Digiday+ Research: Most publishers grew their ad offerings last year, with a focus on branded content

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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As the media industry faced a tough year in 2023, many publishers were able to maintain the numbers on their full-time staff — perhaps because most increased the advertising products they offered.

This is according to Digiday+ Research surveys of more than 300 publisher professionals, the most recent of which was conducted late in the fourth quarter of 2023.

Digiday’s surveys found that, overall, more than half of publishers (56%) grew their ad products last year. Meanwhile, just over a third of publisher pros (35%) said the number of ad products they offered last year stayed the same. Just 9% said they cut ad products in 2023.

The increase, however, wasn’t an overwhelming one as far as how many ad products publishers added. Fifty-three percent of publisher pros said the number of ad products they offered increased only somewhat last year. In comparison, only 3% said their ad products grew by a significant amount.

Publishers increasing their ad products by just a bit as opposed to a lot makes sense considering that only about a quarter of publishers (26%) increased their full-time staff last year. In other words, publishers were limited in how many ad products they could add based on the people they had to produce and sell those products.

On the flip side of that, any decreases in ad products offered by publishers last year appear to have been fairly minimal in terms of how many products were cut. Not one respondent to Digiday’s survey said the number of ad products their companies offered decreased significantly last year. The 9% of publisher pros who said their ad products decreased said they only decreased somewhat.

So where did publishers invest in growing their ad products last year? Digiday’s survey found that branded content was the big focus. Fifty-eight percent of publisher pros told Digiday late in Q4 2023 that their companies added branded content ad products last year, making it the top category where publishers added new products.

More than a third of publisher pros said their companies added programmatic ads, event sponsorships and direct-sold ads last year. Thirty-nine percent said they added programmatic ads, and the same percentage said they added event sponsorships. Thirty-six percent said they added direct-sold ads.

Just under a quarter of publisher pros (24%) said their companies added video ad products last year. And 18% said their companies added artificial intelligence-driven, ad-supported products, rounding out the top five categories where publishers added new products in 2023.

Interestingly, 18% said they added products not included in Digiday’s answer options, which is a significant percentage for an “other” category. Some of the products respondents specified outside of those provided by Digiday included expanded display ad formats, homepage takeovers, newsletter packages, multi-touch lead campaigns and lower-funnel ad products.


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