Digital downturn Trumped by Beyoncé, sports and politics

Football, basketball and Beyoncé kept the AppNexus Q1 Digital Advertising Index from diving too low, but after a strong Q4, numbers were still down.

The independent ad tech platform released its numbers May 18, with an expected drop for the first three months of the year. However, there were some welcome bright spots in the sports, entertainment and political world, and some publishers enjoyed huge boosts in traffic.

The marketing cool-down in Q1 was the necessary exhale from a busy holiday season. However, when consumers slow down, the sports world picks up, which is always good for the mobile and other second-screen activity. And with a major election on the horizon, political dollars were also being waved in digital advertisers’ directions.

The Trends

Football and basketball rule. The NFL playoffs and the Super Bowl dominated the market during January. That helped the food & drink category with traffic increases, with a 60 per cent increase three days before the game on February 3. In fact, consumer interest in this kind of content was so great that AppNexus saw publishers adding new domains to the platform, and then removing them shortly after the game. Travel publishers also benefited, seeing a maximum 180 per cent jump in impressions leading into the Super Bowl.

During the NCAA Basketball Tournament – March Madness – US brands in the sports & events and sporting goods categories significantly increased dollars spent on the platform. On some days, they purchased between six and eight times as many impressions as they had been buying at the beginning of the month.

Queen Bey remained Internet royalty. The gigantic boost music publishers received in the days leading up to Beyonce’s jaw-dropping performance during the Super Bowl halftime show on February 7 was a gift. In the week leading up, which included the surprise release of Beyoncé’s “Formation” video, US spend from brands in the music category rose to nearly three times the normal level, which forced brands to pay CPMs that were up to 30 per cent higher than they were prior to the Super Bowl.

Trump ruled the Internet, too (obviously). The interest in the rapidly changing political field in the presidential primaries bumped up traffic to US law and government publishers for a second straight quarter. In addition, an analysis of daily impressions found that U.S. Law & Government saw a 52.4 per cent spike in impressions on March 4, one day after the Republican debate where Donald Trump started name-calling his opponents. The categories will continue to see an uptick as the election grows nearer.

Hobbies and health are big in winter. US games publishers – gaming sites and gaming content publishers – saw a 45.6 per cent traffic boost in March compared to the first two months of the quarter, while in Q1 lifestyle publishers saw a 40 per cent increase from Q4. Arts & entertainment publishers also saw a 25.3 per cent increase in available impressions in Q1 versus Q4. Health sites saw a 35 per cent traffic increase, mostly due to New Year’s resolutions to get healthy and sign up for gym memberships.

Header bidding is making a global expansion. Over the past year, many publishers have started experimenting with header bidding integrations – a monetization solution that allows publishers to field bids from multiple ad buyers simultaneously. It creates a live, open auction that is contested between both programmatic and direct demand sources, maximizing revenues by increasing competition between buyers. AppNexus saw a big rise in “pre-bid,” with impressions nearly tripling during the quarter. While it’s still a small portion of overall platform revenues, it shows room for growth.

The Final Numbers

In Q1 2016, activity on the AppNexus platform fell from the hyper-competitive buying frenzy of Q4. In the United States, there were 17.1 billion fewer transactions than there were during the previous quarter, and the average

CPM dropped by 14.7 per cent. Click-through rates remained high through the winter months, however, and buyers who spent got great value for their money.

The Q1 Index analyzes more than 9.4 trillion impressions that were available on the AppNexus platform this past quarter. The data set includes campaigns run by 1,506 buyers and 793 sellers.

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