Media Adtech Media Planning and Buying

Publishers praise programmatic progress, but now urge scrutiny of the long tail


By John McCarthy | Media editor

January 25, 2023 | 6 min read

Isba’s second Programmatic Supply Chain Transparency study launched last week, revealing adtech improvements in premium publisher environments.


Publishers praise programmatic progress but now urge scrutiny of long tail

In 2020, the Incorporated Society of British Advertisers’ (Isba) first study into programmatic supply chain transparency found a “big hole”, with a third of supply chain costs unaccounted for. Furthermore, only 51% of each dollar spent advertising on publisher sites went to the media owner. A follow-up study, launched last week, observed an increase of 8% share. While positive news, publishers want more, knowing every percentage point can go into supporting journalism and funding infrastructure.

Damon Reeve, chief executive of Ozone, the private marketplace of premium publishers which represents The Guardian, News UK and The Telegraph and more), credited the 2020 study. He said it helped advertisers, publishers and their partners “streamline supply chains and tackle some of the persistent challenges of programmatic advertising”.

A seemingly industry-wide supply-path optimization (SPO) saw “a downsizing in the number of relationships between publishers and their adtech intermediaries, having a positive impact on driving efficiencies, reducing data leakage and overall complexity,” he says. Reeve believes many publishers and brands took a hands-on approach to this, rather than relying on third parties.

Part two of the study was delivered by Isba, along with the AOP (Association of Online Publishers) and PwC. Participants included Channel 4, Deliveroo, Diageo, Dominos, PepsiCo, Sky, Tesco, Vodafone and Arla Foods. There were also seven agencies, six of the top DSPs and SSPs, as well as 10 of the UK’s biggest publisher houses. Some 1.3bn impressions were analyzed and twice as many impressions were matched from DSP to SSP (61m) since 2020. It’s worth noting that this alliance was all opt-in. Those who did so likely had the most to gain from showing their working, as Reeve points out.

“This latest report indicates that brands could use somewhere in the region of 500-1,000 of the top websites to reach 90%+ of the population, yet we still see many campaigns being delivered across site lists in the many multiples of that. Ultimately, this means significant amounts of media investment still funding those long tail, ‘made for advertising’ websites rather than sites that have been developed with a reader-first mindset.”

The optimization continues, with Reeve urging advertisers to purge the long tail (which remains unmapped by such a study). There is progress being made here he says. “The median number of websites per campaign has significantly reduced from 16,000 down to 9,000, the share of advertising budgets reaching quality publishers is very low, reducing from 20% in 2020 to 12% in 2023.”

Richard Reeves, who is managing director of the AOP, also warns that it is dangerous to extrapolate these trends wider: “They would suggest the ’unknown delta’ has almost gone. Instead, the report shows premium buyers and sellers have found they can fuel greater fairness and clarity by streamlining their supply chains: especially moving to PMPs.”

He adds: “Inefficiency, leakage and complexity remain for mid and long-tail inventory.”

The data studied was also of a “higher quality” than the 2020 report, thanks to “improved log-level data access and standardized requirements”. With these advancements, Reeves urges the next audit to attempt to include the “mid and long-tail placements”. Premium publishers are of the belief the comparisons will be highly favorable and help them barter better.

Nicholas Flood, global ad product and revenue operations director of Future, also took part in the study. He says: “The latest report provides proof that with better standardization of data and easier access to log-level information, major improvements can be made to increase supply chain transparency.

”We’d like to see more advertiser spend directed to publishers investing heavily in both journalism and platforms that provide not only data transparency but greater insights that improve product offerings.”

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