Top UK sports publishers ally for video ads

U.K. publishers continue to probe new ways of combining their ad inventory to rival the scale of the Facebook-Google duopoly. But now there is an additional motive: to mitigate risk of commercial ad revenue drop-offs caused by the General Data Protection Regulation.

News UK-owned sports brands Dream Team and Talksport and digital sports publisher GiveMeSport are pooling their video “outstream” inventory — the video ads that run on text articles — to offer advertisers a single point through which they can buy video outstream ads across the three sports brands. News UK-owned video platform Unruly will run the ads, which can be bought programmatically.

While publisher alliances have a checkered past, the timing of this particular alliance — a week before the enforcement date of GDPR — is key. With so much vagueness around what will happen after May 25, publishers are jittery about losing valuable audience data from people not giving consent to have their data used for advertising purposes.

For GiveMeSport, the security of aligning itself with the likes of Talksport and Dream Team helps it mitigate any commercial risk it could see as a result of programmatic revenues dropping after the law’s enforcement.

“This [partnership] gives us commercial security while the dust settles for GDPR,” said Ryan Skeggs, gm of GiveMeSport. “It mitigates against some GDPR risk, in case brands pause spend.”

Forms of advertising like retargeting, cookie matching and frequency capping will be tough under GDPR. For that reason, people are expecting contextual targeting to come back in a big way, and agencies have told publishers they plan to spend a lot more on contextual targeting, which can be done without opt-in from users, after May 25, according to Skeggs.

The publisher partners also hope to tap into media buyers’ interest in reaching casual sports supporters who tend to dip into sports coverage only for major tournaments like the World Cup, which starts in June. These casual supporters tend to search regularly for news and gossip related to football celebrities around sporting events like these, and they will be more easily accessible to buyers via this kind of marketplace, according to John Thomson, head of media for Dentsu Aegis-owned agency 360i Europe. “These properties have a great mobile footprint, so there will likely be good uptake from advertisers who want to reach a wide audience, not just dedicated football fans, in a contextual environment across a busy sporting summer.”

Agencies that want to ensure they’re buying quality inventory tend to work with publishers to set up private marketplaces, which sucks up time and operational resources. Being able to buy across all three properties via Unruly will operationally save agencies time, Thomson added.

The sports marketplace resembles the inventory-pooling alliance between newspaper rivals the Guardian, The Telegraph and News UK, which also run via Unruly’s platform. Unruly claims a comScore-verified combined reach of 41 million monthly unique users for this marketplace. Since this marketplace launched last November, 189 campaigns from 110 advertisers have been booked, according to Unruly, though it wouldn’t reveal revenue uplifts.

That said, diverting buyers from spending with the duopoly remains tough. “Publishers have the right to go it alone, and this will be an interesting alliance to watch,” said Lewis Wiltshire, consulting partner of sports agency Seven League. “It is a duopoly for a reason. They both offer almost unbelievably targeted advertising propositions. But it’s not just about reaching the right audiences at the right time; brands also want to appear around content formats appropriate to their brands.”

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