How News UK is shifting focus to programmatic advertising

News UK, owner of The Times and The Sun newspapers, has reshaped its digital commercial teams across both titles to mirror the four core areas in which it wants to have a competitive sales edge: programmatic, video, mobile and branded content.

Changes have involved appointing its first programmatic head, Ian Hocking, who was formerly eBay’s programmatic sales chief. Hocking, hired six weeks ago, is charged with ensuring all sales staff are fluent in all things programmatic, including header bidding and wider data-targeting opportunities coming down the pike, like using The Times’ log-in data for ad targeting. And for The Sun, that’ll mean widening its ability to target existing readers, and potential new ones, beyond its own properties, courtesy of fellow News Corp company, video ad network Unruly.

“We need a data solution that isn’t a copycat of other publishers,” said Oliver Lewis, News UK director of digital strategic sales and partnerships. “We need to take advantage of what’s unique to us,” he added.

The Times has had a hard paywall since 2010 and, as such, is a data goldmine. Until now, the opportunities to share those insights with the commercial arm, have not been fully maximized. That’s set to change.

The Times and Sunday Times has upwards of 402,000 print and digital paying subscribers, just under 100,000 of which are tablet app subscribers, according to the publisher. That equates to a lot of single user IDs across devices.

“The Times is about premium first-party data,” said Lewis. “We have a rich taxonomy of segments that are available to target programmatically. We don’t need cross-device graphs. We know where they are. We can dynamically serve creative across devices because of that single ID log-in. And we can make that a premium cross-device sell,.”

The publisher is also interested in developing ways to locate verified (not lookalike) audiences on the open Web, something that’ll be explored more next year, according to Lewis.

News UK will also map reader content-consumption data with purchasing behaviors across its titles. This can be tracked via affiliate programs and membership benefits like the The Times Club, for example, as well as ads readers have clicked on, and newsletter engagement.

For tabloid The Sun, the strategy is naturally different because the title has shed its paywall. It has spent the last year rebuilding its site traffic back to pre-paywall levels, and it now has 21 million monthly unique users (18 million of whom use mobile), according to comScore. The Sun commercial team will work closely with the Unruly team to figure out ways to provide more audience extensions, and it still has a load of reader data from its paywall days, which can help inform its process.

What this won’t mean: opening up more data for advertisers to target programmatically on the open exchanges. Instead, the data insights will be used to secure direct digital ad deals with agencies that are then executed programmatically, a method also known as automated guaranteed. These packages will now be pitched in earnest by the commercial teams across both titles. The plan is to introduce new data, video and mobile-led products to the market every three months.

“We’re hearing and seeing that agencies are shifting their direct spend into programmatic buying routes, and we need to be ready for it,” said Lewis. “The real opportunity for us next year is moving our clients into automated guaranteed deals.”

The forthcoming changes have stirred buyer interest. Charlotte Tice, chief of Mindshare’s digital and publishing division Affinity, said the opening up of News UK’s data would be welcomed by agencies, as the publisher has historically been “notoriously secretive.” Video opportunities are top of the list for advertisers in general; therefore, any Unruly integration will cause heads to turn, she added. “Unruly modernizes their newspaper. Finding ways to bring Unruly and News UK news brands together has to be a good thing.”

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