Digital Media and Advertising Outlook: Latest Ad Ops and Revenue Trends

Trends come and trends go, but then again, the more things change the more they stay the same. Or is that everything that’s old is new again? Oh, forget it. What really matters here is that as digital media changes, what worked yesterday isn’t necessarily going to work today, but it just may work tomorrow. But what I’m really saying is that ad ops and revenue folks need to be extremely flexible in their thinking when it comes to both long-term planning and strategizing, as well as in the day-to-day. And that’s not just about surviving in digital meda, it’s about thriving.

So what’s all this gobbledygook I’m spewing? It’s all about the future of digital media and advertising. You see, we talk to an awful lot of publishers at our Publisher Forums and other events. And in those conversations, we get knee deep into the weeds with them about their frustrations—like ad fraud, ad impression discrepancies, and ad quality. But when we talk, we’re also hearing about all the things that work really, really well and they countless ways they’re innovating and monetizing content. This despite massive layoffs and consolidations all across digital media. So here at the outset of Q2, when everybody in publishing isn’t so buried in a planning or rush-to-the-finish stage, we thought it would be a good time to share a little bit of what we’ve learned.

First off, we’d like to thank our publisher friends who shared some predictions with us at the top of the year and agreed to be mentioned here, as well as our good friends over at What’s New in Publishing who shared their recent report, 50 Ways to Make Media Pay with us for this.

Damian Radcliffe, Carolyn S. Chambers Professor in Journalism, and Professor of Practice, at the University of Oregon

As author of the 50 Ways to Make Media Pay report, Radcliffe conducted a bunch of research around ways publishers are raising revenue. Here are a few of the trends he found.

Paywalls Are Not So Passé

Paywalls, once eschewed by many publishers, as a result of consumer backlash, are making their way back into favor. WIRED, Bloomberg and Conde Nast have all erected some form of paywall and the trend is growing amongst publishers, Radcliffe found. Paywalls come in all shapes and sizes so there really is no one-size fits all solution. And that’s whether we’re talking about a metered paywall like The New York Times, enabling readers to read a few articles for free before they reach a limit and have to pay or a hard paywall like the The Wall Street Journal, where no content is free. Paywalls continue to be a method that publishers are testing with their audiences.

Subscription Models Ain’t Just For Mobile Apps and DTC Brands

In 2019, according to the latest Journalism, Media and Technology Trends and Predictions Report from the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at Oxford University, membership and subscription models are ramping up as a revenue focus for publishers surveyed in 29 countries. We’re seeing much more experimentation with micropayment-enabled pay-as-you-go models, as well as cryptocurrency payments in this arena.

Let’s Get Ad-free

Estimates for revenues lost to ad-blocking software were at $15.8B in 2017, according to OnAudience, and in 2016 Juniper Research predicted that by 2020 $27B would be lost worldwide. The remedies for making up that revenue are endless, believe it or not. Memberships and subscriptions were already mentioned as an alternative, but many publishers, like Vox, The Atlantic, USA Today and Buzzfeed are working with Scroll, an upstart service that charges consumers once for an ad-free experience across publishers.

Meeting Them IRL Pays Off

Many publishers are taking their content live-and-direct to events and increasing revenue greatly while attracting completely new audiences. Of course, not many publishers have the wherewithal to pull off major industry conferences, festivals, or awards shows, so for them, it would be a lot easier to organize meetups and happy hours or maybe even live shows and recordings. For print pubs, picture conducting your cover story interview live in front of a studio audience or for a digital pub, maybe a series of interview podcasts that could be monetized.

As you can see there’s no shortage of ideas for revenue streams for publishers. But when we talk about the business of ad operations there’s still a lot of things that have to be worked out to guarantee that the revenue is coming in. Following you’ll find some smart thinking about what’s happening in ad ops and revenue from some of our best publisher friends.

Tim Wolfe, VP, Revenue Operations, USA Today

  • And when it comes to programmatic, Wolfe foresees viewability in PMP deals becoming more demanded and creating yield management headaches. Plus, programmatic guaranteed deals will erode, if not dissolve, he says. Let’s not forget that eMarketer estimates that by 2020, more than four of every five dollars advertisers spend in programmatic will go to programmatic direct or PMPS—not the open markets.

R. Lee Barstow, VP, Revenue Operations, A+E Networks

  • Barstow has some very high hopes for the IAB’s VAST 4.1 specification, hoping that it gains traction in the marketplace to improve user experience and monetization capabilities. Given that many publishers haven’t updated since VAST 2.0, that’s very wishful thinking.
  • While everyone frets over the privacy regulations like GDPR] and CCPA, Barstow sees the 💰 coming in. “Data Privacy and appropriate management of the data will become a critical success factor in content monetization as consumer begin to take control of their information in the US through federal legislation (not just California Data Protection Act),” he says.
  • Things should be looking up for cross-screen buying and measurement. OMS (Order Management Systems) in the ad tech stack will begin to be able to support elements of convergent linear and digital planning requirements to better facilitate cross-screen buying capabilities. Third-party cross-screen measurement will become more mature through Nielsen and ComScore efforts that begin to standardize measurement of cross-platform purchasing

Brie Manakul, SVP Revenue Operation, Nucleus Marketing Solution

Manakul also sees the 💰 in the data privacy regs for publishers. “I think data and users personal info will become critical—how it’s being handled and what’s being used to target them.”

Maria Breza, Senior Director, Platform Operations, Pandora

  • Breza is on the side of a U.S. privacy reg coming down the pike even before CCPA goes into effect. “Worst case scenario—we are faced with executing a variety of state-level initiatives that will create a lot of operational challenges because they could be scattershot and different for different users. The Weather App location data issue is just the start in California,” says Breza.
  • Like Barstow, Breza sees more ad dollars coming into mobile, but she says we can expect much of that to go to the big players. More dollars will also go to audio advertising and OTT advertising, and podcast advertising will have to start getting more accountable for measurement.
  • On the ad fraud front, Breza believes fraudsters will get better at hitting non-web environments. “To date fraud mitigation tactics and solutions— TAG, Ad Verification solutions—to measure and manage fraud have focused on a web-based environment. I expect fraud to begin to happen more in other environments like OTT and in-app. Ops and Ad Verification teams will have to get better at identifying that and figuring out how to mitigate it,” she explains.
  • When it comes to the promises of blockchain’s ability to clean up advertising, the tech just isn’t ready yet, explains Breza. “Ads need to be served very quickly, I don’t think that blockchain can scale at this point in a way that supports that.”