While Meta, X step back from publishers, TikTok sees them as an opportunity

Publishers might finally be able to catch a break if TikTok’s got anything to do with it. The entertainment app could become a much-needed source of money for them — well eventually. 

While it’s still early days, TikTok is at the very least showing its intention toward publishers, by making them more of a priority and increasing monetization opportunities.

Amid TikTok’s uncertain future in the U.S., the company’s most recent restructure round reportedly saw changes that directly impact creators and publishers. For the latter, part of those changes include a new team called “publisher monetization operations”, which is supposedly headed up by Harish Sarma, according to The Information. Though his LinkedIn profile still states that he is the global head of sports and gaming at the platform, and TikTok did not comment directly on this story.

However, London-based Natalina Manni (formerly head of content strategy and operations Europe, Russia and Israel), took on the role of global head of publisher operations in January, while London-based Edward Lindeman (formerly TikTok’s head of entertainment) was named head of publisher operations UKIN in April, according to LinkedIn. 

Similarly, LA-based Annie Jacob also posted on LinkedIn that she took on a position within the global publisher solutions team in May, having previously been part of the global product strategy and operations team. A search for “publisher monetization operations” within TikTok on LinkedIn brought up a list of 36 individuals in total.

Opportunistic from TikTok’s part? Maybe. Still, given the rough ride publishers have had to date, any effort from TikTok to give them a helping hand will likely be welcomed. Many are still waiting for that lifeline. 

That’s because publishers’ traffic has suffered after Meta and X have taken active stances to distance themselves from publishers and the news content that goes with them.

After contacting 14 publishers, two confirmed to Digiday that they have seen new leadership overseeing publishers.

“It does feel like things have shifted at TikTok, the big change being that media owners and publishers are now being managed by a standalone team,” said Nat Poulter, vp of digital commercial at BBC Studios. 

That’s a key change for a publisher like BBC Studios that has big plans for TikTok. 

Currently, the app only takes up a single digit percentage of the money it spends on reaching people on social media networks, but Poulter knows the opportunity for ad revenue is coming into sharper focus — albeit slowly, but he didn’t provide exact figures.

“Average watch times are, as you’d expect from a short-form vertical mobile-first platform, much lower than the other platforms,” said Poulter. “They [TikTok] are working to increase upload length and the algorithm is prioritizing watch time, so this metric will no doubt improve. Still, we anticipate it will be harder to command the higher CPMs we see across O&O channels and YouTube. We’re hopeful the scale we’ve already created will work to offset this somewhat but only time will tell.”

Like BBC Studios, The Hollywood Reporter uses TikTok primarily as a marketing vehicle, a way to get its content in front of more people, but has one eye fixed on the monetization potential of it too. 

Ryan Fish, social media manager at The Hollywood Reporter, said he’d like to have the option to monetize videos that appear in places beyond the For You Page, such as another feed (maybe for publisher partners’ content only) that “could help to prioritize evergreen content or other TikToks that need longer legs,” he said.

It’s a similar story for BDG Digital: cautious optimism.

“There is an opportunity for larger partnerships around tentpole, cultural events,” said Wes Bonner, svp of marketing and audience development and head of social at BDG. “I’d love to get to a place where we have an always-on cultural calendar that we’ve committed to create the content and they’ve committed to some advanced distribution of that content. I think that could be a really elevated relationship.”  

Revenue from TikTok – driven primarily by branded content – accounts for 35% of what it earns from social media, according to Bonner. He declined to say whether or not that share had grown year over year or give exact figures.

“TikTok rewards publishers with ad credits for spending on the platform,” Bonner added. Though he didn’t specify the specifics, he did indicate that the more publishers spend, the more potential credit they can get. 

And these incentives are usually tied to some type of initiative TikTok wants to try out. “Typically, they’re not asking us to put our own money into that ad product,” Bonner explained. “There’s a credit where we still create the content and we run the ads. But because it is testing a new product, layout or format in some of that, distribution will be funded by them [TikTok].”

A recent example of this is BDG testing TikTok’s static image galleries. “That’s been one of the most successful in the last few months that we’ve been able to translate into branded sales,” Bonner added.

It’s still early days on this long road to publisher success on the platform.

“[Historically] It has been difficult to monetise on TikTok as a publisher, but with the creator rewards program and Pulse [Premiere] program (although only available for select publishers) it shows TikTok is trying to understand how to monetise effectively so that it can compete with other platforms,” said Siobhan McDade, md of media at Jungle Creations.

TikTok’s Pulse Premiere program was launched in May 2023, as an expanded part of TikTok Pulse — the platform’s first contextual advertising solution. It enables brands to place their ads directly after the top 4% of brand-suitable content from the platform’s publisher partners across lifestyle and education, sports and entertainment categories, within the For You Page (FYP). When it launched, partners included BuzzFeed, Condé Nast, Dotdash Meredith, Hearst Magazines, MLS, NBCUniversal, UFC, Vox Media and WWE. This has since expanded to include three British broadcasters: ITV, Channel 4 and BBC Studios, as well as — Paramount Global and the National Hockey League (NHL), this year.


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