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“The Return of Sovereignty”

By Andrew Webb, Group Commercial Director, SeenThis

The story so far.

No, this is not a tenuous link to the Coronation, or Brexit for that matter. This is a story about publishers.

Once upon a time, around the mid-2000s, there were ad networks directly buying remnant inventory as a way for advertisers to reach a greater audience. The publishers were happy, more money was coming in, monetising more of their available inventory, and all was right with the world.

But as time went on, publishers started to realise that quality didn’t come with quantity. Control had been sacrificed for short-term revenue. CPMs were suboptimal. Data was in other people’s hands, namely those of ad tech. And as for the creative quality of the advertising – well, if you’re a publisher, you know the story.

Publishers became unhappy. Their amazing content, crafted by super-talented journalists, designers and editors, read by loyal engaged consumers, should surely be worth more. Consumer experience dropped, sites got slower as the transfer of data grew, and more tech was introduced. Ads got heavier, more inventory was sold by third parties in unfavourable positions. Journalism, which is really at the heart of this, suffered, and was in some cases targeted as a cost to maintain margins. This is a simplistic view to say the least, but we’re familiar with the story. 

The tightrope

Let’s be honest, times have rarely been harder for publishers, who are under pressure on pretty much all fronts. Editors, CROs and CFOs walk a tightrope. On one side, it’s trusted content, superior journalism, audience growth, engagement, subscribers, user experience, advertiser revenue growth and advertising yield. On the other side, it’s cost control, a volatile ad market, the cost of journalism, poor user experience, increasingly demanding advertisers, and of course sustainability. It is a complex interlinking challenge. So what can be done?


Today, we see my friends and colleagues on the supply side of the industry working harder than ever to reclaim “sovereignty” over some of what was lost all those years ago. Some media owners are now trying to take back control. To value their rich environments, put a high quality user experience front and centre, and maybe get paid for content. This has often led to a vast reduction in advertising inventory behind the paywall. 

Sovereignty is fundamentally about ownership and freedom of choice. It’s putting readers front and centre. It’s about living up to the quality and vision media brands originally set out to deliver.  It’s about being a better-quality business with stronger foundations to weather economic storms and it’s also about providing advertisers with a safe space to build brands and support the platforms they rely on to deliver their audience. 

In practical terms, users must be considered as the north star in as much of the decision-making process as is feasible, but this doesn’t mean the absence of advertising. Ads delivered effectively can coexist with content behind a paywall. A publisher with a long-term, user-first view knows that the high-quality delivery of content and advertising collectively ensures the advertiser gets an engaged audience, and the audience gets a great ad. Publishers that are locked in to serving third parties first, are putting their users second, and if users are second, they won’t engage. And if they don’t engage, well…

The stories must go on.

So let’s go back to the start. We are now in a place where publishers can speed up delivery of their content and ads via streaming. The technology is there. Publishers who optimise to attention metrics can also cut sub-optimal ad slots in favour of better-performing ones, earning higher CPMs. Delivering these formats sustainably is a must, when once again, the technology to do so via streaming is available. So let’s help publishers take back control, sovereignty or whatever we want to call it. Advertising will be better for it in the long term, and we can ensure good publishers are able to keep telling their stories for years to come. 

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