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Why The Ozone Project is asking broadcasters to join newspapers in its duopoly fightback

By Ian Burrell, contributor

September 12, 2019 | 9 min read

Major UK broadcasters, magazine groups and news publishers are in talks to create a premium trusted advertising environment that can take on the might of Silicon Valley platforms.


After a year in development, The Ozone Project, a network founded by four of the UK’s largest news publishers, is planning to extend its network to include television and magazine companies, generating levels of reach that will challenge the market dominance of Google and Facebook.

Damon Reeve, chief executive of The Ozone Project, tells The Drum that it is in discussions with two broadcast groups and “dozens” of publishers with a view to major expansion. “We have demonstrated to the publishers we work with that we, and they, can work together and there is an opportunity for that publisher base to grow,” he says.

The four founding partners of The Ozone Project are Reach, News UK, Guardian Media Group and Telegraph Media Group. Together they already have a UK audience of 44.1 million (greater than that of Facebook and Google). By adding partners such as specialist magazine publishers, regional newsgroups and broadcasters, Ozone will aim to increase its depth of audience reach and insights.

“As we get into different vertical sectors and interest groups, the opportunity is to grow and develop in those areas to meet the needs of advertisers, reaching people in a more frequent way and understanding more about them to create that value for brands,” says Reeve.

The project became active in September last year after being unveiled at Cannes Lions a few months prior. In the space of 12 months it has hosted more than 50 campaigns from clients including Toyota, William Hill and Betfair. Santander, Sky and Jet2 are among brands that are returning to Ozone to run repeat campaigns.

The Ozone Project has also doubled its sales team in the past quarter and has increased the revenues it generated for publisher partners by 204% in that period.

Reeve says it is now looking to grow to include other sectors of the media industry, as well as more players in the news publishing sector. “We want other publishers; magazines, broadcasters… our scope is premium publishers and content creators. We want people who create and originate content to be fairly rewarded for the content that they produce,” he says.

“We have a couple of active conversations with two of the broadcasters. From an audience perspective I think the magazines and other news publishers are a close fit to Ozone’s current proposition but as we grow and broaden out, so does the proposition.”

Ozone’s current discussions with “dozens” of publishers amounts to a “pretty solid pipeline” for growth, he says. “There are some (deals) that are very close in and likely to go live in the next phase. It adds a real dimension to the Ozone proposition. Ozone is not (only) about the news industry, it’s about quality publishers and the announcements that will be coming out will demonstrate that.”

Reeve says expansion will not come at the expense of The Ozone Project’s commitment to “premium publishing” and that new entrants must all be professionally-run content providers that have industry recognition and comply with the IAB Gold Standard.

“That’s important from an advertiser’s point of view, to have confidence in the environment of the audience they are reaching.”

The project is also looking to expand internationally and is building relationships with similar publisher alliances overseas, such as NLProfiel in the Netherlands and Media Impact in Germany. Ozone recently partnered with Azerion’s Improve Digital European programmatic platform to better connect with European demand.

Fighting back against the digital duopoly

The Ozone Project is the belated response by a notoriously competitive sector to come together in the face of the common threat of Google and Facebook, which are forecast to have more than 70% control of the UK’s £13bn digital advertising market by next year.

Reeve says the need for a fightback has been clear for more than a decade and that a new spirit of commercial collaboration among traditional rivals took hold around five years ago.

“They collaborate incredibly well and this comes from an acceptance created over the last 20 years of understanding that their competitors are no longer each other but platforms and tech companies,” he says.

“You don’t compete on the way you set up your ad inventory or the way in which you go to market. With programmatic advertising, they are competing with platforms not with each other.”

Ozone’s launch has coincided with a period when Facebook’s corporate reputation has been through the mangle, with its own chief exec hauled before the US Senate and a House of Commons committee denouncing the company as “digital gangsters” for its attitude towards the presence of false news and the abuse of user data, highlighted by the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

Elesewhere, concerns remain over brand safety on other social platforms such as YouTube, with a Google executive admitting recently that the video platform might never be 100% brand safe.

Reeve says such concerns have helped make Ozone’s pitch to advertisers more straightforward.

“There is a key message around trust, integrity and confidence in the environment that we probably complicated with a whole lot of other stuff when we first went to market because we felt that wouldn’t stand on its own,” he says. “[But] having complete trust and confidence in a premium publishing environment that has editorial oversight and governance really resonates.”

The Ozone Project recently signed a partnership with data provider ADmantX to give publishers a precise understanding of content on every page, and to reassure advertisers on where their campaigns are appearing. “We feel like the pendulum is swinging back to understanding and the value of context,” says Reeve.

A trusted environment is also effective, delivering a more engaged audience with higher brand awareness, he argues.

Early results

Ozone cites its work with home furnishings company Dunelm as an example of how it can offer more effective campaigns than those hosted by single publishers or platforms.

By using the combined inventory of a network that includes The Guardian, The Times, the Telegraph, The Sun, the Mirror and the Express, Dunelm’s recent campaign reached 3.2m people and 20% more unique users than expected.

Analysis by Ozone’s brand study partner Brand Metrics found that the campaign’s use of Ozone had lifted intention to buy (by 22%), brand preference (13%) and brand consideration (8%), as it targeted segments such as new retirees and new homeowners and was able to reach them more often across the various publishers.

Reeve says that for too long digital advertising has served the tech platforms whilst neglecting other stakeholders from advertisers and publishers to consumers.

The crackdown on big tech by regulators from the US Federal Trade Commission to the UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) is welcome, he says. “It’s the regulators that have come to the consumers’ aid by reminding everyone that all the data that is used in building profiles and targeting in advertising in digital is actually consumers’ data and not publishers’ or advertisers’ data and we need to be more respectful (of it).”

The Ozone Project claims to have a “healthy” working relationship with ICO, and a desire to improve consumer trust in the sharing of personal data. “It’s not like we are looking to rebut the ICO’s] concerns, we actually agree with a lot of them. We will be looking… to change the way we do business to be much more reader first and respectful of readers’ privacy concerns.”

The mission is to give advertisers choice in achieving audience scale in trusted environments, targeting audience segments across multiple publishers using the Ozone Audience tool.

It seeks to make publishers less dependent on tech companies through products such as Ozone ID, which eliminates dependency on third party cookies and puts content owners in charge of their programmatic ad businesses.

“We are pretty over the moon at the progress we have made in 12 months,” says Reeve of advertising’s response so far to the Ozone model. “We are ahead of where we expected to be, the campaigns are performing and we are getting re-bookings. It’s growing.

Ian Burrell's column, The News Business, is published on The Drum each Thursday. Follow Ian on Twitter @iburrell


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