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InContext / An inside look at the business of digital content

4 Ways publishers can leverage AI to improve monetization

February 26, 2024 | By Gregory Friend, Vice President, Content, Insights and Strategy – Nativo @nativoinc
The topline: How current and emerging AI capabilities can bolster the bottom line, while still preserving a transparent, premium content ecosystem and a robust future for professional journalism. 

Generative AI represents the most disruptive force to hit the media space since the dawn of digital publishing. It’s understandable that right now, in 2024, a lot of the headlines are going to be focused on scandal—including the Sports Illustrated AI-generated article controversy and CNET’s quieter decision to suspend AI-generated content publication “for now.” In all likelihood, this list will continue to grow as too many publishers play fast and loose with their AI guidelines. 

That said, while the need for publishers to establish guardrails and policies for the use and implementation of AI cannot be understated, publishers also risk going too far and missing out on the benefits of these transformative leaps forward in technology. Unfortunately, that means there’s no one-size-fits-all solution for our industry when it comes to generative AI.

Generative AI—and really all AI—has the potential to revolutionize the way in which publishers monetize their content and on-site experiences. Let’s look at four areas where current and emerging AI capabilities can bolster the bottom line, while still preserving a transparent, premium content ecosystem and a robust future for professional journalism. 

AI-driven dynamic ad creative

Dynamic ad creative isn’t a new concept in the digital ad space. However, it is one where the execution of such ads to date has not been able to keep up with advertiser desires. New generative AI tools are changing the game in this regard. From a publisher’s perspective, the more tailored an ad experience can be based on what’s known about a visitor, the more effective that creative will be—and the higher a premium these dynamic units can yield for the sites that support them. 

Historically, dynamic ad creative has been used to greatest effect in retargeting efforts: those infamous instances where ad units featuring a product the visitor viewed on another site continue to “follow” the person across the internet. With the deprecation of third-party cookies, traditional means of retargeting in this way will become more challenging. However, improved generative AI capabilities will help bridge the gap by enabling advertisers to dynamically generate ads based on a wide variety of other factors, including the content around which the ad is appearing and known attributes and interests of the site visitor. 

With tools like OpenAI’s Sora now rolling out to the market, the potential for dynamic video ad creative is also about to skyrocket, bringing unprecedented premium personalization options to already-lucrative video ad formats. Publishers need to stay on top of what’s possible in this realm and integrate these premium options into their sites as they become available. 

Enhanced native advertising content

In the same vein as emerging gen AI capabilities for video ads, publishers also have an opportunity to enhance the monetization of another premium opportunity on their sites: native advertising. New generative AI tools can help publishers and advertisers quickly and easily launch more-effective native ad and branded content campaigns by generating multiple headline options in varied tones and styles. These tools can also keep native ad content fresh by rephrasing existing content for additional impact, even going so far as to customize based on other content on the page. 

In a cookieless advertising environment, native advertising will continue to play a bigger role in publishers’ monetization strategies, given its ability to target visitors based on context while enhancing the value being delivered to the reader. Supercharging these experiences with the latest GenAI capabilities—thereby enhancing effectiveness while reducing resources to create and update these ad experiences—will ensure these units continue to contribute a growing proportion of publisher ad revenue. 

Personalized audience experiences

Beyond AI-elevated ad experiences, new generative AI capabilities can deliver personalization experiences at a scale and granularity that simply weren’t possible with previous automation technology. This will not only be in terms of article recommendations, but also optimized layouts, tailored offers and upgrades, unique experiences based on personal preferences, and more. 

Such personalization isn’t just an experience upgrade for visitors; it’s an enhanced monetization opportunity for publishers, with returns on personalization efforts ranging from $3 to $20+ per dollar invested. Beyond increasing audience engagement and time spent with a publisher, personalized elements can be packaged into new monetizable products, including email and mobile newsletters and digests that bring value to users while opening new advertising inventory and sponsorship opportunities. 

Predictive analytics to boost subscriber and ad revenue growth

Finally, new AI tools can be tapped to transform website data and analytics into predictive insights that can help publishers optimize their content for better performance and monetization. Publishers can leverage data and AI to predict which content will perform best, which audiences are most likely to subscribe, and which ad placements will be most effective. By identifying patterns and trends that humans might miss, AI can deliver actionable insights to optimize content and marketing strategies for maximum revenue.

For example, by predicting which articles are likely to generate the most subscription conversions, publishers can prioritize their promotion across their site and other owned platforms. Similarly, AI-driven predictive analytics can help optimize ad placements, ensuring that ads are seen by the most relevant audience, thus increasing their effectiveness and the publisher’s ad revenues.

As digital publishers tackle tough questions regarding the role of AI within their organizations, both today and as these capabilities evolve in the future, it’s important to consider the full range of enhancements that can be delivered. Ultimately, the most-effective implementations won’t be the ones that replace human creativity and voices within the site experience. Rather the best implementations will be those that amplify the impact of that human creativity and ensure it’s being monetized at a rate that enables publishers to continue to reinvest in the content, initiatives, and people that matter most. 

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