Digiday+ Research: Publishers streamline revenue sources, with direct-sold ads top money driver
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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Publishers aren’t feeling their best about revenue or the economy overall.
Digiday+ Research surveyed 112 publisher professionals to find out how this is affecting their revenue sources, if at all.
Digiday’s survey found that, overall, the number of revenue sources publishers rely on has fallen very slightly since the first quarter of last year. To be exact, publishers are currently relying on 6.41 revenue sources on average, compared with 6.60 revenue sources last year.
The change is a bit more significant when we break down publishers by size. Small publishers (or those with a revenue last year of less than $10 million) get their revenue from an average of 4.83 sources as of Q1 of this year, down from 5.41 a year ago. Meanwhile, large publishers (or those with last year’s revenue at least $50 million) are relying on 7.68 revenue sources on average, compared with 8.02 sources at the start of 2022.
The fact that both large and small publishers are relying on fewer sources of revenue this year indicates that media companies are likely streamlining their businesses. The state of the economy and smaller staff counts are potential reasons for this.
Additionally, it’s likely the difference between small and large publishers can be attributed to resources, at least in part. Large publishers are more likely to have a bigger staff with the capacity to dedicate time and skills to a longer list of potential revenue sources. Smaller publishers, on the other hand, will naturally have smaller teams who have to work with what they’ve got (or do more with less).
This year, direct-sold ads are the top revenue source for publishers overall, Digiday’s survey found: 54% of respondents said a large or very large portion of their revenue comes from direct-sold ads.
This remains the case even when segmenting the data for large and small publishers. Nearly two-thirds of large publishers (63%) said direct-sold ads account for a large or very large portion of their revenue, and 42% of small publishers said the same — making direct-sold ads the No. 1 revenue source for both groups.
Programmatic ads will also be an important source of revenue for both large and small publishers this year. Programmatic is the No. 2 source of revenue for large publishers this year, with 49% of respondents from this group saying they get a large or very large portion of their revenue from programmatic. And it came in at No. 3 for small publishers, with 31% saying programmatic accounts for a large or very large portion of their revenue in 2023.
Video advertising ranked much higher for large publishers than for small ones. Just under a third of large publishers (32%) said they get a large or very large portion of their revenue from video ads, putting the revenue source at No. 3 on large publishers’ list of revenue sources. (Only 11% of small publishers said a large or very large portion of their revenue comes from video ads.)
Meanwhile, branded content ranked much higher among small publishers. About a third of small publishers (31%) said branded content accounts for a large or very large portion of their revenue, ranking it at No. 2 for small publishers. (By comparison, 20% of large publishers said they get a large or very large portion of their revenue from branded content.)
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