Entertainment Publishers Wrestle With Pivot To Video, Mobile, and Programmatic

John Shomaker (@jshomaker) is CEO of AdJuggler, a publisher-centric ad server and monetization platform.

If you talk with Sharon Waxman, she’ll admit she’s infatuated with Hollywood and its ecosystem of studios, media companies, and celebrities. After fifteen years as the lead Hollywood correspondent for the New York Times and, more recently, the Washington Post, Waxman founded TheWrap in 2009 to serve as a credible source to insiders on the business of Hollywood, while also attracting the growing interest of Hollywood enthusiasts.

Visit TheWrap.com today and you’ll see a radical departure from its 2012 text-centric layout. “In the past twenty-four months, our users’ habits have rapidly migrated toward video content and mobile access,” notes Mark Davis, TheWrap’s Chief Operating Officer. “Our users have always been loyal to our quality journalism, but the old site was at risk of becoming dated. We’ve added significantly more video and graphic content to drive more user engagement. And more importantly we are now dynamically restructuring our content and integrated advertising to reflect a growing mobile audience, whether users are finding us from our email newsletters, from Facebook, or other sources.”

Entertainment publishers like TheWrap that have invested and re-architected around these changing behaviors are now beginning to prosper. Other publishers, locked into a dated design paradigm, are wrestling with slow load times and sites that don’t respond effectively to a growing mobile audience.  This equates to frustrated users who don’t spend time on the site, don’t view ads, and don’t return.

When we work with publishers to integrate our ad technology into their site design, customers increasingly cite three growing challenges:

  1. Video, whether owned or sourced from syndicators, is dominating their ad space. Although video rates are often superior to traditional display, if video ads are slow, view-through levels drop and the cannibalized display revenue drops too.  This will only get more important as viewability measures drive actual publisher revenue.
  2. Mobile, whether viewed on tablets or phones, is becoming the new display format. Since mobile-specific subdomains are less common and most traditional publishers don’t have apps, reconfiguring sites for mobile using responsive HTML5 design techniques is critical.  There may be less overall ad space in mobile, but properly sizing and rendering two good mobile ads delivers more return than six poorly deployed display ads compressed into an iPhone.
  3. Delivery sources for video ads today are more heterogeneous and less predictable. In the good old days, all ads were selected and served directly.  Ad delivery performance wasn’t a hurdle for site performance. But, now with programmatic buyers and exchanges, video ad networks, and direct campaigns, ad delivery times vary, directly impacting site design, load times, user experience, and user retention.

For many publishers – especially mid-size publishers with limited technology teams – re-architecting a sites’ content management and tag structures for these publishing trends is a pivot of its own: redesign now, or risk obsolescence.

We believe HTML5 will continue to grow in popularity and ultimately eat into proprietary mobile application share. We recognize that responsive design requires more skilled designers, but cross-device presentation and ad delivery are critical for publisher growth. Antiquated advertising technologies and tagging techniques that don’t consider multiple buyer types and sources are often at the root of content disruption. Users don’t wait, users don’t scroll, users don’t read, users don’t click, and users don’t return.

Today, TheWrap reaches more than 7 million unique users each month with a significant burst during awards season, according to Mark Davis. “Users continue to increase the time spent on the site, and we believe it’s due to our original writing, our graphically-engaging design and the quality of experience on both desktop and mobile.”

For other publishers, not so much.