ANALYSIS - A curious incident with premium content and programmatic ad spend

Chris Pash
By Chris Pash | 18 December 2020

The ad spend canary, currently furiously pecking at advertising dollars thrown at the green shoots of economic recovery, has uncovered a curious trend apparently influenced by the pandemic.

The Standard Media Index (SMI) numbers show a clear lift of media agency bookings out of the dark trough of the pandemic.

And forward bookings are better than expected with early SMI numbers showing November in positive territory after 26 months of falls in a row. December is also looking healthy. 

Much has been written about the bonanza going to TV, especially with the AFL and NRL grand finals all in the same month, October, and the rush by brands to grab airtime for the lead up to Christmas. 

But there is another shift in ad spend at work.

The share of ad spend, as measured by media agency bookings, going to premium content sites in Australia via programmatic has been steadily growing since 2016 from about 30% of media agency spend to more than half in the first six months of 2020.

But that started to change in July this year with a swing back to direct bookings by media agencies on premium content sites, such as those owned by News Corp, Nine Entertainment, REA, Carsales and Mamamia.

The amount spent by media agencies directly onto premium content sites is now well above the total being spent through programmatic platforms.

In the first four months of the current financial year (July to October) the value of ad spend onto content sites was $21 million above that of programmatic. But in the same four months of last year programmatic spending was $8.2 million higher than direct bookings to the content sites.

According to the SMI, programmatic ad spend has been the area of greatest decline so far this financial year, with the value of all programmatic ad spend back almost 30%, or by close to $40 million.

In comparison the decline in ad spend onto content sites so far this financial year is just 7.2%. Total Digital ad spend since July is back just 1.7%. Growth is centred on social media sites (+35%) and video sites (+16%).

“We would normally have expected programmatic ad spend to increase in times of market stress, but this has definitely not been the case through this COVID period,” Jane Ractliffe, SMI AU/NZ managing director, told AdNews.

“There’s a few programmatic platforms that have done well, but most are reporting lower 2020 agency bookings.

“In contrast, some of the premium content sites have been able to grow their national marketer ad spend during COVID with the likes of Spotify, Verizon, eBay (which now owns Carsguide), Disney and the AFL and NRL websites all growing their agency bookings through this difficult period.’’

Steve Wood, general manager of GroupM programmatic, says programmatic and premium content are in no way mutually exclusive.

In 2020 GroupM has seen double-digit growth in media bought programmatically.

“The majority of GroupM’s client investment goes into our premium partners, whilst maintaining strict protections in place that enable clients to buy outside this if it suits their specific brief and desired outcomes,” he says.

“We know brands are seeking to capitalise on the flexibility and accountability that programmatic can bring them, especially in such a heavily-disrupted period.

“More than ever in 2020 advertisers have been looking for these accountable outcomes and protection against a fluctuating market, at a price that helps their business not just survive but thrive, which is why we’ve seen large growth in the Xaxis guaranteed outcomes model.

“It provides brands with these benefits, whilst not compromising in terms of safety or quality. We expect to see more of the same as we go into 2021.” 

Other factors are at play with the early signs of premium content sites attracting more direct spend. These sites are getting better at making it easier for media agencies to spend budgets.

Industry insiders say that brands, seeking a specific audience, can either chase that from the content side or from demographics or data from a cookie.

So if you want to sell to sports lovers, go to a sports page with good content rather than seek a profile offered up programmatically.

Increasingly, premium content creators, such as News Corp and Nine Entertainment, are also making it easier to buy fine-tuned audience segments.

These news creators are adding data and online access for advertisers and agencies.

News unveiled an enhanced digital offering at its Decoded event in September. 

Also in September, Nine expanded its client marketing solutions division Powered with the launch of Powered Enterprise, working across TV, digital, print and radio. 


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