Warner Bros. Discovery Sports and CNN International create marketplace for sports and political ad dollars

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Sometimes, what’s old is new again. Warner Bros. Discovery seems to think so, as it has turned to programmatic guaranteed in its latest attempt to capture more ad dollars.

These types of deals form the backbone of a new marketplace called WBD Connect, which consolidates ad inventory across CNN International Commercial (CNNIC) and WBD Sports Europe.

Advertisers see these deals as a reliable way to reach audiences across multiple publishers, including CNN, Eurosport, Bleacher Report, and NBA.com, in a single campaign at a fixed rate. Publishers also prefer programmatic guaranteed deals over other programmatic methods, but because the reserved inventory helps them to forecast their ad revenue more accurately.

Agreeing on one process is a big deal for both parties at the best of times let alone during a year of big sporting and political events in Europe and the U.S. Remember, there will be few avenues for marketers to reach large audiences with display and video ads across various channels, platforms, and devices — including mobile, web, apps, desktop, and CTV — as sizable as WBD Connect. It pledges to reach 350 million global monthly digital unique users across 2 billion average monthly placements.

As ever in advertising, scale remains the ultimate trump card. That’s why the emergence of WBD Connect felt almost inevitable following the merger of Warner Bros. and Discovery in 2022.

“We’ve been working toward this point, whereby customers have a single point of entry to access those engaged audiences, since the start,” said Mike Rich, head of international and U.K. ad sales and brand partnerships at Warner Bros.

The gateway he’s referring to is facilitated by ad tech vendor Magnite. Advertisers require a programmatic buying tool (commonly known as a demand-side platform) with access to sell media to buy from the marketplace. Such partnerships are increasingly common, especially in the realm of CTV, driven by factors like data and transparency. Ultimately, they give companies like Warner Bros. Discovery a way to boost ad revenue and yield compared to open exchange environments. 

This doesn’t mean that the open market of programmatic auctions or even private marketplaces aren’t valuable to Warner Bros Discovery. They are, but more so to its individual brands, all of which have different approaches around factors like floor prices and targeting. However, they’re just pieces of the puzzle in the broader spectrum of how the publisher sells to advertisers. WBD Connect occupies the upper echelon of this spectrum.

More ad dollars are flowing in that direction. Take social networks out of the mix, and, programmatic direct deals would account for a little over half of U.S. programmatic ad spending, according to eMarketer. A lot of this shift is because of how ads are bought on CTV and retail media. But it’s also clear that media owners are flexing more control over how their ads are sold. This way there’s fewer intermediaries involved in deals, which means higher margins for publishers, easier and safer ways to leverage their data. As Rob Bradley, svp of digital CNNIC, explained: “Programmatic guaranteed sits at the premium end of the market in terms of spend.”

Another addition to this part of the spectrum for Warner Bros. Discovery is the social media agency WBD Launchpad — or rather, the ability to reach WBD sports fans via it. Advertisers will be able to target them with ads across social profiles for titles like CNN, Eurospor, and TNT Sports in the U.K. and Ireland on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok. 

“We’re building campaigns that are multi-layered across all of our different platforms,” said Rich. “Yes, the volume of spend has historically come from either a linear or streaming-based audience but that balance has shifted over time. Now, there’s an appetite for a blended distribution platform to reach those customers across multiple platforms.” 

It’s a sentiment echoed by many publishers today. They’re intensifying efforts like this — take the NewsFronts, for example — as they navigate a multitude of challenges, including news fatigue, an imbalanced ad market, and a concerning decline in traffic from platforms.

As varied as the publishers are in how they reconcile these issues, most seem to be doing so in ways that attempt to give them more control over programmatic, not less. Look at WBD Connect, for instance. It’s a marketplace that’s only available via one ad tech vendor, which Warner Bros Discovery works directly with advertisers to connect to. This is about finding more ways to wring the most ad dollars from premium ad inventory, data and audiences while retaining control, reducing costs and gaining operational efficiencies.

“The internet is a noisy, untrusted place right now as brands and agencies are concerned about where they’re money is going while walled gardens are everywhere,” said Bradley. “So to have a solution in a market that’s already scaled at launch but can potentially grow further is a solution to some of that. We are trusted, we are premium, we are scaled.”

This will be especially crucial during the election cycles across both sides of the Atlantic, as advertisers aiming to capitalize on the heightened attention these events generate will be seeking trusted platforms for their campaigns.

“For advertisers and agencies it [programmatic guaranteed] significantly simplifies access and buying routes where publishers, like the newly announced WBD Connect, are making their inventory available through partners like Magnite, available to access buying across all demand-side platforms,” said Paul Bland, head of biddable, Havas Media Network U.K. “This removes barriers to inventory access in this way will be seen as a positive over single-DSP inventory solutions.”


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