From road block to fast lane: how publishers like Oath, SPH and TradeMe are moving ahead on programmatic

Publishers discuss programmatic in APAC in roundtable hosted by PubMatic

Despite a cited lack of education, issues with data and the ominous duopoly of Google and Facebook, publishers in Asia Pacific are starting to gain ground with programmatic.

During a roundtable hosted by PubMatic, publishers from Yahoo, Oath, Singapore Press Holdings (SPH), TradeMe, Indian Express, GumTree and REA Group, discussed coming regional frustrations and shared the ways in which they were finding success.

With attendees being from across the Asia Pacific market, experience in the maturity of programmatic was varied. However, one thing that was common among attendees was the need for more education, both on the buyer and the publisher's side.

From a predominantly Hong Kong-based point of view, Wilson Kwan, director of APAC marketplace at Oath/Yahoo, says: “The knowledge from the agency side in Hong Kong is not quite there yet. The buyers don’t know what they are buying and the sellers don’t know what they are selling.”

John McNerney, director of platform and exchange solutions at Yahoo, ANZ, says that there’s an overall leaning towards last click, which is something that education could solve.

“The attribution funnel is another barrier in APAC. Marketers are not looking at full-funnel attribution. They are still looking at the last click, which is so archaic. It’s a huge uphill struggle. The trading desks have the mandate to go programmatic but the agencies have these relationships in place and give the I/O’s to the performance and ad networks,” he explains.

An issue that tips into the education arena is data, as without more education brands are stuck in a position where they are risk-averse.

TradeMe head of ads and sustainability, Josh Borthwick, says his company has been using data: “My view is that education around data is lacking in our market but we got into it quickly. We have been quite bleeding edge. A lot of people don’t understand how to use data. That has held back the adoption of first-party data. There is a willingness to do it, but marketers are risk-averse and don't want to make any moves.”

For Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) head of sales strategy and operations, Su-Lin Tan, publishers in Singapore have been struggling to educate that they have valuable first party data.

“In Singapore there is no distinction between first and third party data. We try to sell the fact that we have better data. It’s hard to get marketers to pay a premium for first party data,” she explains.

In some areas, the Australian market has been able to march ahead on some levels of maturity and education. Laura Hill, head of advertising sales at GumTree in Australia and New Zealand, said that her business was finding that first party data was becoming a lucrative way of bringing in brands.

“Our main proposition is data and most of the deals we do are data-oriented and viewable impressions. We actually capture age, gender, location, and know whether they have listed a car for sale or applied for a car that’s for sale. That’s what the desks are willing to pay for. A lot of them want to take it away from the I/O business and transact on it. As a publisher, we are ‘programmatic in-market’ as compared to other traditional content publishers who are trying to balance the I/O and programmatic business,” she argues.

Another uniting issue for the publishers was the challenge in competing against the, so-called duopoly of Facebook and YouTube. While all agreed that the platforms had proved beneficial in some instances for publishers, they were now finding it harder make money from the platforms.

Former Indian Express Digital CEO, Sandeep Amar, says: “Facebook control the market in India. They control the distribution and you can’t avoid them. I think the way they manage the market is very powerful. Google and Facebook are so big.”

SPH’s Lin, ahead of an announcement in which the company partnered with rival Mediacorp, enthuses the need to partner with those that aren’t part of the duopoly.

“I think publishers jumped on Facebook too prematurely before negotiating a feedback loop of data signals on users and their consumption of our content on the platform. I think it’s about exchanging technology information with other players in the market. We need to have more education sessions in the market,” she explains.

Some advice for publishers comes from PubMatic’s VP of APAC Jason Barnes, who says: “The duopoly are almost first and foremost technology companies, and secondarily publisher companies. I have always had the view that publishers should become like technology companies. I think the publishers need technology teams that are tech savvy. I feel sorry for some publishers. Everyone has header bidding now because it’s the cool thing. But they don’t have the experience to ask the right questions. It’s harder for publishers in smaller market. I think a lot of people are becoming misled. So I think a lot of these publishers need to become technology companies to compete with Google and Facebook.”

From a technology perspective, a key weapon in a publisher’s arsenal has been header bidding. For Braden Clarke, head of audience solutions and automated trading at REA Group, having full transparency as a publisher has been central to this investment.

“We are one of the few publishers that don’t use Google’s DFP. Header bidding is a massive benefit to us and is a big change to how we supply inventory to the market. We have server-to-server integrations with PubMatic and Rubicon and that is the vast part of how we do our programmatic monetization. It’s about having the unified auction in place and having full transparency. It’s been a pivot for us, where programmatic has moved from the bottom of the stack to something that can compete with premium,” he enthuses.

Programmatic is certainly moving the conversations around programmatic from remnant to premium, but predictions on usage have been over hyped for some. As SPH’s Tan, says: “I am skeptical about forecasts that we will be 100% programmatic by the end of 2018.”

There is still a long road for publishers in terms of getting to a point in which programmatic is delivering its potential but publishers are gearing up. With more education, better understanding of data and, eventually, more sophisticated tech in place, publishers could be nearer the 100% mark in Asia Pacific.

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