For news organizations, selling advertising has become a notoriously complicated endeavor as media companies, tech businesses, and platforms compete for a share of the revenue. Though there is still a remarkable amount of money spent on advertising in the U.S.--billions in digital display and programmatic ads last year alone--the competition for ad dollars among print, digital and broadcast media is fast, fierce and sometimes unforgiving.
One example is the television industry. Lucas Shaw, entertainment and media reporter for Bloomberg, painted a somber picture in a recent article.
"Global TV advertising sales fell almost 4 (percent) in 2019, the steepest drop since the depths of the economic recession in 2009, in the latest sign that advertisers are following viewers to the internet," he wrote.
Thanks to presidential election coverage and the upcoming Olympics, 2020 may see a little rebound, Shaw predicted, but marketing spends will likely follow the trend to digital moving forward.
"The TV industry isn't the only one suffering," Shaw wrote. "Technology companies Google and Facebook Inc. have siphoned advertising dollars away from print publications and radio in recent years. Online companies garnered more than half of global advertising sales in 2019 for the first time, accounting for $306 billion of the $695 billion spent globally."
If news publishers hope to viably battle for advertising revenue, data may be the most important weapon in their arsenal, and we're only now learning how to wield it.
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One of the areas that's seen some rapid technological evolution is in the areas of programmatic advertising and header bidding, according to Gavin Dunaway, editorial director at AdMonsters, a globally read digital resource on unique digital content and digital advertising.
"The move to programmatic advertising has, frankly, caused a lot of pain for publishers, because agencies were ... cherry-picking high-quality inventory," Dunaway said. "They were picking HTML cookies that represented certain audience groups. Most publishers were using Google's Ad Server, which used to be called Doubleclick for Publishers, and it was rebranded as Google Ad Manager in 2018.
"There was a waterfall, with Google's own inventory getting (preferential placement), and then it would open up the opportunity to whoever the publisher designated next. Amazon might be in there. And it would sort of go down the list, so if nothing came back from Google's ad exchange, it would start an exchange in the next ad server ... Header bidding basically voided the whole waterfall and set up multiple auctions going on at the same time. It leveled the playing field for programmatic advertising, so instead of Google having this tremendous advantage and pushing so much stuff through its own ad server, all of the sudden everyone can compete."
Dunaway estimates that most larger news organizations are already capitalizing on their newfound header bidding power, but he acknowledged that it may be a much more formidable challenge for smaller, mid-market and community businesses.
"Setting this up is not easy," Dunaway warned. "Companies have teams just dedicated to their header setups, and that's why certain companies like Index Exchange, Rubicon Project, PubMatic and others can make publishers' lives easier--especially those relying on that revenue."
Video showed great promise for news publishers.
It's inherently an engaging way to communicate information, and readers appeared responsive to video, but video is proving a more complicated advertising strategy. "Advertisers all want video," Dunaway said. "Sight, sound, and motion really rules, but getting people to...