Publishers: Weigh The Risks Of Platform Content Distribution

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

Today’s column is written by Christian Baesler, president at Bauer Xcel Media.

There are a few trends that matter a lot when publishers consider their content strategy for the future.

First, nearly two-thirds of digital media time spent in the US is on a mobile device. Second, most of that time is in apps. That’s not all. Most consumers spend that time in only five different apps.

While the apps vary by person, the trend is clear for publishers: In order to achieve scale, their content needs to be accessible through the apps that people use every day. This means that there is a strong incentive to partner with digital companies that dominate the top five for a critical mass of people.

Given this environment, it’s no surprise that the leading platforms have come up with content distribution options of their own that are supposed to be a win-win for publishers and the platform. Publishers now have options like Google Play, Apple News, Facebook Instant Articles, Twitter Moments and Snapchat Discover to distribute content.

However, all platforms share several issues that can have a serious impact on the content community. If publishers come together to address these issues, they might have a good chance of mitigating some of the risks.

Platforms Sell Their Own Advertising

Publishers that earn most of their revenue from direct sales need to weigh the dilutive quality of running their content on a platform that most likely already has their own sales team selling to the same brands. Publishers need to ensure that they can sell differentiated high-quality products to advertisers that buy ads on Facebook through the publisher rather than from Facebook directly.

Publishers should work with platforms to ensure that they have a fair setup, including a reasonable number of ads, a variety of ad formats when applicable and access to good audience data and targeting. Already, Facebook has bowed to publisher demands to be more generous about how many ads they can show and what the revenue share needs to be on resold inventory.

Platforms Call The Shots On Format And Function

Platforms like Twitter and Snapchat require content in specific formats, such as vertical video, which can be costly and time-consuming to produce. Facebook Instant Articles loads pages faster than regular links, which may turn users against slower website links and ultimately affect news feed rankings of regular link posts, forcing publishers’ hands into using Instant Articles.

Publishers not only need to determine if the added cost for new creative or functionality is worth it, they should also work with platforms to meet in the middle on logistics. For example, they can try to find a revenue model for Twitter Moments that justifies the investment or see how they can speed up load times for their own links to make it a more fair playing field on Facebook.

Platforms Put A Strain On Data Analysis

Every time a publisher decides to work with a new platform, they have to create a new process for analyzing revenue and audience data. Each platform has its own set of metrics that matter, such as engagement or frequency.

Publishers need to determine how to analyze audiences across platforms, which can be very difficult without a unified audience data strategy. They also need to make the platforms share as much data as possible. Snapchat started working with Nielsen to provide better metrics on its Discover platform late last year, for example, after getting pressure from partners.

Platforms Can Upend Business Models

There’s nothing stopping Snapchat from creating its own entertainment content again or from Facebook buying a news service, which could wipe out publisher partners using the platforms today. Google did just this to travel aggregators when its entered the business with Google Flights, which defaults to the top of travel searches, costing travel aggregators millions of lost clicks (and dollars). Publishers should hedge their bets before leaning in too heavily with a single partner, as ensuring that a platform doesn’t take advantage of new business ventures is difficult at best.

Many publishers have already chosen to put their content on platforms and have been vocal about what’s worked and what hasn’t. In an environment where content companies are competing with each other fiercely for audience engagement and advertising dollars, once a publisher is fully distributed across platforms, there are only two things differentiating it: the quality of its content and its brand name.

Brands might draw early crowds, but without stellar content people will quickly find a new place to go.

Follow Bauer Xcel Media (@bauerxcel) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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