Le Figaro Group, owner of French national newspaper Le Figaro, has spent heavily on digital over the past four years, an investment it’s now starting to see pay off: A full 70 percent of Le Figaro Group’s operational revenue now comes from digital. (Annual revenue was €500 million, or $725 million, in 2014.)

This growth is no accident. The newspaper group, which has 2,000 employees, has invested in engineers and developers (it now has 350) and in building a tech and data infrastructure — to the tune of more than €5 million ($5.6 million). Additional investments have gone on developing other digital assets, which included acquiring its own trading desk and the reassignment of half of its staff to digital-specific jobs across the business.

Now it wants to throw its programmatic ad strategy into high gear, with plans to double it, according to Le Figaro Media chief operating officer Alex Marcombe.

“We’re at such a size now in the French market that we can talk directly with all agencies or advertisers in the market — we want to work directly with them and less with intermediaries. We’re also developing our publisher trading desk activity, and that includes pulling in more data from across our properties and providing more premium ad formats,” he said.

Single tech stack
Le Figaro gave itself a generous leg-up, both in audience size and in programmatic ad revenue, when it bought French media group CCM Benchmark last October. At the time of the acquisition CCM’s digital media titles, which include Journal du Net, How it Works and Women’s Journal, represented a combined audience of 24 million unique users on desktop. Today on mobile and desktop Le Figaro Group reaches 31 million unique users, according to MediaMetrie.

Half of CCM’s digital revenue comes from programmatic, while just 25 percent of Le Figaro’s digital revenue did at the time of the acquisition. Not for long, if Marcombe is to be believed. To double its programmatic revenue, the group plans to draw more data from Le Figaro Media’s audience as well as its CCM properties to create more highly targeted ad features, and to develop its publisher trading desk, he added.

To help tie it all together and to serve ads programmatically across all its properties and devices, Le Figaro has recently partnered with AppNexus. As part of the deal, it will get to use the AppNexus ad server, supply platform and yield analytics and optimization tech, all of which will give it better transparency and control of its ad inventory pricing, according to Marcombe.

The focus will be on display ads, across mobile and desktop. Currently, mobile programmatic accounts for 80 percent of Le Figaro’s volume and 40 percent of the revenue.

Icing on the page-latency cake
Le Figaro has been happily surprised by an unexpected outcome of its latest ad tech partnership with AppNexus: It slashed its page latency from as much as 12 seconds on desktop to five seconds, according to Marcombe. On Web mobile pages, it has gone from six to four seconds.

This drastic shortening in page-load time also surprised AppNexus. “This was the icing on the cake, because we were not pitching that,” said JC Conti, of publisher sales, EMEA, AppNexus. “But if you think about it, having all the solutions within one same platform — which is constantly optimized to results — reduces the complexity of the information flow, which ultimately shortens the latency.”

Using AppNexus’ full tech stack has freed Le Figaro from relying on header bidding and waterfalling, both popular techniques to increase page yields.

“Not having waterfalling has really helped with the page loading,” said Marcombe.

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