Could Southeast Asia’s publishers forge the most meaningful coalition?

AppNexus rounds up publishers to discuss the success and errors of publisher co-ops

Across the world, publishers are joining forces to share learnings and sometimes technology in order to be a stronger force against competition from new places to find customers and buy inventory. In the first part of The Drum’s deep dive into publisher’s challenges and opportunities in Asia Pacific, alongside partner AppNexus, it was revealed that trusted content and quality was becoming the last, but very appealing, bastion against tech titans.

With this in mind, many publishers are taking a ‘stronger together’, working with technology platforms like AppNexus to create unified sources of audience and data for advertisers to buy. These are often either geographically or vertically bundled and have often been troublesome to run, with many already facing issues.

However, The Drum and AppNexus gathered publishers from across Asia for a roundtable, in which the early positivity surrounding Singapore’s Mediacorp and Singapore Press Holding’s (SPH) SMX project created a renewed energy for working together, across the region. Mediacorp and SPH were joined around the table by Thailand’s Kaidee, Malaysia’s The Star, India’s Times Network and Indonesia-based Kompas Gramedia Group.

SPH’s senior VP of sales strategy and operations, Su Lin Tan, says that they spent time researching over a couple of years ahead of agreeing on the partnership with Mediacorp. She said SPH and Mediacorp consulted with many co-ops across the world before diving in, finding most similarities with New Zealand’s KPEX, which has also been hailed a success.

“The journey for us was super smooth in the beginning because we were exploring but suddenly at, the last stage, it just ramped up so quickly and it's a bit of a whirlwind. I think the difference between us and others is that ours is a joint venture company, and we have a professional team running it. That gives it that sense of neutrality, we just sit on the board. We have representatives on the board, and they don't manage it day-to-day, they just manage it from a high-level and everything is a split down the middle 50-50 [between Mediacorp and SPH],” she explains.

Mediacorp, head of digital sales Jennifer Chase, added that it was more like a marriage of equals, which has been the key to getting it off the ground so quickly.

"It's because we both had the same challenges . We're both looking at doing the same thing and rather than going it alone, do it together. It has to be a partnership and we have to do it together, even in how we agreed on the tech stack, the go-to market strategy, we agreed on everything,” she adds.

The publisher co-op model hasn’t worked as well in other markets, with India being one where it’s failed to gain enough traction. Jaya Suri, vice president for digital revenue at Times Network, says, “We don’t have one going on but I would love to explore this entire thing of actually learning the value of content premium around our audiences. That's what I think will be the future of publishers - when they actually come together and say let's work together and try and get better value for the kind of content we are creating.”

A key part of adding value to the advertising around content is deepening the effectiveness of the targeting with good data. Not all publishers have the same types of data, which makes the next stages of how these cooperatives evolve even more interesting, and potentially more diverse.

Matthew Moore, revenue director at Thai marketplace Kaidee, says that as Kaidee is a marketplace, it’s often not seen as ‘premium’ because of the context and content. However, marketplaces generate a huge swathe of data around intention to purchase, which can be a powerful mix alongside content in context.

“We sell 11,000 cars every month, but some of the buyers - the agencies and the brands - they look at our site, and they say, ‘I don't know if I want my ads to be on the listing sites.’ So I think what we're looking to do in the future is say, ‘Okay, let's team up with some of the newspapers or the TV sites and say you can buy you this audience, and you can buy it next to premium content,’ and that's got to be the play moving forward I think,” he explains.

There’s a third piece to a successful consortium that enables publishers to truly compete, however. Tom Shields, AppNexus chief strategy officer, says it is scale.

“The third piece that the consortium gives you is a scale. You need content, you need data, and you need scale if you really want to make this work. The problem is that too many high quality sites have content, they have data, but they don't have scale. That's the missing piece,” he concludes.

While Singapore may be a unique and small market from which to use as inspiration, the lessons learnt and the successes already seen are creating a buzz within the wider Asian publisher scene. A lot of work still needs to be done but with a collaborative spirit spreading through Southeast Asia, it may not be long for some of these disparate market’s efforts to merge and join, yielding even greater scale and power.

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