Why Publishers Should Pull More Weight in the Rush for Video Ad Spend

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By Joseph Lospalluto, Country Manager, US at ShowHeroes Group

In an age of TikTok, YouTube and Amazon Live, video content increasingly rules all. The outbreak of Covid has supercharged an already fast-growing video market, with the average US consumer now paying for four different video streaming subscriptions. Digital advertising will account for over 60% of global ad spend this year, fueled in large part by demand for online video and connected TV.

In this bold new media world, premium video content is in hot demand. However, quality video is often hard to find for brands, not least because the very group who should be commanding the field – publishers – are still trying to figure out their content strategy in this changing media environment.

With years of editorial experience and journalistic nuance on their side, major online and broadcast titles should be leading the way when it comes to producing — and monetizing – branded online video. Instead, many traditional publishers risk being frozen out from this fast-moving genre. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

A Complex Landscape

This fallback is far from an intentional move by publishers: they want a slice of video revenue as much as any savvy digital operator. But a myriad of factors are conspiring to make the production and scaling of online video problematic.

First, there’s the issue of monetization. Since publishers frequently outsource their videos to third-party platforms such as Facebook or Instagram, rather than owned-and-operated platforms, this type of content can be both expensive to make and hard to turn a profit on.

Second, the process of producing an excellent branded video is often misunderstood, as filmmaker Chris Farber – who frequently works with publishers on sponsored content – explains. “I think publishers doing sponsored content for brands have a hard time understanding what actually goes into making a high quality video,” Farber tells Medium. Farber says that because briefs typically come to him via a publisher’s marketing team, they are often “not wholly baked” — with more of a sales versus creative focus.

The challenge with original digital video doesn’t end with muddied conceptual thinking, either. In today’s multifaceted market, publishers are increasingly coming up against competition from large-scale entertainment and production studios. This is opening up a gulf between traditional publishers — whose bread-and-butter of content creation tends to be limited by editorial integrity — and their star-studded rivals, who have limitless creative freedom, not to mention talent access, on their side.

Underserved and Overwhelmed

This mixed picture means that there is a growing divergence in the digital economy between the kind of rich, engaging and premium videos that many brands crave — and what traditional publishers can actually deliver.

The quality environment of digital TV, for example, is still failing to attract large swathes of advertisers. A recent IAB study found that 200 advertisers supply 88% of US network TV revenue, compared to Facebook with roughly 10 million advertisers. This disparity should presumably be far more evenly spread, given meteoric CTV demand.

Meanwhile, Amazon struggled to place its shoppable live videos in major titles (rather than its mainstay of YouTubers and TV stars) for Cyber Monday in November, despite months of effort by executives to woo publishers on the point.

Whether it’s lack of clear communication by brands, or the so-called “Netflix Effect” that has sown unrealistic expectations around original content, somewhere along the line, publishers have failed to emerge as the natural contenders they should be in the video space.

However, with demand around video booming, especially in younger generations (89% of Gen Zers use YouTube at least once a week), publishers take a backseat at their peril.

Video is not only attracting a new caliber of contender (TikTok grew 75% over the first year of the pandemic, with an audience dominated by Gen Z), it’s also becoming a key area for consolidation and acquisition (Warner Media’s $43 billion merger with Discovery, announced last May, is a case in point).

The Right Kind of Strategy

Publishers face a choice: adapt or continue to lose time with their audiences to the various other video platforms. Moreover, those who thrive will do so not by simply dipping their toes into video content — but rather, by putting it front and center of their business model.

Some level of in-house production capacity is a clear advantage with this approach, allowing journalists to take a creative lead on any briefs that come through. This, in turn, will enable publishers to build an archive of premium video content, which can then be monetized effectively via real-time data analytics — as the bedrock of audience reach and tailored ad solutions.

If publishers lack the necessary resources, there’s also the option to work with co-publishing partners; either to effectively drive revenue from video content or even provide the content itself.

In a cookieless age where user experience rules all, publishers also need to think about their customer relationship. Any video strategy should have non-intrusive ad formats baked in, along with contextual and semantic targeting solutions to accurately place ads alongside the most relevant video audiences — all while ensuring user-privacy. This will allow for the ability to monetize the non consented or users from other regions where privacy compliance can be seen as a hurdle.

The reality is, traditional publishers don’t have to drop behind the likes of Buzzfeed, Twitch or even new challengers, TikTok to attract premium-budget video buyers. It’s not a foregone conclusion. In many ways, in fact, this is a face-off where publishers have the edge.

With sharp editorial minds and a library of original content on their side — along with tech to ensure a brand-safe and scalable targeting environment — traditional players still have the opportunity to break ahead in the race for video ad dollars. But this is no time for half measures: full-throated investment is called for, along with clear vision at all levels of decision-making. The moment to act is now.