With Browsers Playing God, Publishers Must Find A New Religion

The Sell Sider” is a column written for the sell side of the digital media community.

Today’s column is written by Adam Hecht, vice president of monetization at SintecMedia.

Apple and Google have both made changes to their browsers recently, and at a recent panel I attended, publishers reported decreased revenues as a result.

In the US, there are few regulations like GDPR, so browsers get to play God, deciding for themselves how to balance user experience with advertiser and publisher transactions. Apple’s ability to block trackers on ads makes for a much cleaner browsing experience without much hurting Apple, which hardly cares about ad revenue.

Google does care about ad revenue and has tried to make changes that hurt the bad guys, not publisher partners, but even good sites with a lot of badly structured content will feel the pinch.

For publishers that take the long view, it’s clear: Profiting from audience-targeted ads is going to get harder, especially on Safari. And using intrusive advertising is no longer a revenue shortcut.

So now what? Focus on content and partnerships.

When You Can’t Sell Audiences, Sell Content

Not every publisher has the luxury of relying more heavily on direct-sold inventory to avoid audience-targeted problems on programmatic. Some companies, including Chegg and Bauer Xcel Media, have good sites that rely on programmatic for the majority of their income. It would take months to establish a fully operational sales team and even longer to make inroads with buyers, which might not be a fit with their strategy anyway. Focusing on how content is sold programmatically is an important step.

Publishers should start with a thorough review of their product taxonomy available via audience-targeted buys. If advertisers don’t know what content a publisher is selling, how are they going to buy it or know how to value it? I often see publishers with mangled versions of content labels from “sports” or “sports_football” to internal labels that are virtually indecipherable.

This disorganization hurts scale and limits revenue. Buyers aren’t going to sort through the mess. Simply labeling inventory in an organized, clear way helps grow demand that isn’t reliant on cookies at all. Yes, it’s work. Yes, it’s worth it.

What’s more, not everyone knows where a publisher’s content is even available.

The Financial Times’ and Business Insider’s recent audits are wake-up calls for publishers that are using programmatic without a lot of guardrails. All publishers should create a test campaign to see where spoofing is happening and make it known to supply-side platforms and exchanges that there are issues.

Issuing a public notice of where real content is available is good first step to funnel revenue the right way and decrease fraud. Now that Google has adopted Ads.txt, it has a chance of actually working. Advertisers should implement Ads.txt as a strong signal that content is high-quality while limiting spoofing.

It’s Time for Some Publisher ‘Strategery’

We’re done with talks of the duopoly. With mobile video exploding and TV turning digital, there are at least five, if not 10, big companies that will affect publisher revenue in the future, including Apple and Amazon. The right way to profit in the long haul is to stay above board and partner, partner, partner. Publishers can’t rely on the tech giants to keep them afloat. They need to work together to make it easier for advertisers to buy at scale without a middleman.

Publishers should make more private deals to encourage audience extension, retargeting and content-specific packages that make it easy for advertisers to bundle advertisers into bigger buys. OpenAP, a partnership between Viacom, Fox and Turner, recently reported more than 90 clients logging in to the system. The partnership is a way to hedge against middlemen taking over the audience-targeted TV market as they have much of digital, and it ensures more control over the industry.

Digital publishers should learn from this and start looking to each other. Digital’s equivalent, TrustX, recently got some love from the ANA, which is promising to funnel $50 million through the partnership. More publishers should pledge their support and encourage advertiser partners to embrace the initiative.

Remember, advertisers will feel the changes from the browsers as much as publishers. Buyers and sellers are both under assault right now. Advertisers can’t retreat entirely into the arms of the walled gardens, which are under scrutiny for their own quality issues.

Now is the right time for publishers to reach across the aisle to find solutions that help buyers and sellers maintain value over the long term and create bargaining power with the tech giants in the future.

Follow Adam Hecht (@OpinionatedAdam), SintecMedia (@SintecMedia) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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