Publishers And The Cross-screen Conundrum

One of the hottest topics in media today is cross-screen advertising. While the technical capabilities are somewhat nascent, the concept is receiving tremendous attention from marketers, who are challenging agencies to take advantage of the immediate opportunity. Are they thinking about their audiences in a screen-neutral way, then planning campaigns and creative so that it all tunes to each respective screen environment? Do they have the right technology partners and infrastructure in place to execute? Is the state of tracking and measurement mature enough to make it worth their while? As is typical, every monumental shift in media starts with what the advertisers want. But what about the publisher perspective? 

For publishers, cross-screen means considering things like monetization, content distribution, measurement, and form factor, and then determining how each is affected by screen proliferation. I’ve attempted to outline a few considerations for publishers, so that they can enter carefully but confidently into the other side of the cross-screen equation. 

Monetization Matters: Pros and Cons
As new environments and formats emerge, publishers always need to examine their approach to monetization, and there has to be a plan for bundling media. Is it better to sell ad impressions as screen-neutral, or better to sell the inventory for individual screens?  Screen-neutral media sales create a lot of flexibility for publishers, but also require a unified ad server -- not an easy migration to make. Separating platforms neatly into desktop and mobile/tablet provides advertisers with more options, but also runs the risk of creating unequal fill rates, if the vast majority of traffic is generated by one platform vs. another.  There is also the supply/demand inequity, especially right now.  For now, there is a lot more premium desktop video than premium mobile video, so some publishers would probably be better off pricing these screens differently.

A New Take on Your Assets
Cross-screen media consumption also requires publishers to revisit their user experience via responsive design—which raises the question about the new best method for distributing content. Rebuilding or retrofitting a desktop experience on mobile devices has certainly been practiced for some time, but that doesn’t mean that it will now be enough. Many publishers have more success investing in and building apps for multiple OS’s, which provides the opportunity for a truly well-built experience. But, with over 800,000 apps available in the app store, it’s not always a surefire success.  Content syndication tools in both desktop and mobile allow publishers to go to the consumer.  Think of it as a safari strategy instead of the old zoo mentality. 

The Shared Challenge of Measurement
In order to measure ads across devices, we’ve got to get to a common measurement currency.  Mobile/tablet operating systems are more technologically tricky than desktop.  Connected TVs and other OTT devices are hardly measured at all.  Nielsen's TV measurement is nearly universally accepted, and desktop video has been measured in similar fashion of late through its OCR product and comScore’s VCE, but the mobile video validation is only emerging now. This is not just a challenge for marketers and advertisers enamored of the cross-screen opportunity. Until we can capably, anonymously validate and un-duplicate audiences from screen to screen at scale, we should enter into the discussion with care.

Different Experiences, Different Value
Publishers should also consider that once the currency is set, the value put on the ad experience should be dialed up or down based on engagement and other important brand metrics.  For example, mobile video ads running within mobile video content typically have 85%+ completion rates.  Clearly, this full-screen immersive experience is capturing consumer attention and therefore, deserves a higher value. 

Ultimately, content presentation should be consistent across screens but also respectful of the device and typical mindset.  As is always the case, the best content producers will reach the largest, most loyal audiences -- but success on one screen doesn’t foreshadow success on every screen. So publishers should employ a cross-screen strategy that weighs all of the factors above.  I recommend that leading publishers embrace the possibilities of a multiplatform media world while innovating technically and fiscally to yield desired results. 

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