Digiday Research: Digital publishers still see growth in direct-sold display ads

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 →

This is the latest update to our ongoing research series tracking publishers’ changing revenue mixes and sources.

Direct-sold ads are the brightest spot for publishers’ online revenues, according to Digiday Research.

Of the 135 publishers surveyed by Digiday in a wide-ranging research survey this fall, more than 50% of publishers reported that direct-sold advertising was a large or very large source of revenue for them. Video advertising is also another bright spot, with 28% of publishers reporting it as a large or very large source of revenue, as were programmatic ads, with 35%.


Things have slightly changed from a year prior when branded content was a major source of revenue for publishers surveyed: 76% said their companies had seen branded content revenue grow from 2017. There are certain challenges with branded content, and turning that revenue into profit — it can be hard to make, loaded with hidden fees and brands are increasingly skeptical of branded content’s effectiveness.

Despite all the noise with the pivot to paid, subscriptions aren’t a source of revenue for 40% of publishers. Affiliate commerce is either a small source of revenue or not at all a source of revenue for the vast majority of publishers — 82% of them. This is in line with last year’s benchmarking research, which found that revenue streams via affiliate links were nascent and small parts of the business. Last year, less than 10% of publishers said e-commerce was responsible for more than 25% of their revenue.

For larger publishers, those with more than $50 million in annual revenue, subscriptions are more important as a piece of the pie: 35% of them reported that both subscriptions and affiliate commerce are a large or very large revenue source for them. Direct-sold ads remain the biggest: 63% of large publishers say it’s important.

For publishers that make under $50 million in revenue, subscriptions are making less money: 52% of small publishers said they’re not a source of revenue. Most small publishers make money through direct-sold ads.


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