Home Publishers Recurrent Sees Hope In Programmatic Direct After A Disappointing 2022

Recurrent Sees Hope In Programmatic Direct After A Disappointing 2022

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In the wake of a rough second half of 2022, Recurrent Ventures is prioritizing areas of its ad business where it sees the highest growth potential and return.

That means ramping up its focus on programmatic direct and private marketplaces (PMPs) rather than open auctions, said Scott Mulqueen, Recurrent’s VP of programmatic and yield.

Recurrent, which publishes Popular Science, The Drive and its most recent acquisition, home design site Dwell, considers programmatic direct a natural complement to its direct sales business.

Programmatic direct has grown from nothing to one of Recurrent’s top ad offerings since the beginning of 2022, and it also provides a means to “begin moving transactions out of the open auction to a more curated white-glove level,” Mulqueen said.

Going direct also generally comes with a more significant price point.

To further its programmatic direct business, Recurrent announced on Thursday a partnership with data management platform Audigent. Marketers now have access to Recurrent’s full portfolio of 28 publisher brands and 65 million monthly visitors through Audigent’s private marketplaces. The partnership also allows Recurrent to more easily include cookieless traffic in its own PMPs.

More direct

Through the integration with Audigent’s SmartPMPs, Recurrent can offer a range of curated deals that are more tailored to an individual client’s needs, Mulqueen said. This makes it easier to upsell advertisers that are already seeing success with Recurrent’s open-market inventory.

“Whereas we used to make $1 [CPMs] in the open market on a piece of inventory,” Mulqueen said, “we’re now able to package up those more premium layers, so the price point becomes $4 to $15.”

Like many publishers, Recurrent struggled to monetize via open-web programmatic over the last two quarters of 2022.

Publishers usually see an acceleration in advertising demand from April until the end of the year. But that “just didn’t happen,” Mulqueen said, most likely because advertisers were being more cautious.

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The drop-off in open-auction revenue was especially noticeable on the less brand-safe properties in Recurrent’s portfolio, including its military sites Task and Purpose and The Warzone.

In July, the company shuttered lifestyle publication MEL Magazine and laid off its editorial team of about 15. Recurrent released a statement at the time that said it had trouble monetizing the site. Recurrent also pivoted away from building a lifestyle publications vertical and restructured its direct sales division.

Then, in September, Recurrent cut 52 positions, mostly in operations, commerce and editorial spurred by a drag in advertising demand and needing to streamline the business.

But after a dismal Q3, the next quarter was strong on all revenue fronts, including “the big three” of programmatic, direct and affiliate commerce, Recurrent told AdExchanger.

In fact, programmatic direct, including PMPs and reservation-based sales, continued to grow through Q4 and picked up the slack for the flagging open-auction business. “As we were flatlining at one level, we were accelerating at that more premium level,” Mulqueen said.

By expanding its programmatic direct and PMP business, Recurrent is aiming for increased yield and better ad margins compared to open auction. But it’s also courting new business from agencies and clients that were not already engaging on the direct sales side.

Wider and deeper

Offering advertisers more curated deals through PMPs and other programmatic direct products allowed Recurrent to package inventory across all of its properties in addition to packaging audiences across sites with similar subject matter.

To date, the company has relied on acquiring multiple publications with similar editorial focuses to build strong vertical offerings based on contextual targeting, particularly in the automotive, military, science, tech, outdoor and home verticals.

Heading into 2023, Recurrent is slowing down its rate of publisher brand acquisitions in favor of creating a more unified monetization strategy across its entire portfolio, rather than just within those verticals.

The integration with Audigent’s PMP product will play a key role in defining that strategy, Mulqueen said.

Through these PMPs, Recurrent can create addressable audiences across its properties without using third-party cookies. It does so by matching its own user base against Audigent’s Hadron ID, which includes a mix of deterministic signals, such as email addresses, probabilistic signals and data from brokers, including TransUnion, Experian, Equifax and Epsilon.

That audience matching allows the 40% to 50% of Recurrent’s North American audience that browses in cookieless environments to be included in Audigent’s SmartPMPs. That cookieless inventory can also be included in Recurrent’s own audience sales efforts via direct or programmatic channels.

More scale, more channels

PMP deals through Audigent also helps add scale for particularly niche targeting requests from advertisers.

For example, if an advertiser is looking to target hunters, it makes sense to reach readers of Recurrent’s properties in the outdoor vertical, like Field and Stream and Outdoor Life. But the advertiser might think those audiences don’t have enough engagement to make a PMP deal worthwhile. Through the partnership with Audigent, they can buy through a PMP that includes Recurrent’s outdoor inventory in addition to non-Recurrent publications.

The additional inventory available through Audigent’s PMPs can also fill media gaps that Recurrent can’t fill on its own. Recurrent, for example, doesn’t currently have a CTV presence. But the integration allows advertisers to activate Recurrent’s audience segments against the CTV inventory that Audigent has access to through its other publisher partnerships.

Rather than targeting against a vertical, Recurrent can “fragment that audience based on the interests of advertisers,” Mulqueen said.

“It creates a multidimensional sales conversation that didn’t exist for us 12 months ago,” he said.

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