s own monetization efforts instead of those of publishers. For their part, Facebook is entirely focused on its own walled garden. Thus, it shows very little interest in helping publishers to increase their traffic or bolster monetization.
The value of premium ad experiences
The majority of ad serving and SSP technologies in the marketplace are focused on the monetization of commoditized ad units, whether its standard display banners or in-stream video ads such as pre-roll. These formats typically underperform in terms of meeting advertiser KPIs such as viewability or engagement. And, unfortunately, only the Duopoly can extract maximum value from these formats due to their sheer scale and unique data.
The good news is that publishers do possess a competitive advantage over the Duopoly. They have highly engaged audiences that are often interested in staying within the publisher’s environment. They also arguably have the most brand safe content environments for advertisers. Why shouldn’t technology providers be thinking outside the box to leverage the very environments that have proven to be much more effective than traditional ad units?
Partially, because they don’t yet have the tools to scale their own internal advertising businesses. It’s time that technology platforms stop solely thinking of the bottom line and start empowering publishers to thrive despite the giants of search and social.
Using your competitive advantage
So, how can we think outside the box and enable publishers to compete?
1. Optimize Advertising Creatives
As everyone in the industry is well aware, the shift of content consumption is to mobile devices. On mobile, attention spans are shorter and screen real estate is limited, which poses challenges to advertising effectiveness particularly with display (enhancing banner blindness) and video where creative assets are typically designed for TV. Publishers are seeking ways to make display and video creatives engaging by adding interactive elements, and optimizing for elements such as duration and “sound on vs. sound off” are imperative to success. This is perhaps most challenging for publisher teams that don’t necessarily have the creative powerhouse resources.
2. Sell Outcomes
Another vestige of commoditized ad formats is the traditional CPM sales model, which has been further reinforced through the shift to programmatic buying where SSPs/DSPs only trade on CPM. Primarily, the marketplace focuses on trading impressions in bulk, and scale is therefore needed to ensure those impressions deliver on specific advertiser KPIs, which again shifts the balance of power to the Duopoly.
Google and Facebook have also differentiated from publishers in that they’re heavily focused in promoting buying models that are focused on particular outcomes such as Cost-per-Completed View in video and Cost-per-Click in display. They have used their scale and data to optimize towards those outcomes. Traditional SSPs have not yet provided the necessary tools to enable those models for publishers or the data needed to guarantee those outcomes.
Publishers should investigate new ad technology platforms that not only support outcome-based buying models but also have the prediction algorithms (aka AI) necessary to guarantee impressions that deliver those outcomes and not waste a publisher’s ad inventory.
3. Leverage Data
The combination of global scale and data has historically provided a competitive advantage to the Duopoly, as opposed to publishers that typically operate on a more local/regional or verticalized level. Publishers should not discount their own unique first-party data from subscriptions, newsletters, commerce or other sources as an alternative for advertisers to reach the right audiences.
Even without this proprietary audience or behavioral data, publishers still have the unique advantage of context from their editorial environments. This is becoming more critical not only for differentiated ad targeting, but also more valuable in web environments where cookies are becoming challenged from web browser privacy and government regulation efforts.
We challenge the advertising technology industry to continue to think outside the box of traditional ad formats, and do more to empower the publishers so they aren’t beholden to solutions that diminish the value of their premium audience and content. The Duopoly have recently pledged money towards journalism projects and promised to update their algorithms but it’s not enough. To save quality journalism, we need to create sustainable monetization models for advertisers that extend beyond the current status quo.