Digiday+ Research: Publishers’ programmatic revenue didn’t shake out the way they’d hoped, but it’s still a bright spot

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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There are a lot of things that didn’t quite go according to plan for publishers this year — layoffs and fourth-quarter ad sales, among other things.

Add their programmatic ad revenue to that list.

That’s according to Digiday+ Research surveys of more than 300 publisher professionals.

According to Digiday’s data, publishers’ hopes for their programmatic ad revenue didn’t quite come to fruition this year. Nearly half of publisher pros (45%) said in Q1 2023 that building their programmatic business would be a large or very large focus in the next six months. But rather than seeing growth in the percentage of publishers who get a large portion of their revenues from programmatic by Q3 2023, we’re instead seeing a shift where fewer publishers are getting a large portion of their revenues from programmatic and more are getting a moderate portion from that source.

To be more specific, 28% of publisher pros said in Q3 of this year that a large or very large portion of their revenues came from programmatic ads, down from 38% at the start of the year. Meanwhile, 35% of publishers said in Q3 that programmatic ads accounted for a moderate portion of their revenues, up from 21% in Q1.

However, it’s clear that publishers rely heavily on programmatic revenue, and they still see that revenue source as a growing one. Eighty-seven percent of publisher pros told Digiday in Q3 of this year that they get at least a very small portion of their revenue from programmatic ads, up slightly from 85% in Q1 of this year. At the same time, a whopping 91% said in Q3 that building their programmatic business even further will be at least a very small focus in the next six months, up more significantly in this case from 84% in Q1.

Another way of looking at this is to call out that the percentage of publishers who make any money at all from programmatic ads has been trending upward since the beginning of 2022 — albeit slightly. This is clear in the data when we look at the trend line for survey respondents who have told Digiday in recent quarters that they make none of their revenue from programmatic ads. While that percentage held steady through 2022 at just short of one-quarter (22%), in Q1 2023 that percentage fell to 15%, and then fell again to 13% in Q3 2023.

Similarly — and a bit more definitively — the percentage of publishers who told Digiday they intend to focus even a little on building their programmatic business in the next six months has been trending upward as well (as those who said they wouldn’t focus at all on programmatic has trended down). The percentage of publishers pros who said they weren’t focused at all on building their programmatic business hovered at around one-quarter through all of 2022 (23% said this in Q1 2022 and 24% said so in Q3 2022), then fell to 16% in Q1 of this year and to just 9% in Q3 of this year.

Digiday’s survey found that publishers’ reliance on programmatic ad revenue hinges largely on the open programmatic market. This isn’t necessarily a change from past quarters, but our survey data indicates that this is only becoming more true as time goes on.

It’s important to note that most publishers who make money from programmatic ads rely on both direct-sold programmatic and open market programmatic. Eighty-eight percent of publisher pros told Digiday in Q3 of this year that they make at least a very small portion of their programmatic revenue from direct-sold programmatic, and 93% said the same of the open market.

And nearly a quarter of publisher pros (24%) said they make a large or very large portion of their programmatic revenue from direct-sold programmatic ads — a notable percentage that held steady from the beginning of the year. However, publishers’ preference for open market programmatic is clear when we look at that 24% compared with the 57% who said they get a large or very large portion of their programmatic revenue from the open market.

Even further evidence of open market programmatic’s strength over direct-sold is that the percentage of publishers who told Digiday a large portion of their programmatic revenue is from the open market is trending upward, while those who said a lot of their programmatic revenue is direct sold is down from last year.

In Q1 2022, fewer than half of publisher pros (46%) said they got a large or very large portion of their programmatic revenue from the open market. That percentage passed the halfway mark by Q3 2022, when 52% said they got a lot of their programmatic revenue from the open market, and then rose again to 53% in Q1 of this year before hitting 57% in Q3 of this year. At the same time, about one-third of publishers who said a large or very large portion of their programmatic revenue came from direct-sold programmatic in 2022 (32% in Q1 and 33% in Q3), while just under a quarter said the same in 2023 (24% in both Q1 and Q3 this year).

https://digiday.com/?p=527104

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