Tag Archives: publishers

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: 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.

Do viewable impressions actually present a bigger opportunity than threat?

Forest FireViewability, probably second the ‘native’, has been the hot topic in ad tech for at least a year. The issue, on its face, is a simple one: Advertisers want to only pay for online ads that at least have a chance, that is to say are in the viewable area of a device or browser, of being seen by the user. Once again we are hoisted (held accountable to) our petard (crowing about how we are the most measurable media). Obviously magazine advertisers are charged whether someone looks at the page or not — or even half the page for less than a second.

However, in the US alone this year ComScore predicts over 4 trillion online display ads will be served. Xaxis stated that it last year it paid more than $750M for more than 3 trillion ads. Woah. That’s a lot of ads and, if my math is right, it comes out to a CPM of $0.25. Not very impressive for the most measurable, fastest growing, and arguably most watched medium in history. Maybe it’s because advertisers already know that somewhere between 25% and 40% of those ads are never going to be seen by anyone. Now, granted, even at the higher end of that estimation, the adjusted price is still only $0.42 CPM. Now, if tomorrow all publishers were somehow magically able to remove all unviewed ads and advertisers began to pay only for ads that were ‘viewed’ would the advertisers agree to a 67% increase in rates for the pleasure? I guess the market would decide but I’m inclined to suggest that no. They would not.

However, there’s an opportunity for premium publishers here to clear out a lot of dead brush, refocus on the ad units on their pages, and not make the same mistakes as we enter the curvy bit of the hockey stick growth period for mobile. It definitely seems like creating a bit of scarcity in this market would be a good thing. Whether it’s fewer, bigger display ads, innovative mobile formats that aren’t just shoehorn solutions of display ads, or clever native units, I think there is the chance to retool how premium sites operate. This is, in my mind at least, a huge win for everyone in the ecosystem (except maybe display ad serving companies who make money on every ad served).

There’s a bigger, better post in here that needs to be written and I’ll give it the attention it deserves some day soon. However, I think that for now editors, ad sales teams, creatives, agencies, tech companies, and brands need to embrace the need for this clearing out and see it as the opportunity that it is. Like a huge forest fire, it’s scary to watch and sometimes seems like it’s going to destroy everything it touches, but ultimately it’s a net positive and indeed necessary for further growth.

From Digiday:

The biggest adjustment for publishers in the viewability era is the reality that they’ll be serving fewer impressions via the same pages, which in turn means they’ll be making less money per page … which is why many publishers are still wary of the short-term effects of viewability’s widespread adoption.

But viewability can also work in publishers’ favour, at least in theory. If there are fewer, more valuable viewable ads, publishers can pump up the CPMs on their viewable inventory to compensate for the hit they take on their overall impressions.

via Publishers grapple with viewability’s biggest issues | Digiday.