Fighting For Publishers In A Platform World: How Axel Springer Is Taking On The Duopoly

Axel Springer joined the Coalition for Better Ads on Wednesday partially because it didn’t want Google, a member of the coalition, to have an outsize say in what counted as a better ad experience.

Despite being a dominant European publisher, Axel Springer is worried about US platforms like Google dictating industry standards or positioning to benefit from laws like GDPR.

So it’s fighting back by making its voice heard on industry topics like ad quality, GDPR, data collection and brand safety.

At Dmexco in Cologne, Germany, AdExchanger spoke with execs from Axel Springer-owned Bild, the biggest European news and entertainment portal.

Stefan Betzold, managing director of Bild Digital, and Carsten Schwecke, chief digital officer at Axel Springer joint venture Media Impact, spoke about how the company is taking a stand against the duopoly.

Ad Quality

“Single partners shouldn’t be in control of how the recommendations of the Coalition of Better Ads are executed,” Betzold said, referencing Google. “For Chrome ad filtering, it doesn’t make sense to have one big partner be the police. It shouldn’t be in one hand. It should be across various instances.”

Plus, Axel Springer has already devoted a lot of resources toward its ad experience. A year ago, it reduced ad density by 20%. It surveyed readers to find out what ads they disliked, and removed autoplay and pop-over ads.

But different regions gauge the same ad experience differently, Betzold said, one reason Axel Springer wants to join a coalition that it feels is US-centric at the moment.

“We can only change the market to make a better ad experience if everyone sits at the table,” Betzold said. “Media agencies must say that intrusive formats are not part of the media plans. As a publisher, we should stop offering these units, and sales houses should take it off the price list. We need the clients on board, the brands, the media agencies and the publishers.”


While GDPR was designed as a way to simplify privacy regulations and boost the local economy, Axel Springer doesn’t think that the ePrivacy Regulations will do that in their current form. They will require publishers like itself to get an opt-in for readers to access articles. Large platforms with great first-party data that can create a single opt-in are in the greatest position to benefit.

“In the current legislation, the American companies would profit from it,” Schwecke said. “There are still some challenges with it.”

Bild’s Betzold traveled to Brussels to talk to European Parliament representatives about why the current draft doesn’t make sense.

“We would fully support giving the user control and transparency, but the current privacy draft puts the decision into the browser area, which is the wrong logic,” he said. “Plus, the major owners of browses, like Apple, Google and Microsoft, are in the US.”

Brand Safety

When brands pulled out of user-generated content en masse earlier this year, Axel Springer saw an opportunity to differentiate. Although its news publications cover non-brand-safe topics like terrorist attacks, it manually tags articles, which gives it more control over what ads show up on what pages.

“You can have great algorithms, but you still can’t control user-generated content,” Betzold said. “We definitely do better than the platforms.”

Media Impact sells across multiple Axel Springer brands, and Schwecke is seeing the market move toward well-known brands.

“The most important things in the market right now are trust and transparency,” Schwecke said. “That’s all advertisers and agencies are talking about right now. We have valuable brands where the advertiser knows it’s not rubbish, and no issues with ad fraud, with a rate under 1%.”

While Axel Springer is pushing into programmatic, where brand safety often poses more of a challenge, it’s doing so with transparency front and center, Schwecke added. And as a final blow to the duopoly, the publisher stopped working with Google’s ad server, DFP, and transitioned all of its sites to a non-duopoly competitor: AppNexus.

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