Why Publisher Alliances Will Be Transformational in 2019

16 Jan 2019 | By Tobias Arns

In a bid to combat the digital duopoly of Facebook and Google, publisher alliances have been increasingly popping up across the globe — a trend that you can expect to intensify in 2019.

For example, in Germany, where, in 2016, eight of the biggest German publishing groups – including Axel Springer and Bertelsman – pooled audience data together. In France, Le Monde and Le Figaro, noted newspaper rivals, are letting advertisers book digital ad campaigns across their combined portfolio, using the same display or video ad formats for the first time. And this has been happening across the pond too; the News Media Alliance—a trade coalition representing some 2,000 organizations across the U.S. and Canada, including Wall Street Journal publisher Dow Jones—is another publisher alliance looking to disrupt Facebook and Google’s dominance.

Here at Cxense there’s also been significant movement; in December, three leading Dutch publishers - Sanoma Media, Telegraaf Media Groep, and de Persgroep - signed an agreement to use our DMP for their joint data alliance initiative NLProfiel. On top of that, the Cxense DMP is already used by publisher alliances in Belgium, the Baltic states, Portugal, and Romania.

Why data alliances thrive

Data alliances combine quality, trust, transparency and volume. They address the market’s demand for better data quality and better digital targeting. Advertisers accustomed to working with global platforms are pushing for the same kind of high-quality, standardized data from independent publishers. In addition, many alliances offer brands and their agencies the opportunity to plan unambiguously across all connected properties.

Today everything has to happen in a GDPR-compliant way. Advertisers want to know where and how publishers collected their data, that readers understood their methods, and that the data represents a real, high-quality audience.

Joining forces also strengthens brand safety. Google and Facebook have shown over recent years that they can’t necessarily ensure a brand’s advertising won’t appear next to unsavory content. By banding together with a smaller number of publishers, alliances can control who has the privilege of accessing their inventory, which in turn ensures the quality and safety of their advertising; an attractive proposition for advertisers acutely aware of how damaging a scandal (such as their advertising coming up next to an ISIS video on Youtube) could be to their brand.

Alliances aren’t necessarily about attacking the duopoly – a potentially reckless action given the fact that Google, Facebook, and Amazon as a new player, accounted for 62% of US digital ad spend, according to eMarketer in 2018 – but about creating a more level playing field. Successful publisher alliances will take the things Google and Facebook do best - quality user data, seamless integration, reports, and scale – and combine it with their own strengths as local businesses - greater trust with readers, GDPR-compliance and a more tailored, personal service when working with advertisers – to create ecosystems that provide the best of both worlds.

Finding the right DMP partner

So what should publishers look out for when it comes choosing the right data partner for an alliance? For starters, a successful alliance must be built around a powerful DMP that is easy to use and that can act as the glue to hold things together. Since the DMP represents the core of the alliance’s operations, it has to integrate easily with other systems. Publishers’ engineers and data scientists will appreciate a powerful, well-documented API, native AI capabilities, and a plethora of integrations.

Different alliances seek to achieve different goals and the right DMP has to be very flexible because it will need to address many technology setups that might evolve over time. Some will be happy sharing data and creating segments in a more standardized and transparent way. Others may want to build a programmatic and direct ad sales organization that they actually have control over, which can also improve their advertising on platforms such as Facebook. Whatever the goal, any successful alliance will need a technology partner that has a thorough approach to data science and lots of experience and data scientists to get you started.

The technology partner must also act in the best interests of alliance members. By nature, Facebook and Google won’t put publishers first as they don’t own their content, but in an alliance things must be different and there must be a more collaborative approach.

A shared vision

Because the stakes are so high, going into an alliance without a shared vision will lead to disappointments. Therefore important questions to ask before deciding on the technical set-up of an alliance could be which data will be commonly shared among all members and which data will only be limited to select members. This should be decided based on live data and automatically with an algorithm-based distribution key so that those who make the most impact with a campaign receive the highest rewards. There will also need to be an understanding of which data members can keep out of sharing from the common pool. All of this can be managed easily with a good DMP.

Whether it’s the types of sites allowed, revenue goals or how inventory is bundled, it’s clear members of an alliance must be on the same page from day one. You've got to remember that success won’t come overnight. An alliance must take a long-term view as shifting the dynamics of the media industry takes time. A successful publisher alliance will need a continued investment in areas such as inventory, marketing and recruiting the right people. You have to have the confidence that in the long run it will all be worth it due to the increased stability that will ultimately come your way.

In a world where the majority of publishers give up control of their content to the digital duopoly, sometimes resulting in scandals that cause substantial damage to their brand health, a publisher alliance could just be the recipe for success and improved security. Don’t be surprised if 2019 is the year publisher alliances become serious players when it comes to ad budgets in markets across the world.