Digiday+ Research: A definitive ranking of publishers’ revenue sources as Q4 rolls on
This research is based on unique data collected from our proprietary audience of publisher, agency, brand and tech insiders. It’s available to Digiday+ members. More from the series →
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The fourth quarter is here, meaning that 2024 planning is close at hand. But before the media industry can move into planning for next year, it’s important to know where exactly publishers are getting their revenue from right now.
Digiday+ Research surveyed over 200 publisher professionals in 2021, 2022 and 2023 to come up with this list of publishers’ revenue sources:
Looking more closely at the survey data, Digiday found that publishers have only increased their reliance on direct-sold ad revenue since last year. Direct-sold ads were the top revenue source among publishers last year as well (tied with branded content), with 86% of publisher pros saying at least a very small portion of their revenue came from direct-sold ads. This year, nearly all respondents said they make money from direct-sold ads: 98% of respondents said at least a very small portion of their revenue comes from this source.
Publishers’ reliance on branded content also saw a big jump from last year. In 2022, branded content tied with direct-sold ads as the top revenue source for publishers (86% of publisher pros said they made money from branded content). This year, branded content came in a close second to direct-sold ads, with a whopping 96% of publishers saying at least a very small portion of their revenue comes from this source.
The percentage of publishers who make money from content licensing and sales this year also saw a significant increase over last year. Just under three-quarters of publisher pros (74%) told Digiday this year at least a very small portion of their revenue comes from content licensing and sales, up from just shy of two-thirds last year (65%) and 61% the year before.
At the same time, publishers’ reliance on subscription revenue has been trending upward in recent years, Digiday’s survey found — albeit fairly slowly. Two-thirds of publisher pros (66%) said in 2021 that they got at least a very small portion of their revenue from subscriptions. That percentage grew to 69% in 2022 and grew again to 74% this year.
Digiday’s surveys didn’t start asking about connected TV as a revenue source until last year, and this revenue source ranked last among the options offered to respondents. But it’s worth noting that CTV saw the biggest jump between last year and this year in the percentage of publishers pros who said it accounts for at least a very small portion of their revenue. Last year, just 29% of publishers said they make money from CTV. This year, nearly half (49%) said so.
But there’s a big difference between just making any money at all from a specific revenue source vs. making a large portion of revenue. Digiday’s surveys found that direct-sold ads is still the top revenue source for publishers when breaking out where they get a large portion of their revenue from, but branded content falls into fourth place. Meanwhile, video advertising moves up from fourth place to second when accounting for where publishers are making a significant amount of money. And there are big year-over-year differences in this category too.
More than half of publisher pros (55%) said this year that they make a large or very large portion of their revenue from direct-sold ads. This is a significant increase from the 45% who said the same last year – further illustrating publishers’ growing reliance on this revenue source. (Although this year’s 55% is still less than the 63% who said they made a large amount of money from direct-sold ads in 2021.)
Video advertising came in second behind direct-sold ads this year, but a fairly distant second. Just a third of publisher pros (33%) told Digiday this year that they get a large or very large portion of their revenue from video ads, a slight increase from the 28% who said so last year.
And while the percentage of publishers who make any money at all from subscriptions has been trending upward since 2021, the percentage who get a large portion of their revenue from this source fell significantly from last year to this year. In 2022, just over a quarter of publisher pros (27%) said they got a large or very large portion of their revenue from subscriptions. This year, that percentage fell to just 12%.
And while CTV showed signs of significant growth as a revenue source for publishers overall, it’s worth noting that the percentage of publisher pros who told Digiday this year that they get a large or very large portion of their revenue from CTV is incredibly small. Only 7% of respondents said this in 2023, compared with 2% last year.
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