Is Desktop Digital Display Dying?

Things are looking decidedly tough for online publishers, according to the latest figures from the AOP and Deloitte.

There was a near 4% drop in revenue in second-quarter 2019 compared to the year before -- which doesn't sound too bad, but that is with the benefit of video advertising income leaping 20% and subscriptions climbing 14%.

Sponsorships crept up 4% and recruitment advertising saw a 7% increase too. 

With those channels showing such growth, it is hard to see why the researchers behind the figures believe they show what a challenging time it is for publishers. 

That is because we haven't gotten to digital display, which is down a massive 15% year-on-year for the second quarter. That's shocking enough, but then, classifieds income is down a massive 67%.

For online publishers the premise -- until recently -- appears to have been to play the digital advertising game and hope that huge audiences would convert into ad dollars.

This may have worked out for those with the biggest audiences, but time and time again, digital display has shown itself to be incapable of keeping the lights on. That it should fall in Q2 by double figures has to be a massive worry. 

In fact, drill down and income from desktop-only digital display has been slashed by a massive 58%, and mobile-only campaign spending is down 12%. The only saving grace is that when the pair are combined, revenue from desktop and mobile campaigns has increased 20%. Clearly, publishers not only need to have their websites in good order, but being able to send off campaigns across both channels is an absolute must.

As one magazine commented this week, this means the race is on for publishers to find revenue beyond content through partnerships with third parties and conferences and events.

However, there is only so much scope for these non-publishing revenues. I remember speaking to publishers a couple of years ago on the very subject, and many confided that they were finding it difficult to enter a hugely competitive and expensive market.

It's hard to tell quite what the answer is, particularly as publishers who have already put up paywalls have to decide whether to go for more eyeballs on Apple News+, or another aggregator, and risk cannibalising revenue from readers. Needless to say, as they consider this difficult question, the duopoly keeps on hoovering up the majority of digital advertising spend. 

So there are no real tips to save the day here -- just an acknowledgement that these are truly troubling figures.

Desktop display campaigns appear to be dying a slow death, and in fact, display is only being kept alive by campaigns that work across mobile devices too. The decline in classified has also been so startling that it's hard to put a brave face on any of this. 

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