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TikTok’s Pulse Premiere partners with media brands. Will it work?

August 17, 2023 | By Theresa Cramer – Independent Journalist @Cramerstrasse

TikTok and media companies across the globe are teaming up to write the next chapter in the epic saga of the media and its complex relationship with social platforms. In early May, TikTok announced Pulse Premiere, a program designed to place advertisers alongside the premium content created by trusted media brands — and share the revenue 50/50 with those content creators. 

The first question that might bubble to the surface for media companies is, “How is this different from all the other revenue-sharing schemes with social platforms?” 

“Some publishers have had good relationships with some platforms,” says Nic Newman, Senior Research Associate at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism. He points to Snapchat as an example of a platform that has led to reasonable revenue for some media companies. But revenue is not the main impetus for them to embrace TikTok. “Cultural genres are things that premium publishers are pushing into, especially to reach younger users,” says Newman. And TikTok has been a key partner in that strategy all along.

This strategy aims to combat news avoidance and engage new audiences, says Newman. Add to the mix a decline in brand revenue and media buyers who find it easier to buy through platforms, and it’s clear why premium publishers are eager to partner with a wildly popular platform like TikTok. From TikTok’s point of view, Newman adds, it also makes sense to reward media companies for creating content that helps fuel the platform’s ongoing success. 

But as it turns out, there are a few key differences between TikTok and its social media competitors that have media companies feeling bullish.

Embracing TikTok as a content creation platform

TikTok is unique. Facebook and X/Twitter, at least for publishers, are places where publications and audiences share links to content, which drives traffic back to a website. This dynamic has been a source of tension over the year, which continues to play out. TikTok, however, is more of a content-creation tool than it is a distribution platform. Publishers who are successful on TikTok understand and embrace the peculiarities of TikTok and create content designed specifically for this audience.

Reuters Institute’s 2022 Digital News Report cited TikTok as the fastest-growing social network for news consumption. This is driven, in part, by publishers’ desire to reach new, younger audiences. Reuters found 40% of people 18 to 24 use TikTok, and 15% of them use it for news. It only makes sense that news brands with robust TikTok audiences would seek to cash in on that engagement through advertising.

One of those media brands is Vox Media, which joins Condé Nast, Buzzfeed, Dotdash Meredith, Hearst Magazines, MLS, NBCUniversal, UFC, and WWE as one of the initial Pulse Premiere partners. “Our editorial brands and video franchises reach millions of highly engaged followers on TikTok, and we are now excited to work with TikTok on a new ad product,” Ray Chao, SVP & GM of Audio and Digital Video at Vox Media, said in a statement to DCN. “We are hopeful that this partnership will help us strengthen our digital video revenue model through a new revenue stream.” 

Similarly, Deb Brett, Condé Nast’s Chief Business Officer, Digital, says, “Our audience demands us to be on TikTok.” That’s not a problem for Conde Nast’s publications, which have been “digital first” for years, according to Brett. 

Importantly, Condé Nast also avoids taking a one-size-fits-all approach to its social media channels. “We tailor what we create for every platform. We want to hear from our brands in different ways,” says Brett. Before TikTok introduced Pulse Premiere, that often meant creating branded content integrations and custom programs for advertisers who wanted to reach the brands’ audiences. Condé Nast even tried live streaming and shoppable content. Pulse Premiere is now making it easier for media organizations to monetize their presence on the platform. 

Thinking about brand safety

Pulse Premiere comes on the heels of TikTok Pulse, launched in 2022, which places brand advertisers next to the top 4% of trending videos on TikTok across a number of categories. Throughout the history of social media advertising, brands have run into the problem of unpredictability. Historically, this problem was only addressed once it boiled over, sometimes in the form of a boycott. As ads follow users around one social platform or another, there has been no telling what content an ad will be placed beside. At this stage of the social game, it’s no surprise that TikTok is being proactive about providing a solution to that ongoing issue.

In its announcement, TikTok said, “Pulse Premiere gives brands the control to choose where their ads are placed, adjacent to content from our premium publishing partners in lifestyle and education, sports, and entertainment categories for specific tentpole events as well as evergreen, ongoing content.” In other words, TikTok is giving advertisers the ability not only to avoid being placed next to the latest viral conspiracy theory video — or even just dance trends irrelevant to a brand’s messaging — but to easily continue existing publisher relationships.

Extending existing brand relationships 

As a publishing community, we love [that TikTok Pulse Premiere is] turnkey, its low lift, and its scalable,” says Brett. Rather than devising ad hoc solutions to advertiser demands to be part of the TikTok conversation that Condé Nast’s brands create, the publisher can now take advantage of a native ad platform.

Condé Nast will kick off its Pulse Premiere participation by aligning a campaign with what it calls one of its “cultural calendar moments”: Vogue World. The event takes place on September 14 in London, and Brett says Vogue will align its TikTok content with the event. “It’s an exciting intersection of their ad product and our cultural calendar moments,” she adds. 

While it’s still too early to tell whether the economics add up for publishers, Brett says, “It has indicators for a huge potential.” Newman, however, points to a problem publishers have come to know well: “Fundamentally, people’s attention is the problem. The first few publishers do well, then other pubs follow, and the rates go down.” Only time will tell if TikTok proves to be different from its competitors in the ways that matter most for publishers.

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