Is The CMS The Next Monetization Battleground?

As publishers seek out new revenue streams, from native advertising and paywalls to mobile apps, live video, and programmatic, first-party data has become increasingly important. Forrester predicted in its trend report that 2016 would be the year publishers take control of their data, and to a large extent, they did.

Amid this shift, however, sits an often-neglected element of the publisher ecosystem that could become the next monetization frontier: the content management system, or CMS. This is the system that helps publishers manage content assets and determine which content to serve to each page.

The CMS has been around since the dawn of the Web, and has always been considered strictly editorial in function. Recently, however, the CMS has presented new monetization opportunities. Social publishers like the Huffington Post and BuzzFeed started the move, using proprietary CMS technology to accelerate audience growth and social discovery, driving more pageviews—and incremental revenue.



The trend continued as publishers began licensing their CMS to others. The Washington Postrecently revealed that its CMS, Arc, played a large role in its success. Arc builds pages, manages paywalls, tests headlines, distributes content to social channels and analyzes user data across channels. Already, Arc has been licensed to multiple publishers, including Canada’s Globe and Mail, and could become the platform of choice for many more.

But the CMS represents a much greater business opportunity than simply licensing or generating more pageviews. It represents a potentially new way to think about webpages: as holistic entities, rather than as a combination of disparate content and ads. A CMS with a wider purview could manage page development and yield management from a single system—tasks currently siloed across the CMS and the publisher’s ad server.

The CMS and ad server are remarkably similar in many ways. Both use data to determine the best information to show a particular user. Both make calls to external partners and optimize decisioning in real-time. Most important, both use machine learning to get smarter over time. And yet, instead of talking to each other, each makes decisions in a vacuum.

But what if they worked together?

The immediate potential benefits of having a single system making calls for both content and ads are plain: faster load times, more seamless data integration and a simplified tech stack. A single system would also optimize the whole page for each user, delivering ads and content in combination to drive the best experience for users—and the optimal performance for each advertiser. Moreover:

-- Users would see more relevant experiences, since content and ads would be chosen based on a more robust view of who that consumer is.

-- Advertisers would enjoy better results, since publishers could apply the learnings of ad performance and editorial environment to determine when to show their ad and to whom.

-- Publishers could generate better yield by testing the content/advertiser combinations that drive the strongest results, thereby increasing the value of their inventory in a virtuous circle.

A single “page” call from a CMS may sound farfetched, but the shift is feasible. The CMS would make one call, powered by the DMP, to determine which ad and content to show in every instance. This would also allow existing real-time bidding “pipes” to support a content exchange, analogous to an ad exchange, where publishers could bid on relevant content from each other to drive stronger engagement and performance. In this new world, the CMS could become one unified system that holds all the demand and insight—instead of controlling one portion of the page.

Of course, current content management systems aren’t set up this way. The CMS and ad server are the backbone of every publisher’s infrastructure, making them difficult to change. For a shift like this to occur, publishers will need to push for it — but will do so only if there is significant potential revenue to be won.

Still, it may be a challenge worth taking on. After all, in an increasingly fragmented landscape, publishers who know their users best, and can deliver the right pages to engage them–audience, content, and ads—will be best positioned to succeed.

1 comment about "Is The CMS The Next Monetization Battleground?".
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  1. Raymond Faust from StarTribune Media Company, January 23, 2017 at 1:26 p.m.

    Great article Chip - spot on take of the near term opportunity for pubs and tech; you would know of course.  Hope to see you at a conference soon.  RJF

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