It’s been a bruising few weeks for digital publishing. Buzzfeed announced that up to 250 workers (15% of staff) had lost their jobs, Vice followed with the announcement of 250 job cuts, The Pool went into administration and further redundancies have been made at Verizon owned HuffPost and TechCrunch.
Furthermore, this month we saw the output of the Cairncross review which called for, amongst other things, new codes of conduct to safeguard the future of the press. Ryan Kangisser, partner at MediaSense was one of the contributors. The timing of the review alongside the layoffs have resurfaced questions about the sustainability of the ad-supported model and how a reliance on distribution platforms such as Facebook and YouTube has impacted digital ad-revenue. The prevailing opinion appears to be that unless a publisher has a well-established audience base they must rely heavily on distribution platforms to reach users and scale their inventory.
However, as publishers share a large portion of this ad-revenue with the platforms – up to 45% – this has a significant impact on business. Whilst the relationship between publisher and platform is a key factor, there is less discussed but potentially more damaging issue: Advertisers are now indifferent to environment. Provided the ad is served to the right audience, at the right time and meets the necessary quality requirements (viewable, fraud free & brand safe) then the advertiser is happy.
The need to deliver contextually relevant content or position a brand within a premium publisher environment has been usurped by data driven marketing techniques. This creates an issue for publishers investing in quality content; because content is no longer king. We see evidence of this throughout our digital auditing process DiPA™ which evaluates the entire digital ecosystem:
- Media strategies are data driven: The focus of media strategies is now on the data, specifically, the use of data to reach a target audience. Creating audience segments and targeting these groups is the priority. The environment has been de-prioritised, and in my experience is rarely mentioned in briefs or strategy documents.
- Platforms have replaced publishers: The output of a media strategy is the media plan, a detailed breakdown of the approach and investment allocation. Historically a plan would contain details of the publishers and content that was being targeted. But this is no longer the case. Platforms dominate the media plans, with investment aligned to the likes of YouTube, Facebook or a DSP partner.
- Campaign reporting is inadequate: Although information relating to environment is available within reporting systems (e.g. a domain level report from a DSP), it is largely ignored in campaign reporting documents. This means that ‘where’ an ad appears is never discussed and certainly not prioritised.
- Optimisation is not aligned to environment: Both algorithmic and manual optimisation focus on either line items and possibly creative. The set-up of a campaign in the platforms does not easily enable the environment to be optimised.
These factors are all by-products of programmatic buying techniques, which shifted focus away from environment to data. Use of Open Exchange trading is also cited as one of the key drivers of this behaviour – as control of environment is limited to whitelists and blacklists. One potential solution is the increased use of Private Market Places (PMPs), or Programmatic Guaranteed deals – these trading techniques offer advertisers the opportunity to improve the quality of inventory.
However, use of PMPs appears to be relatively limited and when used difficult to scale – indeed current trends suggest that PMP usage is actually falling with investment returning to Open Exchange – Ad Exchanger Jan 14th 2019 But should advertisers be too concerned about the quality of content if they are reaching their target audience? We would argue that they should and that the de-prioritisation of content is to the detriment of brands and their ability to connect with consumers.
The problem is that quality management in the programmatic world is done at scale; through the use of whitelists, blacklists and verification systems. These methods (whilst useful) do not prioritise premium publishers and enable agencies to buy cheaper lower quality media in order to deliver their objectives.
Advertisers have the opportunity to address this, improve their media inventory and help publishers at the same time. However, until inventory quality is integrated back into the planning process, until it becomes a key point of discussion, until reports expose where ads run, until environment is effectively measured, optimised and inventory quality managed, then unfortunately, we will continue to see premium publishers struggle to realise the value of their content.