Guest Columns
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The changing face of ad revenue generation

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Times are undeniably tough for publishers in the UK with the latest Digital Publishers Revenue Index (DPRI) showing revenues were 3.7% lower in Q2 of 2019 than in the same period the previous year. But despite this hopefully short-lived decline, UK publishers are optimistic about the future; with the same report showing confidence of AOP board members (regarding individual company’s financial expectations) growing to 75%.

Many are exploring alternative monetisation methods such as subscription but – with the majority of income still driven by digital advertising – publishers are also looking to optimise their ad revenue generation strategies.

To explore the changing face of ad revenue generation, and understand publishers’ needs and expectations, Sublime undertook a survey of UK publishers, including major digital news sites as well as smaller niche outlets. Here are a handful of the trends that emerged from the report.

Action is being taken on quality

The survey reveals UK publishers are taking decisive action on quality and are using a variety of tools and technologies to combat issues such as fraud and viewability. Almost four-fifths of publishers use a solution to ensure they don’t have a high proportion of fraudulent traffic on their sites. The most popular option is third-party measurement and manual moderation, followed by first-party measurement and manual moderation, and finally pre-bid filtering. Only 3% of publishers are using all three of these techniques.

In addition, over four-fifths of publishers are using a solution to ensure ads on their websites are visible. Sticky ad formats are the most common answer to viewability issues, with 63% of publishers adopting this approach. According to the survey, 39% of publishers use IAS or MOAT optimisations, 32% lazy loading, and 11% are using a pre-bid viewability filter. Although publishers are taking action on both fraud and viewability, there is still work to be done to ensure a really qualitative environment for advertisers.

Publishers value third party input 

Publishers are increasingly using third parties to drive ad revenues, with respondents working with an average of four third-party providers. Almost 30% of publishers generate more than 60% of revenue this way, while over half rely on third parties for 30% or more.

Publishers experience some challenges with third-party relationships including difficulty with forecasting revenues, having too many providers to choose from and pushback from editorial teams. But these challenges seem to be outweighed by the advantages. The top three benefits to working with third parties are identified as incremental revenue, stronger CPMs than publishers can achieve through open exchanges, and increased access to premium brand advertisers.

Help is needed with mobile monetisation

Mobile is having a huge impact on the industry; with publishers estimating mobile web represents 64% of their total inventory – according to a previous Sublime study. There is plenty of money flowing into mobile advertising but publishers need support in seizing the mobile opportunity.

When asked to rank their top three ad slots by revenue and impressions, publishers indicate most impressions are coming from mobile mid-page units (MPUs) and mobile in-read ad units. Yet these are only cited as the third biggest revenue driver, after billboard and leaderboard desktop formats. Mobile sticky banners are also listed in the top three for impression volume but don’t make the top three slots for revenue generation. Publishers clearly need assistance maximising revenue from their mobile inventory. 

Header bidding is almost ubiquitous   

The study reveals the vast majority of publishers are using header-bidding technologies to increase revenues, with only 16% of respondents saying they aren’t working with any solutions. The most used header bidding technology is Prebid.js, which is used by over half of publishers, followed by EBDA, Index Exchange and Amazon in order of popularity. Many publishers are working with more than one of these header-bidding solutions, with 8% using all four.

Times may be tough for the publishing industry but in terms of ad revenue generation the overall message from the survey is promising. Publishers are already taking steps to better monetise inventory. Going forwards, external expertise will enable them to further boost ad revenues and turn their fortunes around – as long as they find low maintenance partners, with simple processes and excellent levels of service.

Lucy Zakrzewska, Head of Publishers, Sublime

About: Sublime creates and delivers ad experiences that activate, captivate and inspire digital audiences at scale. The company simplifies the delivery of premium, non-intrusive digital ad formats that elevate brand equity, drive results, and enhance the user experience.

Photo by Vlad Hilitanu on Unsplash