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Collaboration must be a lasting legacy of 2020

Published: 06 May 2021
Author: Richard Reeves

The digital publishing industry received some welcome news last week, with overall revenues up 13% in the last quarter of 2020 compared with the same time the previous year, according to our latest Digital Publishers’ Revenue Index (DPRI). 

While this is undoubtedly a positive result, the uptick in display advertising (up by almost 17% year-on-year) is skewed by the pandemic and doesn’t reflect a sustainable upward trend. The UK Government spent over £184 million on COVID-19 related communications last year, and other organisations such as Public Health England also massively increased ad spend due to the pandemic, but this boost will be short lived. In reality, brand spend on display advertising is in decline, and is increasingly transferred to social platforms, so publishers still need to focus on alternative revenue streams – such as subscriptions – to succeed in the long term.     

As well as diversifying revenue streams, collaboration will also be key in building a sustainable future. Publishers need to pull together and find ways to safeguard revenue, as they have with remarkable resilience throughout the pandemic. We saw a case study of this last year, when news publishers struggled to monetise the huge volumes of traffic around COVID-19 due to overzealous keyword blocking. Media bodies came together to support messaging from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) encouraging advertisers to review keyword blocking strategies and help the overall sustainability of the ad industry.  

A year of collective action

We continue to see – as well as participate in – collective action across the industry. It’s exactly one year on since ISBA, the AOP, IPA and IAB formed the Cross-industry Programmatic Taskforce following the publication of the landmark Programmatic Supply Chain Transparency Study. The mission of the group is to transform the programmatic supply chain to allow campaigns to be evaluated and audited end-to-end. The taskforce has already identified several components to enable end-to-end financial audits that will address complexities associated with the matching of impressions and costs through the supply chain, applied without the use of personal data or exposing competitive commercial data. It’s the first time all industry stakeholders have worked together in this way to drive the same mission and is a true testament to the power of collaboration. 

Measured co-operation

Collaborative progress is also being made in standardising audience measurement across channels and devices, with UKOM appointing Ipsos as its research supplier from January, and a fully endorsed dataset expected by the end of May. While there have been some initial delays to the data delivery, this is the reality of switching research providers of this magnitude, but we must remember the developments undertaken will be a significant step forward in complete audience measurement, both online and offline, and further increasing  confidence in the digital ecosystem.            

Furthermore, as part of our existing collaborations with ISBA, we have been seeking dialogue with advertisers about developing metrics oriented to brand engagement that reflect campaign effectiveness beyond the current limitations of solely relying on performance. An AOP working group, alongside the ISBA Insights and Effectiveness Group, will aim to facilitate roundtable discussions between publishers and advertisers to ensure this remains a collaborative process, incorporating feedback from across the industry to recognise the responsibilities of all industry players to drive progress towards relevant and meaningful metrics.

 Finally, as part of the TAG Leadership Council, we continue to be involved in the discussions around the future of brand safety standards. AOP remains committed to delivering standards with protocols and processes that make it easier for buyers to differentiate quality and identify suitability, together in the TAG framework, with the goal of ultimately reducing dependency on brand safety blocking technologies.  

When it comes to the crunch

Nowhere is cross-industry collaboration more evident, than at our CRUNCH events, where we work together to progress key industry issues. Last week we held CRUNCH 4.2, Solve ethics to solve programmatic, and speakers from MAGNA Global, Mindshare WW, VICE and KJC Consultancy, as well as the AOP, deliberated factors such as industry self-regulation, the linear relationship between diversity and profitability and connecting advertising with positive business outcomes.   

Ultimately, momentum around ethical advertising will be an enormous driver of industry progress and collective action, especially in the programmatic ecosystem. I’m confident the robust actions identified by the event’s varied participants will contribute to solving ethical challenges in the programmatic-led market. 

So, as publishers quite rightly celebrate a profitable end to 2020, let’s not let last year’s spirit of collective action fade. May looks set to be a busy month, with multiple steering groups meeting to discuss everything from the latest developments in ad tech, implementation of ‘Core Web Vitals’, to audience engagement and data analysis, and I look forward to using these occasions to draw on diverse opinions and experiences from across the industry. 

Collaboration must be a lasting legacy of 2020, because as long as we pull together, we will continue to steer the digital publishing industry in a positive direction.