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In an era of fake news, publishers face a consistent friction when it comes to quality journalism and the dissemination of trusted information and yet the business models to support this are constantly in flux. To get a picture of the challenges facing Asian publishers, and the measures they are putting in place to survive, The Drum partnered with AppNexus to host a discussion.

Publishers including Singapore’s Mediacorp and Singapore Press Holdings, Thailand’s Kaidee, Malaysia’s The Star, India’s Times of India and Indonesia’s Kompas Gramedia Group, gathered in Singapore to discuss the latest trends.

Karen Lim, head of the programmatic and data lab at Star Media Group, says telling a story of quality journalism is key for publishers across all markets, particularly as inventory competes against the likes of Facebook and Google.

“I think all of us it's the last bastion. If we can't say that we stand for good quality journalism, then what else can we stand for? We can't compete scale, we cannot compete on datasets, we can't compete on technology. There's got to be one thing that we do really well, so content, editorial and editing is it for us,” she explains.

For Mediacorp, head of digital sales Jennifer Chase, says there is a core audience that now seek out news from trusted sources in order to avoid being caught by fake news.

“Over the last couple of years you've got the proliferation of fake news, you've also got a lot of misinformation on the Internet. You've got a lot of bloggers out there who are saying they're experts. They're not experts. In some cases, depending on what the topic is, it can get quite dangerous in terms of the type of information that's being pushed out to the market or just pushed out to the general public. I think more and more audiences are going to credible, authoritative, independent and trustworthy sources to get their information,” she says.

The majority of the publishers said advertising accounted for revenue, but subscription was starting to factor in as a feasible option for publishers.

Moris Rusmanto, VP digital business at Tribunnews and Kompas Gramedia Programmatic Networks, explains, “We have subscription business and it’ll be one of the next big things I think. We are hugely ad revenue-driven, but we believe that in the next couple years it will shift and subscription revenues may one day potentially overtake advertising revenues.”

Despite this, he also said that creating easier ways for advertisers to buy ads from them was essential, particularly as the likes of Google and Facebook have a very successful long tail business off the back of self-serve platforms. He said it’s an avenue publishers themselves may also look at in the future, to capture revenue from the SME market.

But before jumping into new revenue streams, the group also discussed ways in which they were increasing the return they saw from digital advertising. Much like other markets around the globe, header bidding had been a key tool for publishers to balance the playing field and increase yield on digital ads.

Matthew Moore, revenue director at Thai marketplace Kaidee, said new solutions, such as header bidding were having noticeable increases on its revenues.

“We've implemented header bidding and it helps both on the revenue side, we saw a jump of around 25%, but also not having to rely on a single tech provider for your ad server. However, on the buy-side in Southeast Asia, if 70% of the buys are going through a single place, then header bidding helps but only slightly because if all of that is via the biggest DSP in the region, then it doesn't change things that much. Ideally you need the buy-side to be a bit more diverse as well,” he adds.

Educating the buy-side of the market is something that Singapore Press Holding’s senior VP of sales strategy and operations, Su Lin Tan, says is essential as good inventory should cost more and programmatic shouldn’t be seen as a cheap option anymore.

“Programmatic is still, to a large extent, seen as being a way to reach cheap audiences in this market. I think the market still needs a lot of education, but the last year has been really helpful to our cause. Not all impressions are created equal, but we believe that our impression has more value and now we're just trying to get into the conversation to say why you should perhaps consider paying a little bit more for the kind of context and what we have. I think that the agencies are all for these kind of conversations, I think it's just having to talk to the CMO's and marketing-side to get them on board. That's always the last thing that we have to crack,” she explains.

Investing in educating CMOs around quality is where AppNexus chief strategy officer Tom Shields agrees publishers can invest more in, rather than focusing on new technology too much.

“Agencies and advertisers are willing to pay more for higher quality inventory because they can justify to their CMO that while they may have purchased fewer impressions, they're better impressions that provide a better return on ad spend overall. My personal opinion is that this is where publishers are going to see the most ROI in terms of investing resources and efforts because they’ll go to the top of the power line,” he suggests.

Education is often cited as a powerful tool to connect the industry and increase investment in digital advertising, however it can be fragmented. With many Asian markets now having collaboration efforts between publishers, either in the form of co-operatives like SPH and Mediacorp’s SMX, or in education via industry bodies, talking about quality journalism and inventory with one voice will help further the cause faster.

Find out how each of the publishers are working with the wider industry to create more value around its content in the next part of our series with AppNexus.