Why publishers are teaming up to explore time-based selling

The trend of selling ads based on time, rather than click-through rate, is gaining momentum among publishers: More than two dozen of them, including Dow Jones and The Telegraph, have teamed up to actively explore trading in this way.

The strategy is meant to combat the wider problem of viewable ads. Approximately half of online ads sold are never viewed, causing massive waste in advertiser budgets. According to analytics company Moat, only 56 percent of ads on desktop are classified as in view; this drops to 45 percent on mobile. Rather than forcing advertisers to create bigger, flashier and more interruptive ads, publishers are charging for the ad only if it caught the reader’s attention.

“We’re seeing over 25 publishers explore selling on time and attention,” said Aniq Rahman, president at Moat, during a panel at the 614 Group’s Brand Safety Summit held in London. “That may be over cost per second or cost per hour, rather than clicks. Attention is the scarce resource marketers are trying to value; we’re figuring how to measure it.”

As part of trying to figure out how to measure attention, some 20 publishers participate in regular calls to collaborate and learn from each other. Most of the learning comes from the Financial Times, which has had some of the earliest success with time-based selling. Cost-per-hour now represents 12 percent of the impressions the FT has served (up from 7 percent last September) across approximately 31 campaigns for clients like BP and Microsoft, which only paid for the ad if it was viewed for five seconds or longer.

The Economist has also adopted the approach. In February, Ashwin Shridar, global head of digital products revenue at The Economist, told Digiday about the results of its first campaign traded in this way. It’s now onto its third, billing for display ad impressions that get over five seconds of “active” reader view time, including scrolling up and down a page, using a mouse or typing on a keyboard.

“Our research shows that the advertisers who buy exclusively on viewability end up getting less time with our audience,” said Shridar. “We share the research and insights that we have with our advertisers and ask them to make an informed choice between buying on viewability or trading on attention. More often than not, they opt for the latter.”

The FT and the Economist both have a hybrid ad and subscription model, and run more brand building campaigns, making them particularly attractive to marketers. “We’re seeing it chime particularly among CMOs,” Rahman told Digiday. “Marketers of luxury brands are particularly interested; no one buys a luxury watch or handbag by clicking on an ad.”

But in order to get people to stick around longer, the creative needs to be compelling, they say. “When we talk about agencies, we’re talking mainly about media agencies,” said Rahman. “But there’s a bigger role for the creative agencies to play because the creative is so important in capturing the attention of the reader.” Creatives with more access to the data from media agencies on how well time-based sales have performed will, in theory, be able to make more informed decisions.

The problem, however, is that creative agencies still see online ads as less important than TV, said Jim Freeman, group sales and trading director at The Telegraph Group. “They need to give more of a shit about online, and their clients need to insist on that,” he said.



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