ESI Media wants to become both a buyer and seller of media as a key point of differentiation in the Independent's ‘digital only’ strategy

ESI Media, the publisher which last week announced the closure of its print edition of The Independent, is mulling the potential of becoming both a buyer, and seller of media as it looks to better monetise its audience in a digital-only future.

Jon O’Donnell, group commercial director of ESI Media, told The Drum it was looking at the prospect of monetising its audience on third-party websites, as well as its suite of existing properties (such as the London Evening Standard and TV station London Live) through a strategy commonly known as audience extension.

Such a strategy would see the media owner become both a buyer and seller of media, as it would require it to purchase advertising inventory from third parties, such as an ad exchange, and then sell it on (ideally) at a profit.

Audience extension

Although this may raise concerns over allegations such as arbitrage, the strategy would involve helping advertisers interested in engaging with ESI Media’s audience on third-party websites by applying data points which can match users to appropriate brands.

"We’re no longer going to be a UK-only newspaper, and we have to mix up our models, etc, " added O’Donnell.

He went on to explain that post the announcement of the closure of the Independent’s print edition, the media owner is currently mulling whether or not to implement the strategy by working with a third-party data provider, or through hiring someone internally.

100% programmatic

All this will form part of ESI Media’s ambition to become a digital-only media owner that trades 100 per cent of its inventory using programmatic media buying technologies – a process that reflects the demands of the advertising industry’s major holding groups.

“If you look at Dentsu Aegis Network, it said it wants 100 per cent of its media traded programmatically by 2020,” said O’Donnell. “And if you look over in the US [GroupM’s] Essence Digital is reporting that it’s trading at around 90 per cent.”

To do so, ESI Media now has a team of six media traders – this headcount has grown from one in under 12 months – which interact with both the major holding groups’ trade desks [such as Dentsu Aegis’ Amnet] or third parties, such as The Trade Desk.

O’Donnell also explained how this strategy would also see it attempt to transition from a direct sales model – often a source of internal conflict with publishers, as programmatic media trading could cannibalise direct sales – by employing private marketplaces (PMP). With PMPs an increasingly popular method of trading media among publishers and media buyers, they are likely to become a cornerstone of ESI Media’s revenue stream.

Cross-screen

Another requirement to ease the Independent's full transition to digital, will its capacity to offer advertisers an insight about their audiences across screens, as audiences’ journeys increasingly take place across a number of devices.

The ability to do so has very much been at the core of Facebook’s success in recent quarters, as it requires its users to log-in to access the service across screens. As a result, Facebook is then able to give advertisers access to their users across screens using ‘deterministic basis’.

Publishers have typically been less successful than the likes of Facebook and Google when it comes to convincing their audiences to log-in across multiple screens, meaning their ‘audience graph’, or ‘device graph’ as Google calls its equivalent, is not as robust as the alternative.

As a result, many publishers have taken to working with third parties to use a probabilistic method. This is where parties such as ESI Media’s partner Moat use various data points to match audiences with appropriate advertising inventory.

O’Donnell also spoke to The Drum about his hopes that the recently launched Independent mobile app will play a significant role in its ambition to significantly improve its cross-screen ambitions. “It’s all about getting as much first party data as possible,” he added.

The Drum sourced opinion from multiple sectors of the media industry over the prospects of The Independent’s digital-only future, read more here.

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