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In Europe, publishers have faith in alliances. The reason why comes down to simple math: Together they stand a better chance of competing with Google and Facebook for digital ad spend than they do alone.

That’s why, despite the many setbacks of previous attempts, dozens of alliances have sprung up among publishers and broadcasters across Europe in the last year. Some stand out more than others, and one of the alliances that is garnering particular interest in U.K. media circles is Ozone — the project between the Guardian, The Telegraph, News UK and Reach.

On Nov. 14, Ozone’s first advertiser campaign launched across all sites, though the identity of the client is being kept under wraps. Together, the news publishers offer approximately 100 million monthly unique users — the de-duplicated audience is 42.4 million monthly unique users, according to comScore. To put that in perspective, Facebook said its de-duplicated U.K. audience figure is around 40 million monthly active users.

The alliance is going beyond running joint campaigns with the aspiration to build its own ad tech stack. Rather than choose a third-party supply-side platform — a well-trodden route for most alliances — the publishers have created their own server-side container, via prebid technology.

“The Ozone Project is set up to answer the major challenges facing publishers and advertisers,” said Daniel Spears, programmatic director at Guardian News and Media. “We have been a leading advocate for transparency and publisher control of auction decisioning. Ozone’s publisher platform will create value by giving us greater control of our supply chain, and enabling better-informed business decisions.”

This server-side container puts the publishers firmly in control of the auctions occurring on their own inventory. One of the core gripes tech and programmatic-savvy publishers have is a lack of access to the necessary data needed to view how their inventory is being bought and sold on the open auction.

“It is imperative that publishers take control of their ad stacks,” said Paul De La Nougerede, commercial product director at The Telegraph. “For far too long, we have been dependent on ad tech vendors for innovation rather than determining ourselves what the destination should be. Ozone means we can put the resources of four large publishers together to build something for the future.”

What media agency buyers want is not just the promise of reach across all four publisher partners, but the reassurance that the way publishers identify individuals across their sites is unified. And that’s not just a matter of aligning the taxonomy for how each describes audience segments (a process which is currently underway) but aligning how each publisher defines the individuals within each segment. Ozone is using a joint data management platform to do all that.

“The fact that they have a single DMP means that there is a single definition of audiences — a shared taxonomy, and the same traits going into each segment,” said Ruth Zöhrer, chief product officer at Mindshare. “This is crucial to be able to lead with an audience-first approach, which is something people often talk about but rarely have in reality, precisely because of the discrepancies in audience data.”

Naturally, the partners hope this level of audience insight at this scale, will funnel more budgets toward them.

“By creating consistency and uniformity in how technology interfaces with publishers’ sites, the value can be better attributed to those that create it,” said Ben Walmsley, digital commercial director at News UK. “Ozone offers a media and data alliance built on that strong technological foundation.”

There will be obstacles to overcome. The most obvious will be figuring out how buying inventory via Ozone will affect existing trading deals. “A lot of these media owners have pre-existing trading deals, so do we treat that as a separate entity, and how does that come together? There are question marks around the commercial side of things,” said an agency buyer who requested anonymity.

“Talent will be key,” said Dan Wilson, CEO of London Media Exchange. “They’ll need someone very skilled to manage the agency conversations as well as the agency trading desks.”

Ozone CEO Damon Reeve is an ad tech vet, who founded ad network Unanimis and worked at OpenX. He has now appointed a new managing director, Craig Tuck formerly of ad tech vendor Radium One. Tuck plans to grow the seven-person team and is currently on the hunt for four more staff to join on sales and ad ops.

“This is about identity at scale, and trusted context at scale,” said Tuck. “This is a tech implementation, not a charter promising to work better together, but a platform being built to create a sustainable future for news brands and to protect quality journalism.”

In January, Tuck will begin an agency roadshow to aggressively pitch Ozone.

Agencies looking for alternatives to the duopoly welcome Ozone. To succeed, the publishers must avoid cannibalizing their own share of the display market but take chunks out of what’s currently dominated by Facebook and Google.

“If you have a combined data asset over all those media owners, that’s interesting,” said Stefan Havik, managing director of Dentsu Aegis-owned M1.  “They should focus on increasing the overall buy rather than getting a larger share of the small pie they have now,” he added.

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