How Next-Generation Publishers Will Win In 2016

From new platform experiences that introduced content to untapped audiences to the floodgates opening on ad blocking, publishers are emerging from last year with some scuffs, but also stronger and ready to play harder in 2016. Gear up, because here’s what you’re going to encounter in the field this year: 

Building the Right Team: Consistently, the biggest question looming is talent. How can publishers assemble the right tech and business teams  ready to handle myriad challenges? Technology changes and requirements appeared violently and urgently last year.

Viewability occupied the majority of discussion during the first half of 2015, while advances in ad blocking, header-bidding and fraud gave publishers indigestion during the second half. With competition from $10B+ unicorns (Uber and Airbnb) and the 800-pound gorillas (Google and Facebook), hiring the best talent has become an expensive arms race. Whatever new challenges or platforms will emerge in 2016, you need the right team to combat them.



Ad Blocking Strategies Move from Defense to Offense: During last few months of 2015, the threat of ad blocking became a real issue for publishers. Every publisher tested defensive measures, from legal battles to paying for white-listing, pleading with users to pause ad blockers to re-routing ads through servers on jumbled domains not known to ad blockers.

These hacky and short-term fixes will continue, as publishers will continue to funnel resources into bypassing ad blocking. But as we better understand the game, we’ll see a shift this year to more strategic solutions that hit the motives behind of ad blocking at their core. Expect new approaches to address the fundamentals, like ad quality, user experience and mobile expectations.

Every Major User Destination Becomes an Ad Network: Bolstered by the undeniable success of Facebook and Google, we anticipate more social networks and online destinations will launch their own in-app ad networks. Platforms like LinkedIn, Amazon, Pinterest, Snapchat, Alibaba and FlipKart already have huge audiences and are looking for ways to monetize them without violating the user experience.

While ideal for each network, like the rise of publishing platforms on social networks, it will increase the fragmentation of ad ecosystem. Expect greater complexity across advertising formats, revenue optimization and the ad stacks pushed by each of these companies.  

Rise of the CMS: Remember the effort you poured into creating mobile and tablet responsive experiences? Gone are the days when a multi-device approach would solve the mobile question. Now, content must flow multi-screen - inside Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter - where the audiences are.

To add complexity, the social platforms all want publishers to create content for their special formats, with Facebook Instant Articles, Snapchat Discover, Apple News, Google Accelerated Mobile Pages and many more to come. The process of publishing content on these platforms and screens will become much harder, raising the question of how to serve ads into this fragmented audience with ease. Expect lively conversations about content management systems (CMS) at your next gathering with publishers.

Unicorn Publishers Lead Technology Investments: Let’s be honest. We’re all looking towards Buzzfeed, Vox or Vice for inspiration on how to succeed in the publishing game. These modern publishers are winning because they’re spending their hundreds of millions of funding to write new rules and form interesting plays across mobile, social and native.

For them, technology is viewed as a critical investment and differentiator, not just an expense. While all publishers can try to replicate select moves of these “unicorns,” their handsome funding and reputation for innovation gives them an edge in technical talent and technology.

A dedicated Snapchat Discover program or native ad campaign winnows a minuscule percentage of their resources, while a smaller publisher is likely more strapped to build internally. Expect non-Unicorn publishers to find creative solutions to closing this resource gap through technology. 

Birth of the Super Auction: Everybody is jockeying for the first look. SSPs and DSPs envy Google because they see the price of all line-items as they feed its AdSense network. It is in the best interest of SSPs and DSPs to tout lucrative header bidding, even though it taxes publishers’ load times and user experience.

Even the agency trading desks (ATDs) are asking to put them into the waterfall above publishers’ direct sold deals. 2016 may see the emergence of a new convention, where publishers will want to conduct one master auction and ask all interested parties (DSPs, SSPs, exchanges, ad networks, ATDs) to bid for their inventory.

This challenging task will require buyers, publishers, data providers and probably even browsers, operating systems and trade organizations to meet on common ground.

The rules of the publishing game are changing in 2016. How are you preparing to play and win?

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