The Financial Times thinks the programmatic time is nigh for cost-per-hour as Red Bull, Credit Suisse and more commit to attention metric

The FT sees programmatic opportunities around time-based metrics.

Sooner rather than later brands will be able to buy time-based ads programmatically on the Financial Times as it looks to scale the “minority sport” that has already wooed the likes of Red Bull and IBM.

It’s an inevitable step in the publisher’s attempts to fully realise a metric it believes could account for half of its media inventory someday. From three campaigns bought this way at launch in 2014, to 21 the following year and 16 already this year, momentum is building steadily behind what is essentially the publisher’s way of guaranteeing advertisers ad impressions.

It’s only a matter of time then before cost-per-hour (CPH) rivals cost-per-thousand (CPMs), with Red Bull, Microsoft, Credit Suisse and IBM using the former for multiple campaigns. Why? Because each wants to run more brand ads rather than direct response, syncing nicely with an FT where upwards of 85 per cent of its advertising is the former. CPH’s value for both advertiser and publisher is clear and yet there’s uncertainty around how to implement the new metric using today’s media planning and buying infrastructure.

“We’re getting to the stage where a lot of other publishers are on the crest of potentially launching something [time-based metrics] of their own and we’re helping them along,” said Alistair Smith, head of advertising yield management.

“We may try in the future to move this [CPH] into programmatic. We wouldn’t be able to do it on the real-time marketplace but we could do this via programmatic guaranteed. That’s something we’ll investigate obviously with programmatic because it’s a little harder to optimise so that’s why it would be in a guaranteed offering.”

Time-based metrics: The minority sport for publishers

If it were to succeed with programmatic then CPH could cease to become a “minority sport” in the FT’s eyes. For all its growth over the last two and a half years, a small proportion (between five and seven per cent) of impressions are coming from CPH ads. Dom Good, global sales director, suggested that this may be in part down to the fact that even its CPM ads have high viewability (on average they are in view for 10 seconds), which stacks up well against the 19 seconds for the CPH equivalent. That difference only serves to highlight that advertisers are still getting the advantage of time in view and long view times when they buy a CPM on the FT, Good claimed.

It’s another complication for the publisher, one it hopes Moat, which replaced Chartbeat six months ago as its analytics partner for CPH, will help it overcome. With the industry reluctant to move away from trading online media based on impressions and the FT’s own CPMs proving potent, standardisation could help disrupt the status quo. That’s why the publisher is working with Moat on an independently verified standard way to track and measure campaigns, something the analytics firm is also developing with the Economist.

Having that standardisation in place soon could help crystalise the advertising proposition for the FT’s upcoming site revamp. Dubbed by Smith a “work in progress”, the portal has been reimagined as fully responsive, primed for advertisers who want to buy blocks of readers’ time and prioritise branding campaigns across smartphones, tablets or (and) desktop. Unlike its larger rivals, the FT delivers fewer impressions to readers and so building the site’s pitch to brands around attention allows it to focus on the quality of time rather than the raw number of impressions served. This brings them closer to the sustainable online revenues needed to support their business, and separates them from lower quality publishers who rely on massive quantities of impressions to drive revenue.

“People spend a long time reading our articles and a long time on our site each day/ We’re building a currency that allows [advertisers] to take advantage of their attention in a package,” said Smith. “What I’d like people to do and what we’re seeing from a few agencies in the UK and the US is they’re starting to evaluate CPM campaigns by how long their ads are in view; time in view is actually being used as a metric of event CPMs like a click used to be.”

Building for the future

As agencies learn more about the CPH and the wider shift to attention metrics, the FT believes the buying models will adapt accordingly. Agencies aren’t in the main reporting on time and engagement, claimed Good, and the publisher is now taking on a proactive stance to change that. The newspaper’s head of commercial marketing David Buttle met with Moat in Cannes last month and off the back of it told The Drum the two plan to run a programme aimed at brands to communicate the benefits of time based selling and attention metrics more generally.

On spreading the time-based metrics word, Smith added: “I remind our agencies that a general campaign will be likely measured by a viewability and click scores. The worldwide click-through rate is about 0.06 so in human terms you get a click every 1600 ads, which means 1599 are considered failures. What we know is that if we serve out 1600 ads then you get five hours’ worth of attention. We almost say to people [agencies] would you rather have one click or five hours’ worth of attention. And they’re [the agencies] are taking it on board because it makes sense to them.”

For all the pioneering around attention metrics, the FT knows it can’t do it alone. The more publishers that take it up then the easier it becomes to trade and the quicker it is to pull a campaign together. Discussions have already been had with the BBC Worldwide, the New York Times, the Guardian and several European newspapers, while others have also worked with Parsec in the US for its cost-per-second metric.

“The excitement around time-based models is palpable. Publishers are eager to be fairly compensated for the amount of attention that they deliver and advertisers are sick of buying media on a metric that has absolutely nothing to do with the underlying asset of attention”, said Marc Guldimann, chief executive of Parsec.

"There's an important distinction to make around the desire for transparency that's been in the zeitgeist recently; transparency of quality and quantity are an entirely different beast than transparency around cost. Opaque metrics sold on a transparent price don’t really mean anything. On the other hand changes being driven by transparent measures of quality and quantity provide meaningful ways to measure the value provided to advertisers"

CPH may be a “minority sport” in the publishing industry but its steadily gathering popularity. That the FT has run 41 CPH campaigns with 31 different advertisers since 2014 is testament to its potential to provide an intriguing alternative to those concerned about viewability issues and ad blockers.

“if anyone is really concerned about viewability then CPH is the way to go,” said Good unabashedly. “With CPH you’re buying on hours, which effectively means you’re buying impressions that have a higher propensity to carry a brand message and work harder in carrying a brand message than if you’re buying impressions that are only viewable for one second.”

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