Media Data DMEXCO

Publishers mount first-party data fightback against the digital advertising duopoly


By John McCarthy, Opinion Editor

September 16, 2019 | 7 min read

Publishers are starting to see cracks in the businesses of the seemingly indomitable digital advertising leaders that disrupted their own industry.

That was the message ringing loud and clear at Dmexco 2019, as publishers expressed the belief that the scales are shifting in their favour. Executives from News UK, Ozone Project, Verizon Media, Vice, and Unruly, explained how they planned to seize back some of the 70% in digital ad spend destined for Google, Facebook and Amazon; to better resource newsrooms and content creators.

The first-party audience data generated by quality, brand-safe publishers is increasingly appetising to marketers as third-party tracking cookies face extinction, a combination of web browsers and devices blocking them and regulatory hurdles from GDPR.

Ben Walmsley, commercial director of publishing at News UK, reflected on the fact the ICO is investigation real-time bidding in what Brave's Johnny Ryan suggested may be the largest ever leak of consumer data.

Walmsley said this presents a chance to rethink digital advertising. "It has been built too far out into the open web. It’s not acceptable now, and it never should have been. We could see a dystopian future where there are just two companies controlling the internet or we could see this as the chance to get it right.”

For News UK-owner News Corp, this means stitching together first-party user data for smart buying platform News IQ and enriching it by creating actionable insight around its brands across all platforms. In the UK, this collates The Sun, The Times and Wireless Group audiences with the likes of Sunday Times Wine Club data (going back 40 years), Club £9.50 (20 years) and Dream Team.

“We now have a single view of the user. With our internal dashboard, we are starting to understand the preference, opinion, and emotion of the consumers.”

A return to context?

User polls and story reactions (like Facebook Reactions) are increasing the compatibility between ads and the content.

“We are starting to understand how ads perform in different contexts for certain audiences. Say you're advertising insurance, it generally would work better in a more serious article. If an ad runs in along a story with the same emotional context, there's a 60% chance greater chance for someone watching your videos," continued Walmsley.

On the future of the industry, he concluded: “We need a different approach to identity, the ownership of identity and the user’s control of data. I feel relatively optimistic we can get this right. But there's plenty of things to overcome on the way.”

Paul Gubbins, global programmatic strategy lead for Unruly, (who previewed Dmexco here) said the industry was “uncertain” how things will develop. He believes consumers are more likely to offer GDPR consent to the likes of news brands.

“Programmatic was always around the audience at scale in brand-safe environments, not contextual relevancy. As third-person data is being increasingly challenged, we are forced to look at the value of context once again and remember something we may have once forgotten in the pursuit of scale.”


Depan Ravalia, digital operations director at News UK, said the programmatic ecosystem was "cobbled together" and has failed to "streamline" advertising. "It is a shoehorned process that actually complicates things."

Publishers need to simplify the process and start generating actionable insights from their user data.

“We’re trying to give brands that option, that isn’t Facebook or Google.”

Top UK publishers own and manage the Ozone Project network. Through Ozone, Reach, News UK, Guardian Media Group and Telegraph Media Group reach 44 million UK readers (greater than that of Facebook and Google).

Ravalia concluded: “You probably think we were competitors, but now we're not. Our competitors are Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Netflix.”

Damon Reeve, chief executive of the Ozone Project, noted that the one-year-old project brought together "historical competitors to engage the world in a different way".

Marketers are following “never stronger” newsbrand readerships, and increasingly side-stepping “fake news and questionable content” the programmatic system has indiscriminately aided to date.

"All the spend with Ozone goes to the publisher which is a really powerful narrative for a chief marketing officer too."

There is also the effectiveness argument. “When people are engaged in deep content, they are more likely to remember the brands. In the user-generated world, the fast feeds and high ad volumes, the effectiveness of environment has sort of been lost.”­­­

Ozone's clients are increasingly moving away from scale for its own sake and moving “back to more general marketing metrics".

Dominique Delport, Vice Media's president of international and chief revenue officer, expressed that the group is going all-in on programmatic video, and cited Snapchat as a strong performer (although the group is "platform agnostic").

“We are adding more and more first-party data into the mix. But adland has that incredible ability to over complicate things.”

Publishers need to simplify buying, making it as simple as buying TV, “even still, it is the fastest way to buy audience at scale at a cheap price in two clicks”.

Looking forward

And Amir Malik, a digital expert at Accenture Interactive echoed Delport's favourable attitude towards TV. "Major broadcasters have a very complex set up to ensure that ads land in the right place at the right time, are brand safe and are `appropriately placed and ethically responsible." This hasn't been replicated in digital.

As a result, marketers are increasingly questioning the effectiveness of their digital spend and may shift metrics to reflect a focus beyond reach and customer acquisition, he added. "That will cause some controversy."

Simon Halsted, Verizon Media's senior director of exchanges and supply and chair of the IAB Europe's programmatic trading committee, said the "industry has come a long way in a short-time". The decline of the third cookie will "be a catalyst for change.

"Automation in how we buy and transact and operate will increase. It will be bumpy, but I don't think this is the end, it will just be different," he explained.

Meanwhile, Cadi Jones, commercial director for Europe, Beeswax, said she is "excited to see publishers investing in their audience data and brands.

"Everyone talks about the value of this data but so few brands have actually gone any further beyond plugging in a basic data management platform. The brands that have consent and can use real-time-bidding to do very smart things have a huge opportunity.”

First-party data is proving to be the lifeblood of media, powering subscription, membership and paywall plays, market research, commerce and in this case affording great utility to partner advertisers.

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