The ‘Publisher-As-Platform’ Era

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

Today’s column is written by Chip Schenck, vice president of data and programmatic solutions at Meredith Corp.

With Facebook and Google taking two-thirds of every digital dollar, publishers have had to grow, maintain scale and accelerate innovation to stay competitive.

In the past, publisher innovation meant rolling out new sites or ad products. To achieve scale and increase the value of their inventory, some publishers built their own audience networks, incorporating other publishers’ inventory.

Publishers and platforms ranging from CBS and Fox to LinkedIn and Amazon all launched audience networks, with mixed results. On the positive side, publishers enjoyed higher demand from new sources, including the open market, and could integrate first-party data from across properties to make the entire network more valuable.

On the negative side, publishers that provided the inventory to the network didn’t get as much value as the publisher audience network, which set prices, commanded budgets and gained valuable data.

Now, a new model is emerging: the publisher as platform. In this model, platform publishers provide other publishers with proprietary tools, products, inventory and data to make their own assets more valuable. And, for the first time, the publisher that leverages the platform benefits as well as the publisher that owns the platform.

The model allows greater control, letting participating, non-owned-and-operated publishers set the rules around their own inventory. It also democratizes the playing field. The same tools publishers use to sell their own assets can now be productized to help other publishers build or sell theirs.

In this new world, the publisher platform becomes an exchange whose utility is driven by liquidity. This model goes well beyond ads, and can extend to content or any page-enhancing tool or product that publishers conceive.

To take advantage of the model, publishers must adopt a new mindset of openness. Sharing is not losing. Not being the dominant partner for a campaign isn’t losing. Instead, it’s creating a path toward new, long-term value.

This is a difficult shift for many publishers, which, after seeing CPMs fall on the open exchange, turned to more closed models, such as private marketplaces. To succeed in a platform model, publishers must acknowledge that they can’t win everywhere. They must isolate what they do well and go deep into that area. In short, they must place their bets.

For those that do, the rewards may be outsized. The publisher-as-platform model doesn’t just make publisher assets more valuable, it makes advertiser campaigns more effective. Publishers benefit from greater consumer engagement and more personalized experiences from the insight and tools gleaned from other publishers. Advertisers benefit because their message is delivered to a more deeply understood audience, in a more deeply understood context, driving higher conversion.

So what do you need to be a platform publisher?

Proprietary data, to begin with. At the heart of being a platform is having unique insight into an audience that marketers want and other publishers need. This could take the form of weather data, for example, or video consumption data. Smaller pubs with niche audiences, such as auto sites, have already started selling their data to other publishers in this way; the publisher-as-platform model enables that at scale. 

Publishers also need proprietary technology. They must have unique tools, such as data feeds or native ad insertion capabilities, that enhance the consumer experience and can be monetized. 

To be a platform, publishers must have the pipes required to execute. Platform publishers must have technology to ingest the data, an ad tech stack to make sense of it and connections to demand-side platforms and other players so it’s easy for other publishers to leverage their assets.

Finally, publishers need a persistent universal identifier. Here’s where scale comes in. Publishers must be big enough and have enough audience and inventory to be useful to other publishers.

App-based publishers, such as Pandora, for example, have a built-in advantage here through their cross-platform, logged-in user base, but they may lack the tools needed by other publishers to leverage it. Legacy publishers are also at an advantage here since they have large subscription bases that can be leveraged – assuming they can onboard and digitize their customer data.

While these requirements may sound daunting, we’re witnessing the beginning of the publisher-as-platform era. The Weather Channel is already making its WeatherFX data overlays available to other publishers directly versus making through an open exchange. The Washington Post has successfully productized and licensed its Arc Publisher CMS infrastructure to numerous leading publishers. And News Corp., which just launched NewsIQ, could open up its platform to help other publishers make their inventory more valuable.

We’ve often said that to survive and thrive, publishers need to band together. Now, the publisher-as-platform model isn’t just industry camaraderie – it’s a viable path to individual business success.

Follow Meredith Corp. (@MeredithCorp) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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