Digiday+ Research: Publishers sort out their revenue priorities for the year, with direct-sold ads leading the way

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As the first quarter of 2024 comes to a close, it’s becoming clearer where publishers’ revenue priorities lie after a tumultuous 2023. According to Digiday+ Research surveys of more than 150 publisher professionals, direct-sold ads are their major focus this year, while they let up on the gas for other areas of their business, including subscriptions and affiliate commerce.

Digiday’s surveys found that, while the top sources of publishers’ revenues haven’t changed much, it appears that publishers are putting less of an emphasis on some parts of their businesses this year compared with last year.

Direct-sold ads remain the top revenue source for publishers this year (84% of publisher pros said direct-sold ads account for at least a very small portion of their revenue in Q1 2024), followed by programmatic ads (which 82% of publishers get at least a little revenue from as of the beginning of this year), branded content (72% get revenue from this source) and video advertising like branded content and pre-roll ads (70% of publisher pros said video ads bring in at least a little revenue).

However, despite branded content’s third-place ranking among publishers’ revenue sources, Digiday’s surveys found a significant drop in the percentage of publishers who get revenue from branded content from last year to this year and the percentage who said they’ll focus at least a little on growing that part of their business in the coming months.

While 72% of publisher pros said in Q1 2024 that branded content accounts for at least a very small portion of their revenue, that’s down from the 80% who said the same in Q1 2023. And slightly more publisher pros (74%) said at the beginning of this year that they will put at least a very small focus on building their branded content business in the next six months, down from 86% a year prior.

Subscriptions, events and affiliate commerce all saw similar drops. Last year, 62% of publisher pros told Digiday they got at least a very small portion of their revenue from subscriptions. This year, 56% said the same. And while 73% said last year they would put at least a very small focus on building their subscriptions business in the next six months, 59% said the same this year.

Just under half of publisher pros (47%) said in Q1 2024 that they get at least a little revenue from events, compared with well over half (57%) in Q1 2023. And slightly more than half (52%) said in Q1 of this year that they would focus at least a little on growing their events business in the next six months, compared with two-thirds (67%) who said the same in Q1 of last year.

Affiliate commerce saw the biggest drop in share of publishers’ revenue between last year and this year. In Q1 2023, nearly two-thirds of publisher pros (62%) said affiliate commerce accounted for at least a very small portion of their revenue. In Q1 2024, less than half (45%) said the same. And while 70% of publishers said last year that they would put at least a very small focus on growing their affiliate commerce business, a much smaller 58% said the same this year.

Digiday’s surveys also found that, when it comes to where publishers are getting a large portion of their revenue, there hasn’t been much change from last year to this year. But publishers’ areas of serious focus are looking very different at the beginning of 2024 compared with the beginning of 2023.

The highest percentage of publishers get a large or very large portion of their revenue from direct-sold ads as of Q1 2024 — which is unchanged from Q1 2023. Fifty-three percent of publisher pros said this year that direct-sold ads account for a large or very large portion of their revenue, compared with 54% who said the same last year.

And direct-sold ads are in first place in this regard by a wide margin. Programmatic ads came in second place, with one-third of publisher pros (33%) saying this year that they get a large or very large portion of their revenue from this source (down slightly from 38% last year), followed by branded content (31% said this year they get a large amount of their revenue from branded content, up from 25% last year) and video advertising (23% said this year that video ads bring in a large or very large portion of their revenue, up slightly from 20% last year).

Subscriptions and affiliate commerce saw noticeable drops between last year and this year. In Q1 2023, 21% of publisher pros said subscriptions accounted for a large or very large portion of their revenue. In Q1 2024, just 7% said the same. And after 10% said last year that affiliate commerce brought in a lot of revenue, not one respondent to Digiday’s survey this year said affiliate commerce accounted for a large or very large portion of their revenue.

Publishers’ priorities when it comes to where they’ll put a large focus this year looks very different from their priorities last year. Overall, the ranking of publishers’ serious priorities this year doesn’t look very different from how it did last year, but the extent to which publishers will put a large focus on the different parts of their business has seen big shifts.

Direct-sold ads, programmatic ads, branded content and video advertising will be publishers’ top areas of focus this year, just as they were last year, and each of these revenue sources saw big jumps in the percentage of publishers who said they will be a large or very large focus in the next six months.

More than three-quarters of publisher pros said in Q1 2024 that they will put a large or very large focus on growing their direct-sold ads business in the coming months, up from just under two-thirds (63%) in Q1 2023. Fifty-three percent of publisher pros said this year they will put a large or very large focus on growing both their programmatic ads and branded content businesses, up from 45% and 41%, respectively, last year. And just over half of publisher pros (51%) said at the beginning of this year that they would focus a lot on growing their video ads business in the next six months, up from closer to one-third (39%) at the beginning of last year.

Meanwhile, subscriptions and affiliate commerce saw the opposite change from last year to this year. Thirty percent of publisher pros said this year that they would put a large or very large focus on growing their subscriptions business in the next six months, down from 39% last year. And affiliate commerce saw the percentage of publishers who said they’ll put a large or very large focus on growing that part of their business fall from nearly a quarter (23%) in Q1 2023 to 14% in Q1 2024.

https://digiday.com/?p=538059

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