LinkedIn’s publisher revenue share program is entering its next phase

LinkedIn’s Wire Program — a program that enables media companies to sell 3- to 15-second-long pre-roll ads on their editorial video — is launching its beta test phase today.

Barron’s, Bloomberg, Business Insider, Forbes, MarketWatch, NBCUniversal, Reuters, The Wall Street Journal and Yahoo! Finance are among the publishers taking part in the program, having signed on between last fall and April to start pitching advertisers prior to its launch this month. The Wire Program is part of LinkedIn’s larger investment into news. It will launch internationally, but without EU targeting.

The test period over the past several months has yielded ad revenue for some of the publishers. Prior to its launch in beta, execs from Bloomberg, Reuters, Forbes and The Wall Street Journal all said they sold ads through the program, signing on anywhere from three to 35 clients. There are no concrete plans at the moment for when the Wire Program will open up to more publishers.

In its alpha phase, the terms of the deal included a 50-50 revenue split between the publisher and LinkedIn, as well as a fixed CPM of $50, which was first reported by Toolkits. Penry Price, vp of marketing solutions at LinkedIn, said the $50 CPM is on par with the platform’s rates for its other ad offerings. Starting in July, the rev share will remain the same, but pricing will move to an auction model, determined by demand from advertisers for specific audience segments.

LinkedIn’s auction is part of its Campaign Manager platform, which allows advertisers to buy ads on its inventory, but advertisers only gain access to the auction once they’ve closed a deal with the publishers. The auction represents all of the inventory within the Wire Program as well as other sponsored content offerings, including single image ads and document ads, which Wire inventory will compete against within the auction. Rates are determined by the corresponding cost per view needed to deliver ads against target audiences, so prices are ultimately influenced by demand.

“It could be $2. It could be $50. It all depends on the audience that is chosen and how in-demand that audience is. That sets the price obviously, in terms of what the clearing prices would be in that auction,” said Price. 

Publishers will not be able to set floor prices within the auction, said a LinkedIn spokesperson, but the publisher execs Digiday spoke to for this piece didn’t seem concerned about the possibility of earning less revenue in the event that auction prices fall below the previously set $50 CPM.

“Our goal will be to drive performance for our clients while maximizing our own revenue potential. I expect us to optimize in a way that drives efficiency; however, the old adage stays true, you get what you pay for, and in this case it will be premium editorial content and LinkedIn’s [first-party] data. Win-win especially in an open internet flooded with misinformation and MFA content,” said Josef Najm, director of programmatic and partnerships at Thomson Reuters, in an email to Digiday. 

The buy side, of course, is excited about the prospect of buying LinkedIn inventory at a lower price. “The biggest appeal for this is for the longest time, LinkedIn has had this reputation of having very high CPMs and they’re trying to offset that by having more placements,” said Shamsul Chowdhury, evp of paid media at Jellyfish. 

Putting the program to the test

By and large, the major appeal of this program from the publishers’ perspective is adding another opportunity to monetize their video content with ads on a platform that didn’t previously have this offering.

“We are promoting our content on LinkedIn already so … as you can imagine, you create something once and then you sell it 10 times over, so anything you do to capitalize on one piece … that was the other value to something like this,” said Katy Lawrence, vp of revenue partnerships at Yahoo! Finance, which signed onto this program in late April. Publishers are not required to create content exclusively for LinkedIn, nor is there an exclusivity clause on videos in the rev share program. 

Lawrence said her team only started pitching the pre-roll ads to Yahoo! Finance’s advertisers last month and it has not yet been sold either on its own or as part of a larger media buy. She said she’s heard a lot of positive feedback from interested clients, however, and is generally optimistic about getting the first deal closed by this summer. 

But the other contributor to these business news publishers’ optimism about the Wire Program is the fact that LinkedIn’s targeting capabilities for professional audiences exceeds other social platforms, as well as what the publishers can target outside of their owned and operated platforms. 

“If we are targeting C-level executives, we can put that targeting on our content and ensure that 100% of the views are going to them,” said Shae Carroll, Forbes’s vp of social sales.

Forbes has sold three clients on this offering, having pitched it to about 20 advertisers so far, said Carroll. He added that he’s predicting that Forbes will make seven-figures of revenue from ad sales through the Wire Program in the first full year of it being live, and expects the program will scale and continue to generate revenue at that level annually. LinkedIn is not giving publishers in the program any revenue guarantees.  

Reuters’s sellers started pitching the Wire Program to its advertisers on Jan. 1 and deals have been closed since then, however Najm would not disclose how many. “I think a lot of people get caught up on, ‘Oh, how many followers do you have on LinkedIn?’ It’s not about that. What it’s about is, who’s your target audience? And how are we going to target them to ensure that we’re driving that message to the right professional,” he said.

The Wall Street Journal also started selling pre-roll ads through this program in January and to date has sold it to 15 clients, said Katie Weber, svp of commercial strategy and head of financial services.

Bloomberg Media was the first publisher to join the Wire Program, kicking it off officially in fall 2023. Since then, the sales team has closed 35 ad deals incorporating pre-roll ads on its LinkedIn videos, either exclusively for the program or as part of a larger campaign. If part of the larger campaign, the rev share would be limited to the revenue generated only from the pre-roll ads on LinkedIn.

“We’re past the validation stage,” said Nick Sallon, chief partnerships officer at Bloomberg Media. “There isn’t really a ceiling on how many LinkedIn users an advertiser could target. Because of the scale of that platform, it means that the ad opportunity size is significant.” 

Measuring success and expanding the program

Scale isn’t necessarily the top consideration for publishers pitching this offering, according to Najm. “LinkedIn inherently has first-party data …  [that] fill gaps that sometimes are challenges to publishers, such as [account based marketing] … what they’ve been capturing deterministically allows us to now tap into that even though it’s at a premium for the client,” he said. 

There are about a dozen categories for audience segment data that publishers get from LinkedIn, Lawrence said, ranging from job function to seniority titles to years of experience. This allows targeting to get pretty niche. But beyond analyzing if a campaign reached its intended audience segments, campaigns running in the Wire Program are evaluated with the standard engagement metrics for video, including completion rate, share rates and click-through rates. 

Price has big ambitions to make measurement even more sophisticated with lead generation capabilities for B2B advertisers, however.

“Can we say, ‘It’s not just about the view or the engagement, but actually like, did they take an action?’ That may be different from video on other platforms,” said Price. He added that the hope is to extend LinkedIn’s partnerships with CRMs to this video ad offering in order to track if a user who watched an ad on the platform converted into a customer within a certain timeframe.

Beyond B2B

While LinkedIn has framed this program to appeal to B2B advertisers, a few of the publishers said they’re seeing interest from non-B2B clients. 

For example, Lawrence said that financial services — including wealth management and brokerages — is a big ad category for Yahoo! Finance and clients in this sphere have expressed interest in the pre-roll offering. Meanwhile, Forbes’s sellers initially pitched the offering to its larger clients in the financial services, enterprise tech and auto categories that have historically bought social video campaigns or expressed interest in the platform, Carroll said. The first three sales were advertisers in these categories, he said.

Chowdhury said that LinkedIn has historically been pigeonholed in the B2B category, but there is an opportunity to get more consumer brand advertisers in the door with this offering. He gave the example of a luxury auto client being interested in targeting specific job titles because of the approximate income insights that can be gleaned from their role.

Bloomberg’s closed deals have involved advertisers from the financial services, luxury, auto and tech categories, and according to Sallon, “This is a very diversified group, which to me, says that there’s utility and value in this product across the board. It isn’t a product with limited appeal.”

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