The announcement that 27 big media brands will work with a cooperative digital advertising marketplace named TrustX should not be a surprise. We think it was inevitable.
On Sept. 26, Digital Content Next (DCN) said that Condé Nast, Hearst and News Corp., would lend their inventory to TrustX — not to mention A&E, NBCUniversal, the Washington Post and just about every other major media brand.
What TrustX will bring to the table, says DCN CEO Jason Kint in an email interview, is a safe and trustworthy environment for these media brands to go programmatic on a larger scale.
"TrustX, due to the size and diversity of participants, certainly brings easy-to-transact scale but much more importantly it works with a single purpose to solve the trust issues in digital advertising through guaranteed human viewable impressions on over two dozen of the most trusted premium content brands on the Web,” Kint writes. “comScore's recent independent research, The Halo Effect, clearly proves why this matters."
(The Halo Effect is a July 2016 DCN study that indicates, among other things, that the “contextual environment in which the ad exposure occurs is an important driver of more than 50% higher effectiveness.”)
Kint points to “scale” — the ability to compete with huge programmatic brands like Facebook and Google — to be key here. Only by joining together could these big brands compete.
"The industry's focus on scale for scale sake is one of its biggest challenges,” Kint says. “Not all impressions are even close to equal. We're focused on rebuilding trust with consumers and advertisers instead of rebuilding what is clearly a messy ad tech ecosystem. But yes, to answer the question, TrustX participants reach 100% of the U.S. Web monthly and we expect the market to be transacting on more than a billion impressions per month in its first year."
That sounds great, but has to be put in perspective. If TrustX gets to the place Kint projects for the first year, it will of course be compared to Google. Google statistics indicate that Google AdWords serves an average of 29,741,270,774 impressions per day (nearly 30 billion). That’s more than 900 billion a month. Google Search has 5.5 billion impressions per day and the Google Display Network has 24.1 billion.
Besting Google is not a realistic goal, and not one that TrustX could realistically have. But a programmatic offering with mass and heft would be closer to what is happening.
“Condé Nast’s strategy is to provide marketers with premium inventory, in brand-safe environments, that is highly viewable and transparent, and we are looking forward to helping DCN shape the industry,” Condé Nast’s Lisa Valentino, SVP, network sales and partnerships, says in a statement. “TrustX’s mission to create a high-quality marketplace through transparency based on engagement and viewability, is a much-needed evolution for the industry and a movement with which we are in full alignment, and we’re excited to be a founding member.”
Additional members of this intriguing exchange are the ABC Owned Television Stations, AccuWeather, Atlantic Media, Business Insider, CBS Interactive, Daily Caller, Edmunds, ESPN, The E.W. Scripps Co., Financial Times, Fox News.com, IJR, Meredith, Newsday, Slate, The Weather Company, Time Inc., Univision and Vox Media
If your memory goes back far enough, you will realize that the idea that publishers would have to band together to compete online is not new. We fondly recall the heady days of the 1990s, when anything seemed possible online. Lee de Boer, a former executive at Cinemax, was drafted to form a partnership called The New Century Network, which had as members just about every major newspaper chain. The idea was to compete collectively for online advertising. The usual infighting doomed it within three years.
But today, necessity is probably going to insure that these strange bedfellows stay together. With publishers like Time Inc. losing print ads at a record pace, and even reporting dips in digital advertising, going it alone just isn’t realistic. We applaud DCN for this move. You can say, probably with merit, that this column has been unremittingly pessimistic about big media’s competitive status in the Google/Facebook-dominated programmatic world, but this is perhaps the first sensible step we have seen since the unfair competition reached its current crisis point.
Even if TrustX fulfills its goal of 1 billion ad impressions a month, the 27 brands combined will be only 1/900th as big as Google. That’s not going to bother Google too much, but at least it lets them compete. Good move, folks.