Telegraph Media Group, Time Inc, and Dennis unite in AOP-led private marketplace & pull brand-building budgets to programmatic

The Association of Online Publishers (AOP) has worked with some of the UK’s biggest publishers to pool inventory to form a marketplace capable of reaching more than 54 million unique visitors, a move it hopes will convince advertisers to spend brand-building budgets programmatically.

Telegraph Media Group, Time Inc and Dennis Publishing are just some of the media owners hoping to woo marketers with the prospect of being able to find and buy premium inventory through the hub.

It marks the first time UK publishers have united their inventory to provide a scalable way of selling programmatic and takes inspiration from a model used in France since 2012. Online advertising platform AppNexus was unanimously selected by the project’s steering committee to oversee the marketplace alongside a manager and operations team.

The alliance aims to quell publisher concerns that, as more digital media is traded programmatically, they need to offer buyers a carefully curated, brand-safe, and context-rich inventory and audiences at scale. With marketers hopefully employing more sophisticated programmatic strategies through the alliance, the ambition is that they start to see it as a premium brand building solution rather than just a cost-effective one.

There has always been the expectation that programmatic would be a platform for both performance and branding. However, branding budgets have not been traded programmatically to date though this may be due to the lack of premium inventory made available.

Tim Faircliff, chairman of the AOP, told The Drum that the alliance is a “key step”, not only in growing the programmatic market in the UK, but in “helping publishers thrive in this new world”. The IAB estimated that 47 per cent of digital media traded programmatically in 2014, with companies such as P&G and Mondelez increasingly leaning on the discipline to curb ad waste between channels.

“The AOP Premium Publisher Alliance will be the first opportunity for advertisers to feel confident in spending brand budgets programmatically in a brand-safe and premium inventory pool,” added Faircliff.

“We have already spoken to a number of agency trading desks and they are incredibly excited by the scale, quality, reach, audience, and high levels of brand safety offered by the AOP Premium Publisher Alliance. By helping AOP members scale their programmatic offering, the alliance will have a significant impact on the breadth and quality of locally relevant inventory that is traded programmatically in the UK.”

Based on Comscore figures cited by the AOP, the publishers involved at launch will total 54 million unique visitors. Further publishers will join the alliance shortly and subsequently push the unique visitors figure higher.

The marketplace’s arrival comes ahead of a larger, global alternative in April, backed by the Guardian, Financial Times, CNN International, The Economist and Reuters. Advertisers are being sold the benefits of programmatic campaigns spanning the system’s - called Pangaea - 110 million-strong global audience but the AOP believes it has the better proposition for those looking solely at the UK.

Faircliff said: “The AOP Premium Publisher Alliance will work with a wider scope of publishers [than Pangaea] providing much more content reach across far more varied genres. It will focus on the UK market and will be substantially larger in terms of numbers of publishers and vertical interest categories.”

The arrival of two programmatic marketplaces in such close proximity is no coincidence. Media owners increasingly see the value in being able to offer scalable, transparent and safe automated advertising to those cautious advertisers looking to exert more control over programmatic. While these combined marketplaces could help publishers grab back the programmatic power pendulum, they could also spark tensions among those concerned about their ad rates being pushed down as a result.