Media Briefing: Publishers reflect on ad revenue midway through 2024 

This Media Briefing covers the latest in media trends for Digiday+ members and is distributed over email every Thursday at 10 a.m. ET. More from the series →

Green shoots and weeds

The days are longer and hotter in the summer months, but they’re also brighter — and so are publishers’ outlooks for the ad market in 2024. At least compared to this time last year. 

Two digital publishers — Gallery Media Group and Apartment Therapy Media — told Digiday they are pacing 15% up year over year in total revenue and direct ad revenue, respectively, at 2024’s midway point. 

And, while other publishers said their advertising business performed to plan for the first half of the year, they’re managing their optimism, given the market can flip on its head at a moment’s notice. 

“The market is good enough that if we execute, we will do great … it takes [away] the excuse. Do a good job and you’ll do fine,” said a publisher executive who spoke on condition of anonymity. 

‘There are more green shoots than there are weeds’

Things are largely coming up roses for Apartment Therapy Media’s ad business, according to its president Riva Syrop. As of early July, she said she’s predicting a 17% year-over-year increase in full-year revenue in 2024, with direct-sold advertising growing by 20% or more. 

And while the first half was strong from an ad revenue perspective, Syrop said “Q3 is looking like it’s going to be a really big quarter for us … we booked early. We’re seeing a lot more traction happening,” thanks, in part, to a 70% renewal rate from last year. She also added that RFP volume has been “much stronger” this year than the past few years — although that’s a unique perspective amongst publishers.

In addition to 15% revenue growth year over year in the first half of 2024, Gallery Media Group’s CRO Chris Anthony said that average deal size from advertisers has increased by 10% year over year. 

Anthony credits this in part to the company’s investment strategy into events and branded content offerings, as well as his sales team’s Creativity In Culture Showcase roadshow. This spring, GMG launched an hour-long showcase of audience insights based on real-time social engagement metrics from the publisher’s more than 50 social-first brands, which sellers have presented to more than 100 current and prospective clients so far this year. 

While he declined to say if any deals have been closed because of the roadshow yet, he said 20% of overall 2024 ad revenue came from new clients. And proactively helping clients navigate the ever-changing social algorithm has helped maintain visibility and generate leads amid a challenging RFP cycle.  

“We’re seeing that really great partnerships are won outside of [the RFP] cycle. The predictability is really hard, and that’s just … how things are moving overall,” said Anthony. 

Vox Media’s CRO Geoff Schiller declined to say how the publisher’s revenue was pacing at this point of the year, but he echoed the sentiment of unpredictability plaguing the RFP cycle. He added the publisher’s focus on tentpole events and franchises, like the Vulture Festival in November, has been critical for maintaining visibility six months out. That’s especially important given that the ad market recovery has been good, but not a straight line for the publisher. 

“As far as the first half, we delivered on plan, [but] I would say that there’s definitely still a lumpiness in terms of revenue performance. For example, we saw some slowness in April, with recovery in May and June,” said Schiller. “Full picture [for the year] … there are more green shoots than there are weeds.” 

Market variability 

On a scale of one to 10, the anonymous publisher exec said his level of optimism in the ad market this year is at a six, with a lot riding on what happens with interest rates that directly impact ad categories like finance, as well as the ripple effects of inflation, which affects CPG clients. If rates go down, the exec said the rest of the year will be good, but if they go up, “we’re fucked.” Last month, the Federal Reserve predicted one more rate cut in 2024 after previously predicting three.

“It seems like there’s still a little bit of a frenetic sense to the marketplace,” said Schiller, adding that while the tech, telco, pharma and fashion ad categories have been up so far this year, media and entertainment marketing has felt the impact of the writers strikes’ resulting content desert. 

Syrop said that ATM’s growth so far this year is in part due to resurgences of ad categories that were impacted significantly by last year’s economic struggles. Big-box retail, CPG (specifically cleaning products and food), real estate and auto were four big growth areas in the first half. “[These categories] can only stay quiet for so long,” she said. 

GMG’s top three categories in the first half were CPG, retail and beauty, but auto has become a growth category as well, which Anthony said is surprising to see for a lifestyle publisher. 

This post has been updated to correct the name of Gallery Media’s Creativity in Culture Showcase.

What we’ve heard

“We are launching our first sports issue and I’m a little bit obsessed with the ways that sports and food are interconnected. … We also have an issue that’s coming up [that] we’re calling our relationships issue, because food does power connection. It’s a real reflection of the change in the industry, and I think it allows us at Bon Appétit to really be leaders and show off our expertise in ways that we haven’t done in a really long [time].”

Jamila Robinson, editor-in-chief of Bon Appétit and Epicurious, on the latest episode of the Digiday Podcast

Post-Cannes plan 

Publishers are back from schmoozing on the Croisette during Cannes Lions, and they brought with them several insights that will influence how they pitch advertisers for the rest of the year. 

The first is that AI remains a relatively fluffy buzzword versus a material tool that is transforming the way marketers are executing their budgets — at least for now. 

“There weren’t any huge ‘aha’ moments or applications of AI that are driving new experiences in a different way,” said Kelly Andresen, president of national sales at Gannett. “Many of us are in the same space, very much testing applications in many different types of AI … but no one has said, ‘Here’s a clear winner.’”

What publishers did say moved the needle from conversations with marketers to concrete action items was their offerings in sports — women’s sports in particular.

“The two big [themes] were AI and sports. In AI, there was a lot of fluff. In sports, there was actually a lot more material in … these athletes who are also doing their own deals and talking about how they work with media companies and advertisers,” said Christine Cook, global CRO of Bloomberg Media, which makes a business of sports TV series called “Power Players.” 

For example, Vox Media announced a new podcast deal at Cannes with athletes Megan Rapinoe and Sue Bird to relaunch their show, “A Touch More Live,” which CRO Geoff Schiller said led to “an immediate inbound” of requests from advertisers to buy into. Schiller declined to share how many advertisers or if any deals had been signed. 

Publishers realized, though, that marketers weren’t limiting their scopes to only Q3 and Q4, however. 

While Cook said she expects that half of the post-Cannes meetings with marketers will result in deals in the second half of 2024, “the other 50% will be a seed for a longer planning schedule into 2025.” She added that the corporate reputation study — which surveyed 1,000 business leaders about the importance of corporate image and the factors contributing to it — central to her team’s Cannes sales strategy was specifically impactful in opening the doors to further conversations post-Cannes.

Numbers to know

<1: The number of years that Ingrid Ciprián-Matthews served as president of CBS News before resigning from her role this week. 

100: The number of staffers that will be laid off from CNN amid a new strategic shift and a push into AI, according to a memo from CEO Mark Thompson.

$235,000: The amount of money a former reporter at The Marion County Record received in a settlement as part of a lawsuit against former Marion police chief Gideon Cody, following a police raid of the newspaper last year.

$7 million: The amount of money that the University of Vermont’s Center for Community News received in donations, to further connect its student journalists with local news outlets.

175 million: The number of monthly users on Meta’s Threads, which hit its one-year anniversary this week.

What we’ve covered

How privacy’s impact on publishers is creating more head of consent roles: 

  • News U.K. just closed applications for its head of consent role. If you missed out, no need to worry — chances are, similar opportunities will come up again in the future.
  • Hiring a head of consent at News U.K. is just the latest move in a series of responses to this shift.

Read more about how publishers are punching up their privacy operations here

WTF is the difference between ID bridging and ID spoofing?

  • If ID spoofing is the latest villain of the open programmatic market, ID bridging is the hero trying to play peacemaker amid cookie deprecation.
  • But before we declare what’s “good” or “evil” in the grand scheme, let’s first answer the question: WTF is ID bridging? 

Learn why I’D bridging and ID spoofing are two sides of the same coin here.

Why Fortnite and Roblox still rely on social to drive discovery and engagement of branded experiences: 

  • Fortnite and Roblox are thriving by riding the coattails of the very social platforms they aim to dethrone.
  • Marketers found that it is necessary to stand up social campaigns parallel to the launch of branded Fortnite or Roblox worlds if they want gamers to get involved at scale. 

See why social platforms are maintaining their status in branded content marketing here.

IntentIQ’s post-cookie alternative ID test shows promise:

  • One identity resolution company, IntentIQ, recently generated some positive results with a media agency.
  • The cookie-less effort — executed across Safari browsers and iOS — generated a 77% increase above the targets.

Read more findings from the cookieless tests here.

What we’re reading

Reporter files discrimination suit against The Wall Street Journal: 

A veteran WSJ reporter claims that the publisher was aiming to eliminate staffers whose health conditions caused the company significant healthcare costs, NRP reported, leading them to file a disability discrimination lawsuit. This suit follows dozens of layoffs under editor-in-chief Emma Tucker.  

The Washington Post launches an AI chatbot covering climate: 

This week, The Washington Post debuted its new AI chatbot designed to answer questions about the environment, pulling from the publisher’s climate coverage, Axios reported.  

After more newsroom leadership changes, what is USA Today’s legacy in media? 

Once a unique and transformational newspaper, USA Today looks a lot like other digital news publications nowadays. And after its top editor, Terence Samuel, resigned last week after just a year at the helm – representing the fifth editor-in-chief change for the newspaper in 15 years – The Washington Post asks what is USA Today’s legacy now? 

Star Spangled Media is asking to not be considered as a political entity: 

Semafor reported that the secretive, left-leaning media network, Star Spangled Media, has ties to several big Democratic party names, but is trying to convince Arizona regulators that the company itself is not a political entity. Over the last few weeks, however, the media network has shifted from an under-the-radar distribution model to spending a “modest” amount of money on promoting issue-based content on Facebook. 

A long-dead tech blog is publishing again, only it’s posting AI-generated content under former reporters’ bylines: 

The Unofficial Apple Weblog (TUAW) has come back online after about a decade of being dormant, and while it appears that some of the reporters are the same ones from years ago, 404 Media reported that in actuality, the reporters’ bylines are being used to secretly publish AI-generated content on the website.

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