All posts by Matt O'Neill

A crucial moment for premium video publishers

SpotX UHS Report FiguresSince SpotX released their findings with IHS last week there has been a lot of excitement about the adoption and growth of programmatic video, in particular in the UK. The report, “found that revenue across Europe from online video jumped from €22 million in 2012 to €375 million in 2015. IHS forecasts that €2 billion, which is over half of all online video advertising revenue, will be generated programmatically by 2020.”
These numbers are definitely exciting. However, I think they raise a secondary question and point to an important moment for suppliers of premium video inventory. Even at current levels of spend supply of premium, broadcast-quality video content is extremely constrained and that is the video inventory that marketers are after. For the first time, well, ever, as far as I can remember this is a first for online. We have always suffered from the double-edged sword of an effectively infinite pool of supply. Now, however, in this extraordinarily hot space, publishers may have some leverage.
Some ideas and observations:

Opportunity to move to a first-price auction

IPONWEB Optimal Auction PriceA lot of money has been left on the table by suppliers because of the second-price auction. Suppliers of quality video inventory can’t afford this anymore. There is a liquid market for their supply. The first publishers to INSIST on a top-bid-wins marketplace will reap significant benefits. PubMatic, SpotX, Tremor and others have the ability to deliver a lot of value to publishers. Of course there could be nuanced approaches here such as providing publishers the option to turn on and off first or second bid or creating a blended win rate, similar to what IPONWEB has suggested.

Because of fraud no one knows how much REAL inventory is out there

The blatant fraud exposed in Rob Leathern’s and then Mike Nolet’s pieces over the last fortnight have really kicked the hornet’s nest when it comes to video ad fraud, even on premium sites. According the Mike’s piece:

One fraudulent ad-unit shows so many ads that in 25-minutes I tracked:

  • 5359 HTTP calls. Yes, five thousand three hundred and fifty nine individual HTTP calls.

  • 70.19 MB of traffic. SEVENTY MEGABYTES. Thankfully I loaded this on my laptop as this one single ad unit would have used 7% of my monthly cell phone data allowance!

While the growth numbers projected by SpotX and IHS are exciting, I fear that as the ripples of these findings spread, they could be negatively impacted. Buyers do NOT want to be pumping cash into an ecosystem this dodgy. AppNexus’s recent revelation that 65% of their impressions vanished when they began filtering for fraud further underscores the scope of the issue.

Where will the growth come from

Where will this 5x growth in programmatic video spend come from? The inventory is constrained and largely sold out. Marketers are less interested in long-tail, short-format video and the jury is still very much out on the value of out-feed solutions like Teads (especially for desktop) and other ‘new video’ sources of supply.

Of course inventory is only half the equation. Price is the other. I do think there is probably quite a bit of upside to be achieved by switching to first-price auctions as mentioned above. This would at least create a real marketplace with real price signalling. Obviously though, not all this growth will come simply from better pricing the supply we’ve got.

There will be continued organic growth in the supply of premium video inventory as audiences continue to shift viewing habits but as far as we’ve seen to date this shift has lagged behind advertiser demand for those eyeballs.

The mobile issue

Users are quickly adopting mobile devices for video consumption. However, video on mobile can be a tricky issue. The screens are much smaller, user behaviour is very different (think fast scrolling), audio is often muted, there’s less screen real estate for gutters and out of page advertising, and data is frequently metered and expensive. What happens to video programmatic should we see a sudden, rapid shift to the majority of video being consumed on portable devices?

Redefining programmatic video

As far as I see it the only way that these numbers can be achieved but only with a few fundamental issues being addresses first. In addition to the fixes, what will have to happen is that “television” advertising will need to become “video” advertising. It’s like in Chinatown when Jake Gittes is told, “either you bring the water to LA or you bring LA to the water.”

There is a vast pool of supply sitting in set top boxes and televisions that is currently being classified as “television” ad spend. What will (and must) happen is that this inventory needs to be made addressable through programmatic means. The convergence  of offline tv and online video will create a huge pool of inventory for buyers to purchase and by layering on data, targeting, and programmatic delivery the efficiencies of online can be applied to the most valuable advertising supply resource in history.

In summary

  • The incredible growth numbers in programmatic video face significant hurdles
  • The supply of the valuable inventory buyers want is severely constrained and largely sold out
  • Publishers have the upper hand from a pricing perspective and need to aggressively embrace this fact. It’s a very liquid market.
  • SSPs for video inventory should move to first-price auctions to drive incremental revenue for publishers (or at least offer the option to do so)
  • It’s currently unclear where the 500% growth in the next 5 years will come from given the lack of inventory available
  • Some growth can come from increasing yields and organic growth of inventory supplies
  • The consumer shift to mobile exacerbates the issue of quality supply not being available
  • A huge opportunity exists by converging traditional tv and online ‘video’ advertising and seems to be the only viable way that this growth can be achieved.

Top 5 Things to Know about Audio Advertising

Most of the time, when we talk about advertising platforms, we think of ads with displayed content, whether that’s text, images, or perhaps video. One area that’s often overlooked is audio advertising, which is important in the world of music and radio where the attention of customers is sought through ears, not eyes.

So what do you need to know about audio advertising? Here are the essentials.

The same principles apply

What does a platform for audio advertising look like? In essence, the same as it does for other kinds of ads. Advertisers buy access to the users of multiple radio and music services through a single advertising platform, just as they would normally purchase target audiences through advertising on multiple websites and apps.

It has huge reach

Such an advertising platform is a good fit for the radio and digital music industries because of the ways in which these things are consumed—which is to say, mainly via mobile devices, with the ever-increasing ability to listen to digital audio anywhere at any time. This includes AM/FM radio, online radio (streamed and on-demand) and podcasts, which means access to huge audiences.

It’s targeted

The nature of digital audio also means the ability to target very specific audiences. Podcasts and radio come in many flavours, including music, news, sports and politics. Digital audio is also consumed in different contexts, such as in the car, at home or in the office. All of this means that audiences can be segmented accordingly.

It’s not limited to audio

While audio advertising refers mainly to the transmission of audio, music streaming services and platforms—on mobile apps and on the web—typically have interfaces where visual components can be used, such as banner ads that can be used in conjunction with audio ads. On Spotify, for example, a synchronised banner ad replaces the usual square album cover image whenever an audio ad plays.

The platform exists

Last year, Global Radio launched a new advertising platform they call the Digital Audio Exchange, which gives advertisers access to an impressive list of digital radio brands, music streaming services and audio social networks, including Spotify, Blinkbox, Capital, and Classic FM. Advertising partners already include giants such as Vodafone, Virgin Media, Lexus, eBay and 20th Century Fox.

Like many publishers, Global Radio is particularly well-positioned to sell inventory because they can offer their own rich, ‘premium’ audience data, as well as that of reputable partners who can expand their reach.
It’s easy to overlook audio advertising, but in fact digital audio is now more relevant than ever, an increasingly omnipresent fixture in the consumer landscape. This makes digital audio one of the best ways to reach consumers today.

How does a biddable media team work

The online advertising world has seen the rise of biddable media, programmatic bidding where automated auction platforms are used to purchase ad impressions. In essence, the advertiser who is willing to pay the highest price for an individual impression wins that impression.

In some ways, this has simplified how purchasing online ads works. It’s an efficient, transparent and precise means of ad buying that cuts out a lot of the manual input, allows for more specific targeting, and makes the ad-buying economy more organised.

However, while biddable media platforms have all of these advantages, media and marketing agencies frequently fail to integrate the needs of biddable media properly into their agency structure, resulting in a fragmented media team whose priorities can conflict.

So what should a biddable media team look like, what should it do and how should it be structured?

Search versus display

The responsibilities of purchasing ads are traditionally split between:

The search team — responsible for search ads, typically Paid Search where they show up alongside search results.

The display team — responsible for display ads that appear on websites.

However, thanks to the evolution of online advertising where both kinds of ads have grown in complexity, these two sides have merged such that the distinction no longer entirely makes sense.

Search ads include increasingly rich media and social extensions that aren’t fully accounted for by the responsibilities of the search team. At the same time, display ads have also adopted elements of search; for example, targeted native ads that reflect a user’s recent searches.

Biddable media, where advertisers purchase audiences via ad impressions, has grown in popularity because the ability of ads to collect and exploit contextual user data has become more universal, allowing the attention of specific target audiences to be purchased for all kinds of ads–while previously, search ads would ignore the audience data layer, looking only at the immediate context of, for example, search keywords.

So when putting together a biddable media team, it becomes a question of ownership: who should own biddable media when the traditional priorities of the search team are no longer sufficient?

What does biddable media need?

A biddable media advertising strategy needs to incorporate the following stages:

Planning — the team develops plans according to a branding strategy and business objectives.
Buying — real-time bidding for ad impressions, purchasing targeted audiences.
Optimisation — making ongoing changes to the ads according to their performance.
Reporting — evaluating the success of campaigns and citing where they could be improved.
Analysing tech landscape — keeping an eye on current developments in the online advertising world.

This is a process that needs to be at the centre of marketing operations. Programmatic buying should be treated as an integral part of the wider strategy and communications plan, and as such the different teams should be brought in line so that they both serve each of these stages of the process.

Team culture

The aim of a biddable media team should be to foster an approach to the campaign that is adopted by both search and display teams and reflects the process required by today’s biddable media. And there are key attributes to look for in the team.

Experimental — willingness to test, look at results, and experiment with changes.
Analytical — the ability to interpret data and campaign results using analytics tools.
Quantitative — crunching the numbers, being aware of costs, clicks and audience reach.
All-round data nerd — (said with love, obviously!) understanding the overall precedence of data, and looking not only at search data but display data (e.g. which images or videos are effective) and social media reach.

Each team should retain its core expertise and be able to bring that to the table, but with some understanding of the other side of the process. An effective biddable media team requires ‘cross-pollination’, each team learning from the other to synthesise their practises.

This means that team members are likely to need some training in each other’s disciplines. The search team will need greater awareness of audience and brand, while the display team will need to fully understand the implications of targeted ads ruled by data and algorithms.

The result should be a dynamic culture of constant testing and experimenting, with continuous review and improvement of workflow processes. Each member of the biddable media team should be multi-skilled specialists with a full understanding of ad requirements.

Use Native Advertising to Collapse the Purchase Funnel

The marketing funnel—a user’s journey from first becoming aware of your brand to actually making a purchase—is usually thought of in separate stages, each of them focused on different things. Early stages have to do with brand awareness and familiarity, of making your business known to users who may never have heard of you before, while later stages deal with with conversion, turning a user into a (hopefully repeat) customer.

Traditional advertising campaigns have tended to reflect this separation, with advertising units addressing only one or two parts of the marketing funnel, which is broken into “brand” campaigns to build awareness or “direct response” and “performance” campaigns focused on pure conversion.

This has changed with the advent of native advertising. The precise definition of native is somewhat nebulous, but in general it refers to advertising content served in the context of the user’s experience, such as branded content. For example, a news site might share an article “from our sponsors” that, aside from this qualification, looks just like any other article on the site, perhaps even with subject matter that relates to the non-sponsored articles.

A well executed and planned branded content campaign can deliver multiple times the ROI of a standard display campaign.
A well executed and planned branded content campaign can deliver multiple times the ROI of a standard display campaign.

An ROI Growth Engine

The benefit of such branded content is that it helps to collapse the marketing funnel into a near singularity, such that separate campaigns aren’t needed, just one that serves the entire user journey. Branded content can be as media-rich as any of the other content it sits beside—native ads can utilise text, video, interactivity, and other tricks of online advertising to serve every stage of the funnel all in one “ad” placement.

For example, brand awareness can be as simple as “sponsored by” text featuring your brand name; this could then be followed up by a video that “tells a story”, featuring product demonstrations and consumer opinions; and finally, it could use copy to inform the potential customer about a particular product or service and drive them to conversion through a call to action (purchase, register, or download). This roughly follows the order of the traditional marketing funnel, but it’s more important that the ad mixes brand awareness with content designed to influence direct purchasing decisions.

More cost-effective than running multiple campaigns, as well as making the journey simpler for the user, effective native advertising drives ROI and can often yield results that are next to impossible to achieve with standard ads.

Alphabet Soup – Google’s re-org creates editorial feeding frenzy

 I’m hard-pressed to remember more confusing coverage of a business story than what’s going on in the tech and mainstream press regarding  Google and Alphabet. Clearly editorials are going for clickbait rather than informative pieces. Here’s a breakdown from the company’s blog piece.

  1. Alphabet is a new holding company under which several companies will operate. Stock will trade under Alphabet.
  2. Larry Page will become the CEO of Alphabet. Sergey Brinn will be president of Alphabet.
  3. Alphabet will operate the future-looking initiatives such as home (Nest), Health (Life Sciences; Calico) and others including the X lab.
  4. Google will continue to be Google and do the advertising and search stuff as a wholly owned subsidiary of Alphabet.
  5. Google will be run a former head of product named Sundar Pichai.
One example of needlessly misleading headlines today.
One example of needlessly misleading headlines today. No. Not really.

And that’s about it. It’s not “a google rebrand” (Forbes). The google name isn’t going away. Google hasn’t renamed itself (Wired). It hasn’t “blown itself up and started over” (Business Insider).

EDIT: The Guardian has published a super-clear representation of the Google / Alphabet situation.

Guardian Alphabet Chart

52% of UK Internet Users Prefer to Access via Mobile

Ofcom LogoExponential growth can bring unexpected results. How did the long-predicted “Year of Mobile” pass us by?

Year on year growth of UK internet users who go online via smartphones. Souce: Ofcom, “The Communications Report 2015”

An Ofcom report today shows that for the first time the majority of internet usage is coming from mobile devices. For some time it’s been a running joke in the media industry that it’s perpetually going to be “The Year of Mobile”. It seems like the year of mobile is now decidedly behind us. After all, Ofcom has declared that the UK is now a “Smartphone Society?”
How did we go from constantly predicting the Year of Mobile to staring at it in the rearview mirror? The answer lies in exponential growth.

Smartphones have become the most widely owned internet-enabled devices, alongside laptops. In Q1 2015 smartphones were present in two-thirds of households (66%), on a par with laptops at 65%. – Ofcom report

Exponential growth can be a tricky concept for us to get our heads around. That is, it’s simple enough to understand in theory, but it’s not always easy for us to visualise. A familiar example of this is the ‘place a penny on a chessboard and double it for each square’ problem. Before long you’ve got more money than has ever or will ever exist, even though all you did was start out with a measly penny.

How exponential growth works

Growth happens very quickly and shortens the ability to react to the change.
Growth happens very quickly and shortens the ability to react to the change.

A simple, day-to-day example of exponential growth is compound interest. You deposit some money in a bank account, and you get interest on that money per month or per annum at a percentage—say, 1% interest per month. But this additional 1% doesn’t apply only to the original amount you put in. It’s compounded, because every month it takes a total amount including the interest you’ve already accumulated, and adds 1% of that new total.

Warsaw StadiumOver time, in this example, you would see steady growth of your bank account balance. But the result of exponential growth can be a lot more drastic. Chris Martenson came up with a now-famous example of the “magic eye-dropper” to describe how it works. Imagine you have an eye dropper and you place a single drop of water in the middle of a large sport stadium. Every minute, the amount of water added from the magic dropper doubles.

If we assume a drop of water is 0.05mL this would mean in minute one 0.05mL was added to the pitch. About enough to bend the tip of a blade of grass. At the next minute 0.10mL are added to the pitch. In minute three 0.20mL. And so on. Assuming for the sake of the example that the stadium is watertight, how long does it take for the stadium to fill up?
Using Martenson’s example of the Yankee Stadium, he says it takes about 50 minutes. But for the first 45 minutes, the volume of water isn’t very noticeable, or it doesn’t seem like much of a threat—the field has maybe about five feet of water by the 45th minute.

It’s in the last five minutes that the stadium suddenly, rapidly, fills up, leaving you with very little time to escape.
The point of this example is not only to show how exponential growth works, but to demonstrate how it can take us unawares, and how we might not be able to react in a timely manner when it happens. By the time we’ve noticed the growth, the window of opportunity to react to it is very nearly gone.

“The Year of Mobile” Conundrum

With the onset of new technology and the impact this can have on commerce, the result can be similar. For years, we’ve been predicting that next year would be “the year of mobile”, the time when the shift to mobile for media would really happen in a critical way. And yet what if, in the blink of an eye, this event is already behind us?

According to the logic of exponential growth, this could happen almost instantly. That’s because, even though we’ve had our eyes on the growth of mobile, just as we might have been watching the magic water expand in those first 45 minutes in the stadium, we might not truly comprehend the rapid geometric growth that takes place in those last few moments. We keep expecting “the year of mobile” to happen when the critical moment might, in fact, have already happened.

This is why, when it comes to mobile, most of us already feel like we’re playing catch-up. But as marketers, we need to ready ourselves for the surprises of exponential growth and be able to prepare and react accordingly.

In Brief: 4 takeaways from Boston Consulting Group’s recent programmatic survey

Boston Consulting GroupIn their recent report on the profitability of programmatic advertising sales, Boston Consulting Group identified four ways in which the publishers are outperforming all rivals. The most successful publishers:

  • Use cross-channel, data-driven strategies
  • Segment and match inventory with the right buyers
  • Assemble the right technology
  • Build strong go-to-market and analytic capabilities.

The report argues that many publishers fail to incorporate programmatic sales as a core element of their strategy, or to properly manage their programmatic teams. In the worst cases, programmatic specialists are spending less than a quarter of their time creating value. As the programmatic market continues to grow, these firms risk eroding their market share, thus revenue, thus long-term profitability.

According to BCG, programmatic advertising is a $9 billion market and growing rapidly. Programmatic buying automates the process of identifying where you want to advertise (based on consumer traffic, browsing preferences and network reach) and buying advertising space at auction (up to a set maximum bid).

It’s the optimal way to keep pace when opportunities to advertise and consumer behavioural trends are emerging and being sold in real time, and shifts some of the data management burden from human staff onto automated systems. However, the systems need to be properly selected, constructed and deployed in order to achieve their full potential. BCG identified the following key elements in doing so..

Cross-channel, data-driven strategy


Successful publishers have a cohesive and well-formed data strategy. Their management and monetisation of first-party (i.e. data about their own audiences) governs the strategic choices these publishers make. Marketing strategies and pricing structures are based on concrete successes evidenced and supported by data.

A data-centric approach demands rigorous and clear planning, establishing the extent to which programmatic advertising will supplement or replace direct sales. Take eBay’s recent ‘Programmatic Only Week’ for instance. The experiment—where 100% of the online giant’s UK advertising was booked and executed programmatically— was opened to all media buying outlets and allowed the team to collect vital data for future campaigns.

Anna Stoyanova, head of programmatic EMEA for Essence said:

eBay’s ‘programmatic-only week’ focused on buying through auction. During the week we saw a massive increase in supply relevant to demand, but we haven’t seen a devaluation of the inventory, which is really encouraging for publishers and brands.

This is the kind of data that only comes through planning and testing.

Right inventory, right buyer

Building a body of reliable data also means that publishers can match advertisers more accurately with the audiences they want to reach. A publisher who knows their advertisers’ needs in great detail, and who can refresh and extend their inventory when an opportunity arises, can provide accurate targeting of consumers.

Staying close to buyers and customising programmatic sales of targeted inventory can yield six times the CPM of conventional direct sales.

Assembling the technology

The technology involved in programmatic buying requires careful choices to create the right ‘stack’ of software and user choices. The stack is based on ad-serving technology which delivers the sales. Decisions in which sales to deliver are supported by programmatic demand sources and tools. Both delivery and decision-making software must be configured to maximise CPM and fill rates, and these configurations must be specific to each channel and platform in which the publisher operates; one size does not fit all.

Finally, the stack is topped off by data management/output tools which check the effectiveness of the stack as a whole. In general, discrete stacks will need to be built for each area of a publisher’s inventory, although some ad servers and programmatic buying tools work across platforms and provide integrated input and output for different stacks.

Strong capabilities

Technology is useless without the skills to configure it, assess its output and make the decisions it recommends. Hiring programmatic sales specialists and data scientists is a start; integrating them into an existing team is better, since it gives the specialists access to your existing client relationships and thus offers more developed insights into your advertisers’ needs. The human factor is vital: data will not analyse itself, nor will new methods sell themselves to advertisers.

The bottom line

As trends emerge and platforms proliferate, automated identification and selling of advertising opportunities will become essential to keep track of opportunities and trends, and therefore compete in the market. The gap between direct and programmatic sales will gradually close, and publishers who want to stay in the game will be well-positioned for the predicted explosion in programmatic sales – up to 83% of the online market over the next two years.

The Basics: Audience Buying

Last week we looked at how publishers can take control of their own first party data in order to keep control of the sales process, extend their audiences, and offer additional value to marketers..

This week, let’s take a step back and revisit the path from buying media as a proxy for an audience, to being able to buy that audience itself.

Audience by proxy

RocketFuel's Audience Extension
Graphic from RocketFuel’s Audience Extension report.

Traditionally, advertisers were only able to target their audience indirectly, by trying to estimate who would be interested in a particular product or service based on a generalised demographic. This has supposedly helped advertisers to determine when and where to advertise—which publications, which venues, and what kinds of ads.

For example, want to advertise house cleaning products? Advertise on daytime TV or in women’s lifestyle magazines. Want to sell a Rolex? Target a wealthy and ‘masculine’ demographic in publications such as Forbes, or via outdoor on Wall Street and in the City of London. These may be somewhat dated examples but what they exemplify, apart from the reinforcement of age-old stereotypes, is a form of advertising based on certain assumptions about different kinds of people.

The idea is that, since you can’t directly buy the attention of a particular individual, you buy ad space where that audience is statistically more likely to be. And in many people’s minds, that is Advertising 101.

The rise of audience buying

The promise of digital for marketers has always been the increased ability to focus advertising messages to reach ‘the right person at the right time’, and over time this has indeed become more precise. But for a long time, digital marketing never fully managed to live up to this promise. Advertisers have still had to rely on publishers to reach audience segments that they deem statistically more likely to buy.

In recent years, though, things have started to change. We’ve seen the rise of ‘audience buying’: purchasing access to these audience segments directly rather than buying proxies for audiences. Thanks to the shift to digital and the increasingly sophisticated ability to track and store user behaviour, we have the ability to detect users’ activities, and to predict their interests based on patterns of behaviour.

In theory, this fulfils the promise of right time, right place, right person, right everything. The hyper-specific targeting of audience buying is more precise and more cost-effective, ensuring that consumers see ads that are far more relevant to them, and reducing wastage on ad spend for marketers. It also allows for a far more accurate attribution of ad spend, by making it clear which ad placements are truly driving engagement. In other words, it gives marketers full transparency, letting them see where their spend is going and with whom their message is resonating.

Fragmented industry

Audience TargetsThis shift has turned a hundred-year-old advertising industry on its head. It means that advertisers aren’t necessarily reliant on measurement and ratings companies to present them with their approximate audience segments, because they can create their own, collecting data from multiple sources and advertising anywhere that users can be detected and tracked. As we explored with the advent of publisher trading desks, publishers are also striving to reframe their own worth in this new context by exploiting their own rich user data, which they can sell within the audience buying model.

In some ways, though, this has led to such a fractured advertising landscape that we might wish for simpler times. The biggest problem is that the new and old models aren’t necessarily compatible, and yet many advertisers still try to use the old one and think audience buying can simply be tacked on.

For example, traditional TV advertising still mainly follows the old model while digital TV allows for much more direct audience targeting based on metrics like impressions and time spent with ads.

“The cost of using such different methodologies of buying selling and measuring TV and video is catching up to media companies that straddle both worlds,” says Lorne Brown, CEO of Operative. Brown continues:

Buyers and sellers often have separate media planning teams, technology stacks, sales teams, contracts and billing processes for the two worlds. As digital grows, it will not be sustainable to have two parallel processes. It also won’t be effective for advertisers, which will increase their expectations of measurable and effective cross-screen campaigns.

A cohesive model

At the same time, it might not be wise to ditch contextual targeting altogether because it can serve a different purpose. While audience buying is focused on the pre-existing behaviours of users whose data and habits have been tracked, marketers may still want to throw a wider net for growth on a larger scale.

Malcolm Coles of The Telegraph (UK) puts this in terms of ‘driving scale or becoming niche’:

a publisher has to choose between wanting to drive general engagement with their site and their brand, seeking growth over time, versus attending to the pre-existing audiences they have for, say, Telegraph Sport, or even a dedicated Arsenal FC page.

According to a white paper from Xaxis titled Harnessing Big Data for Audience Buying, a cohesive advertising model should have several ‘audience tiers’, ranging from ‘demonstrated affinity’ at one end (‘the consumers who have demonstrated through action a predisposition for the brand’), to ‘inferred affinity’ at the other end (‘the consumers who have not yet expressed affinity through direct action, but may gravitate towards the brand based on broader data such as demographics’).

The stronger the affinity with a brand, the smaller the size of a group, which means that targeting only users with proven affinity—in other words, only direct audience buying—may be insufficient for growth on its own. A good marketing plan, therefore, needs a cohesive model that encompasses both a hyper-targeted audience and a broader contextual reach.

The Basics: Publisher Trading Desks

In the traditional advertising model advertisers and their agencies buy advertising space from media owners and networks. They do this in order to reach an audience they think will be interested in buying their products and services. Simple. Increasingly, however, these relationships are becoming increasingly murky as advertisers morph into media owners and media owners become buyers. One way the latter is taking shape is through the formation of so-called Publisher Trading Desks.

As the advertising and marketing market shifts from trading on media properties as a proxy for audience and toward a more audience-centric trading paradigm, publishers are finding new ways to leverage first party data. By doing so publishers can capitalise on their own audiences, to give them the competitive edge. The premise is simple: publishers can leverage the rich data from their own pre-existing audiences to advertise more effectively, and not just on their own sites, but on third-party sites too.

As such, they can charge a premium for the use of their proprietary data, something to which most advertising companies simply don’t have access. So clients come directly to the publisher and pay the premium to have their product or service advertised across the publisher’s trusted affiliate network.

So how does it work?

PTD Simplified Model
On the left is the traditional buying model. On the right, the publisher moves up the chain, closer to the buyer, to trade the publisher’s own audience across both their own sites as well as on the open exchanges.

A publisher sets up a trading desk using what was traditionaly buy-side technology like MediaMath, DataXu, AppNexus or one of the other Demand Side Platforms (DSPs). This tech allows them to better manage and monetise their audience data. Previously, this would have required advertising middlemen, who would have taken a chunk of the revenue, but the publisher having their own trading desk makes this unnecessary. The actual purchasing of inventory is still done through real-time bidding, but the publisher leverages their proprietary data to target their ads.

This works particularly well for vertical or trade publications. For example, a publisher such as The Guardian, which has its own trading desk, will have rich data on its own readership, segmented into different interest groups. They will be able to look at the data for their travel section or their business section, and can analyse user behaviour to determine which campaigns their readership has been attracted to, which devices they tend to use and other demographic data.

This data then informs the publisher’s advertising on third-party sites—determining the nature of the ads, who to target, and on which of these third-party sites it would be most appropriate to advertise. It can also help to determine which devices to optimise for, such as smartphones and tablets.

But it doesn’t end there. When the publisher buys inventory on these third-party sites, these advertisements then collect their own data through cookies, which in aggregate creates an even richer pool of data.

A better proposition

This audience extension creates a much better advertising proposition overall, by not limiting publishers to the ad space of their own websites, and by allowing them to build on their already rich datasets. It also allows publishers to build mobile advertising even if they have no mobile inventory of their own, or video advertising if they have no video inventory.

For advertisers, there’s an element of brand safety guaranteed, as publishers can bank on their own reputations and those of trusted affiliates. Publishers themselves have the opportunity to work with their internal marketing teams to promote to their own audience beyond their website and across their network, increasing the reach of campaigns and promotional events.

However, a publisher trading desk is not without its challenges. The publisher will first have to prove their value to advertisers and other buyers. Publishers will be required to take on all the usual responsibilities of advertisers, which means that they will need to be savvy with their data, build in-house trading expertise where there is none, and source and train on new platforms where they have limited experience.

In other words, while there are many apparent advantages to publishers setting up their own trading desks in order to regain control of their own advertising and boost their own revenue, publishers will still require a thorough, fully-baked data strategy for it to work effectively.

UK Publisher & Media Owner Map

I don’t know why I haven’t created this before but I sure wish I had. The UK Media Owner space is pretty complex and can be tough to navigate. There are brands within brands, publishing specialists, publisher networks, newspaper consortiums, etc.. I’ve spent god know how many hours searching corporate websites for who owns what.

This map is about 75% complete. I’ll be working on fleshing out the ‘leaf’ nodes — the individual titles for each group, or at least the major ones.

I’ve seen similar maps for agencies and for brands/advertisers, but I’ve never seen one for media owners. I thought I’d make a start of one. If you’ve got ideas for additions, changes, etc. please let me know.