Online Display CPMs Plummet, New 'Secondary Premium' Ad Market Emerges

The price of online display advertising inventory sold via advertising networks fell in the "20% to 30%" range during the first quarter of 2009 vs. the fourth quarter of 2008, according to estimates released Tuesday by the Rubicon Project. The estimates, which come from Rubicon's fifth Advertising Market Report, do not yet disclose the impact on year-over-year pricing, and Rubicon doesn't plan to begin reporting that until its third quarter 2009 report, but the company attributed the sequential drop to "seasonal pressures," and implied that it wasn't necessarily indicative of declining demand or increasing supply of online display advertising inventory. In fact, Rubicon estimated that the volume of display advertising inventory sold through advertising networks grew 150% between the two quarters, and that "same site" sales actually grew 43%.

That suggests that publishers are either relying more on third-party aggregators such as advertising networks, or exchanges, to move more of their inventory and generate more of their revenue, or they are getting a higher yield for it. To that point, Rubicon also disclosed that a new, "secondary premium" marketplace has emerged for online display advertising, and that it is reaping much higher prices than the traditional "non-premium" marketplace that has emerged with the rise of advertising networks over the past several years.



The new secondary premium market, the Rubicon report said, is comprised of premium inventory that is sold by third-parties other than a publisher's own sales team, and commands CPMs ranging from $2 to $10, falling somewhere between the premium market of a publisher's own sales, and the so-called "remnant" inventory liquidated by advertising networks and exchanges. Rubicon said the secondary premium market is comprised of "non-guaranteed" and "preemptible" display advertising inventory that commands a higher market value than what is traditionally sold by ad networks, but which does not compete directly with publishers' premium sales.

Citing research from a recent ThinkEquity report, Rubicon estimated that the new secondary premium marketplace represents as much as $15 billion.

Several other twists are beginning to emerge within the rapidly evolving online display advertising marketplace, including another secondary market in which publishers are beginning to augment the sales of their own site inventory by "tapping into fellow publishers' inventory." Rubicon calls this phenomenon "audience extension," and says it follows the trend toward buying based on "audience" delivery.

That trend may be part of a broader trend toward so-called "audience representation," and the emergence of a new class of media sales reps within the industry. Rubicon is expected to announce deals soon with several traditional media sales representation firms to extend the reach of their offline TV, radio audience delivery online, and to add their online audience reach into the mix aggregated by other online advertising networks.

Rubicon hasn't cited which firms it will begin working with, but Brian Benedik, president of Katz 360 Sales, is quoted in the new report as saying, "Agency needs are focused on reaching very targeted, relevant consumers for their brands as the migration of advertising dollars towards digital channels accelerates. The ability to segment specific audiences for these advertisers is an essential value proposition for today's sales agents. At Katz 360, our Audience Representation business lives through multiple digital platforms and our new display advertising audience offering is an exciting development. There is a real need for the secondary premium display market to evolve, and our Katz Audience Representation business provides national brands and local businesses with behavioral and contextual solutions across a host of Web publishers."

3 comments about "Online Display CPMs Plummet, New 'Secondary Premium' Ad Market Emerges".
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  1. David Shor from Prove, June 3, 2009 at 10:01 a.m.

    Joe, good update.

    I think in all cases it's helpful to now comment on which percentage of ad buys are for performance-based advertisers. I think you may find that the ratio is that 80% of the growth in spend is from performance advertisers.

    With display moving increasingly in that direction, and every one of our Yahoo home pages giving us Acai berry diet ads (yuck!), are we doomed or will someone swoop in and at least have site-enhancing brands running performance-based display advertising?

  2. Andrew Fischer from Choozle, June 3, 2009 at 1:14 p.m.

    Great article. Undoubtedly there is valuable ancillary tier emerging in the interactive media market, and it is good to see Rubicon dub it with an apropos name: "secondary premium" ad market. Not to mention, it is great to see a $15 billion market size attributed to it as well. For years there has been a significant gap between premium representation (direct sales force and/or exclusive premium representation) and the remnant options for publishers (Google Adsense, horizontal ad networks). Highly specialized vertical "networks" have emerged to capture the lost value inherent in this wide gap. They provide seamless access for advertisers to reach their targeted audience, which is often highly fragmented across small and large sites alike. And of course, they provide great value to publishers in the form of premium CPMs with high-end brands without cannabilizing the publishers' direct sales efforts. Rest assured, InterLuxe Media (part of The RGM Group) will continue to lead the "secondary premium" ad market for advertisers and publishers that focus on the affluent consumer. For further information, please contact me directly at:

  3. Kathryn Koegel from Primary Impact, June 4, 2009 at 9:14 a.m.

    What I don't get is why publishers, who own those audiences that Rubicon is calling the "secondary premium market" are not fully monetizing them themselves. Ad networks perform a valuable service but have commoditized online advertising into DR inventory and will continue to erode pricing. The move towards publishers of quality content creating vertical networks and not declaring that anything non-contextual on their sites is "remnant" is a positive one. For an in depth discussion of ongoing challenges plus positive developments in display, this paper was published last month:

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