Programmatic and publishers: a heavenly match?

Many say premium publishers have been disintermediated from their audiences by programmatic buying and selling. However, since GDPR  landed, browsers have clamped down on 3rd party cookies and initiatives like ads.txt and ads.cert have taken a hold. The practices adopted by the buy side to find premium audiences are being challenged and publishers are very much back in the driving seat.

At our Unruly Trust Talks: The Great Programmatic Debate coming up in the UK, we decided to take a look back at last month’s one in New York where Unruly COO Kenneth Suh spoke to Chris Guenther, Global head of programmatic at NewsIQ, Brendan Cleary, VP of Programmatic Sales at The Guardian, and Rachel Tuffney, Head of Financial Vertical Sales at Dow Jones, to find out their thoughts on this matter.

Has programmatic changed your business for better or for worse?

Rachel Tuffney (RT): For us at Dow Jones, programmatic is an enabler. We always have to go back to what the consumer wants. When programmatic first started out it was all about ad networks and cheap CPMs. It has evolved so drastically now, and with the application of AI, I think there is a lot of opportunity. Having worked for publishers for the past 20 years, I really think this is an exciting time for our industry. In the past six months there’s been more change than there has in the past five years!

Chris Guenther (CG): I think from the client perspective it’s great. It has given them the ability to manage campaigns more seamlessly across multiple publishers, and get the results in a cohesive manner. I’m not saying it’s perfect, but if you think through what digital is supposed to be about (accountability and ease of transaction) then programmatic is helping the industry to achieve this.

Brendan Cleary (BC): I think it has changed for the better. Granted there are some issues, however there are no other industries that enable businesses to monetise on sold inventory as seamlessly as we are able to do now.

Kenneth Suh (KS): What we’ve noticed at Unruly, within the world of programmatic advertising, is that sometimes it seems like it levels the playing field. This means there is a premium to be paid for premium publishers pre-programmatic. One of the growing issues we see is where buyers have a block list and as long as you’re not on the block list your content is seen as fine. This can devalue your property in a way that you may not have wanted it to.

What issues do you see premium publishers who invest lots of money and time in maintaining a level of premium content for their audiences facing?

RT: From our perspective, The Wall Street Journal has been a membership site since 1997 so for us we’ve always had a different revenue stream coming in. The data we collect and offer from a first party perspective is extremely valuable. We have a very wealthy audience, and everybody wants to be in front of that audience. As a result there is a premium associated with that.

I oversee the financial services which is a very select audience for brands to try and get in front of. It’s also not just about being in front of audiences. There’s also huge value in being associated with premium brands. Being aligned and partnered with The Wall Street Journal has a lot of value.

CG: When programmatic first started, everyone bought into impressions and that’s why it didn’t matter about the exchange. As long as you had the lowest CPM and you got a good number of impressions people were happy.

Now that there are so many complex insights and measurement tools, people have realised that although their impressions are high, it doesn’t mean that their ads are being shown to the right people. Brands are also now concerned about ads being shown in environments that they don’t want to be associated with.

With new tools we are able to start to understand more about audiences. It’s still not perfect but it is moving in the right direction. I think that that’s why we are seeing high DSP in premium environments. With the combination of premium content and a good site experience you definitely get a better result than just not really caring where your ad ends up.

panel talking about programmatic at trust talks in New York

How are we going to make programmatic easier for people?

RT: There is so much going on within the programmatic space. With so many different companies working independently, it’s difficult to know where the real issues lie. If we want to improve programmatic we all need to start working together better.

CG: First of all there’s the complexity of the adtech stack. There are players within the ecosystem who thrive based on the complexity and based on the lack of transparency. So how do we remove these players? Ultimately the people with the most influence on the buy side who are the ones with all the money. They need to choose the right path and the right partners. We can then start to remove some of those bad players.

However, you need to be careful when simplifying your adtech stack as it could mean that you are working with a player who has too much influence in the market. One that is very much focused on black box, and not having a fair auction process. We need to figure out how to find the middle ground between too much complexity and too little complexity.

How do you view Google, Facebook and Amazon, and how do they fit in with how you run a successful business?

CG: As a publisher it’s our responsibility to not be complacent and not just go with the easiest partners. If you are primarily working with these companies you need to be monitoring them and their services, and understanding how they are affecting your business and the wider industry.

BC: I think businesses just need to make sure they are working with a variety of different companies and services. Putting all your eggs in one basket means that a change in an algorithm could end your business!

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Keep an eye out as Trust Talks: The Great Programmatic Debate will be returning to London very soon!