Post-Facebook: Premium Publishers’ New Moment In The Spotlight

As Facebook reacts to what it can’t control, premium publishing is making huge strides in highly controlled and increasingly profitable ways.

After years of promising publishers a deluge of eyeballs, Facebook is deprioritizing news and business posts in users’ News Feeds and helping to edge fake news and toxic content out of its system. In addition to its newest challenges with Cambridge Analytica — which is a separate situation, but not completely unrelated — the News Feed move is a public acknowledgment that fraud is a major problem for Facebook and one that needs to be contained.

As Mark Zuckerberg said in Facebook’s Q3 2017 earnings call, “I want to be clear about what our priority is: Protecting our community is more important than maximizing our profits.” The initial effects are already visible. News Feed-driven publishers have started shutting down — Rare and LittleThings are two recent examples.

And so, Facebook has made the only choice possible when it comes to limiting the impact of fake news: putting the spotlight on posts created by users’ friends and families. Whether that steers the social network away from what some are calling an existential crisis for social media or it ends with Facebook’s failure to stop fake news and fraud, this is great news for premium publishers. And it’s great news for mobile advertising. Here’s why.

Publishers + Higher-Quality Environments = Increased Ad Rates

Facebook’s promises around revenue and audience boost were always illusionary at best. First, there were all the bad metrics — the over-reporting of completed video views and failing to de-dupe repeat visitors, as the company admitted to doing back in 2016. And then, more simply, there are recently declining numbers. As Nieman Lab reports, publishers have seen 15% dips in Facebook referrals. Facebook and Google even underwent what Recode is calling a flip: Google now commands the roughly 40% of the external traffic to publisher sites that Facebook claimed at 2017’s start.

In reaction, brands have been demanding more transparency, better accountability and more assurances of safety. The good news is that for the first time in digital history, publishers have a growing array of powerful tools, platforms and innovative delivery technologies to rebuild trust with advertisers and audiences. The following strategies are helping to make that happen:

  • Header Bidding: This process allows publishers to deal directly with multiple ad exchanges using advanced programmatic tools. This is a good solution for publishers because prices increase if you let multiple buyers bid at the same time on the first available impression (versus showing them declining value as the impression goes down the mediation stack). When prices increase, revenue outcomes improve for publishers commanding those higher prices.
  • In-App Header Bidding: A recently introduced mobile variation on pre-bidding, in-app header bidding allows advertisers to compete, auction-style, for ads to be placed next to premium inventory. With mobile app usage growing to 20% of the average daily time U.S. adults spend with media, this approach is going to get a lot of attention going forward.
  • Private Marketplaces (PMP): Invitation-only marketplaces allow premium publishers to offer inventory to selected groups of high-quality advertisers. The PMP gives publishers far more control over ad rates and buyers because advertisers are competing for the highest-quality inventory.
  • PMP-Gs: A recent variant on PMP is the so-called PMP-G, which is a private marketplace transaction allowing publishers and advertisers to connect early on with a higher degree of certainty — or a “guarantee” — when it comes to pricing, audience profile and access to inventory.

Changes like these are fueling an effect that digital publishers probably thought they’d never see: The cost of digital advertising is rising five times faster than inflation in the United States and 71% faster than the cost of TV. When it comes to reclaiming audiences, reclaiming brand and advertiser confidence and boosting revenue outcomes, examples like PMPs and PMP-Gs are a positive way of rebuilding the pricing, audience, advertiser and buyer ecosystem without allowing the damage that uncontrolled environments have been causing in recent years to continue.

Bottom line: Higher quality means higher pricing for publishers. Put that in your newsfeed!

Premium’s Mobile Future: Cleaner Supply, Certified Media, Stronger Marketplaces

It’s not just Facebook. The turn of fortune for publishers is also due to a combination of industry and technological developments.

First, mobile is increasingly becoming the only screen that matters to many consumers. In fact, a significant number of mobile users — 47% of millennials and Gen Xers, according to one study — are simply not interacting in significant ways with any media other than mobile media. In my opinion, publishers need partners that can help them bring what they do best — premium content — to audiences in this mobile-to-offline world. Otherwise, they’re missing the chance to tap into the revenue and business outcomes that all that on-mobile time represents. That takes technology. I believe it takes a platform-based approach that gives publishers a more powerful and immediate channel to consumers. It takes mobile apps and mobile-app SDKs to tap into every native aspect and capability of the mobile device versus the more limited capabilities of the mobile web browsers (plus, mobile web leaves out device IDs, location intelligence and SDK-powered video possibilities — the kind that command premium prices).

Beyond that, recent advertising innovations benefiting quality publishers are aimed at cleaning up the advertising supply chain. These include industry-sponsored, authorized selling databases such as the Trustworthy Accountability Group’s anti-fake-traffic certification program and the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s ads.txt program to certify trustworthy media. TAG implementation alone, in a recent study, was shown to have reduced fraud by more than 83% from broader industry averages. Ads.txt is already commanding an average 75% adoption rate globally. Organizations want these tools.

This is a great time for premium publishers. As Facebook reacts to what it can’t control, premium publishing is making huge strides in highly controlled and increasingly profitable ways. The solutions to the problems of the News Feed are already at our fingertips, in fact. And we can use them to build a premium future.


Tom Kenney is the Chief Executive Officer at Verve.

This story was first published at Forbes.

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