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Research / Insights on current and emerging industry topics

What’s behind digital media’s confidence – and priorities?

February 28, 2023 | By Rande Price, Research VP – DCN

The Association of Online Publishers’ (AOP) new report, Digital Publishing: Outlook and Priorities 2023, offers insight into this year’s top priorities for media companies – which unsurprisingly featured revenue growth. Publishers are also focused on talent and building a diverse and inclusive workplace.

As digital media companies look to grow their businesses, they assess internal strategies and external macroeconomic and legislative influences. Both publishers and solutions providers report being well-positioned for the year ahead and rate their confidence level a 7.2 based on a 10-point rating scale.

The AOP surveyed 92 digital publishers and 16 solution providers; 26% of respondents are at the board level in their organization, and 51% are heads of departments.

Internal business priorities

Revenue remains a top priority for publishers. Subscriptions (17%), sponsorships (15%), and lead generation (13%) rank as top revenue sources for growth among consumer-based publishers. B2B publishers see stronger growth opportunities in lead generation (28%), events (22%), and sponsorship (20%). Digital publishers targeting business and consumer audiences rank developing new revenue streams through product innovation as their highest priority (3.9).

Developing new audiences is important for revenue growth. To that end, consumer publishers work across multiple platforms to drive content discovery while B2B publishers are more reliant on LinkedIn (44%).  

For advertising, publishers targeting consumer audiences report they depend more on advertising deals in the open marketplace. In contrast, B2B publishers divide more evenly across open and private marketplaces and non-programmatic. Further, 44% of all publishers expect revenue growth from private marketplaces and 42% from non-programmatic revenues.

Publisher respondents appear to be highly focused on their employees. Asked to rate how important different organizational priorities are [where 0 is not a focus at all and 5 is a very strong focus], B2B publishers ranked recruiting and retaining new talent as the most important priority, with a score of 4.1. Consumer publishers ranked ensuring a diverse and inclusive workplace as the most important priority, at 3.9.

External factors

With new legislation a key focus, digital media companies are mildly confident of their knowledge of the UK’s Online Safety Bill. This legislation establishes a new regulatory framework to ensure tech companies protect users from illegal content and activity, specifically social platforms, and other user-generated content-based sites. Publishers rate their confidence in understanding the Online Safety Bill’s impact on their organization at 5.6 on a 10-point scale and solution providers at 5.3.

Some publishers report that their companies are preparing for this new law by consulting with their legal teams, providing a comprehensive editorial policy, and relying on browser options. However, many also reply that no actions are needed because quality content publishers do not target children.

Further, publishers’ confidence rating is 6.5 regarding their readiness for the end of third-party cookies, while solutions providers report lower confidence in readiness (4.8). Publishers prioritize their  investment in first-party data and user experience in preparing for the end of cookies:

  1. Enhancing the engagement funnel to build better first-party data (23%);  
  2. Implementing tech solutions to provide a 360-degree view of audiences (15%); and
  3. Investing in solutions to deliver a more personalized user experience (15%).

With a strong focus on first-party data, 58% of publishers are working to ensure their audience informs their business decisions and their investment in a data-led organization. Another 21% highlight the importance of internally managing and communicating audience insights throughout their organizations.

The AOP provides a snapshot of important focus areas for the year. A strong confidence level among media companies reflects positive internal alignment on essential strategies to develop and grow their businesses further. They are focused on building a diverse and strong talent pool. In terms of strategy, they are taking an audience-focused strategy and look to diversify revenue growth beyond advertising sales and subscriptions and increase sponsorships, lead generation, and event revenues.

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