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AOP Content and Trends Census 2014

The sixth annual Content and Trends Census digs below the surface to identify the key challenges facing publishers and their priorities over the next twelve months. Mobile features prominently! Tim Cain looks at this and other themes uncovered by the research.

Tim Cain

Posted on: 25 November 2014


In this year’s Content and Trends Census, there’s a strong emphasis on the role of mobile for publishers as they look to change their approach to brand development and new activity, in reaction to increased media consumption across multiple platforms. We are now seeing 74% of publishers having mobile optimised sites across the majority of their portfolios, a growth from 70% in 2013, and showing that, as an industry, publishing is adapting to the change of consumer habits faster than many other industries in the UK where the adoption of mobile has often been slow to follow consumer behaviour.

Responsive design, which enables publishers to create content that will automatically adapt to different screen sizes for ease of viewing, is now being practiced by nine out of ten publishers, a dramatic increase over the last two years when it only featured as a practice for one in three.

The Content and Trends Census is now in its sixth year and has evolved over time to give a deeper view of the key drivers within the digital business of many of the UK’s leading publishing companies. It acts as a benchmark for the digital publishing industry in terms of where publishers are currently at and also captures their intentions for development over the next twelve months.


The findings show that the mobile web in particular is seen as the major opportunity, with 69% of respondents focusing on this over the next twelve months. Mobile’s importance has also brought with it challenges. Monetising the platform remains the major concern for publishers as they grapple with ways to diversify revenues and expand in line with audience growth. 60% of publishers also identified a lack of mobile-based skills within their teams.

While mobile is undeniably the major publishing focus, cross device offerings are still seen as a vital component of future success. 26% of publishers believe standard website offerings remain the best platform for paid content, closely followed by digital editions and tablet applications (23%).

The publishing industry is adapting quickly to embrace new technologies and platforms to continue brand engagement with consumers and relevance for advertisers. The step change towards a new, cross platform, content rich offering is the norm.

“50% of publishers now see programmatic as a major opportunity to increase revenue and efficiency this year (compared to 42% in 2013).”


The increasing value and usage of data continues to be a key theme as publishers acknowledge the demand for automated trading. Driven primarily by the buy-side agency and advertiser community, publishers are increasingly looking to unlock value from their audience data by exposing more first party data. Aligned to this, they are increasingly likely to participate in private marketplace activity where they can exercise greater control over access to their inventory. More than half of publishers expect to increase private marketplace activity over the coming twelve months and two thirds are committed to exposing more first party data.

The increasing adoption of data management platforms to enable publishers to control their data better is the key to unlocking its application and driving value, and now more than one in two publishers are actively working with DMPs.

The growth of programmatic trading is in the face of concern expressed by publishers about retaining control over their audience data, as many believe agency demands for their first-party data pose the biggest challenge to the industry. 50% of publishers now see programmatic as a major opportunity to increase revenue and efficiency this year (compared to 42% in 2013). There is still some scepticism around the technology – 23% still believe it will be a small part of their business - down however from 39% in 2013. So we are beginning to see genuine traction and, indeed, when it comes to monetising overseas inventory particularly, a programmatic solution is the most likely one, being adopted by over half of all publishers.


Alongside programmatic, viewability is a hot topic, particularly where an automated approach to buying is applied. The nervousness in the marketplace about ad fraud, impressions that are never seen and also the suitability or not of placement against certain content plays to the value of premium publishers as a safe haven for brand advertising. Two thirds of publishers believe viewability is valid but measurement discrepancies are currently limiting its application. One in three believe viewability adds value to their ad sell and a similar number believe they will trade on viewability as a metric in the next twelve months.

Overall, there is a fairly bullish outlook for advertising revenue growth over the coming twelve months, although not for everyone. 41% of publishers believe they will grow by less than 10% whilst 16% think they’ll grow by more than 30%. In terms of CPMs, 34% expect an increase (21% last year) while less than a fifth expect a decrease. This suggests that a move to programmatic isn’t necessarily a move towards lower yields as is often claimed, some sign that this part of the market is gradually maturing.


Content models

If we move on from commercial to content models, we see that once again 62% of publishers are charging for content somewhere in their portfolio; in fact for one in five, it’s on all or the majority of their sites, slightly less than the one in four last year. At the same time of course, that also means that more than one in three (38%) aren’t charging. Totally free access will be the prominent model once again in around 30% of cases, as last year; inevitably there will be more experimentation introduced to find value that consumers recognise and accept.

So, if at one end of the spectrum, we have around a third applying free content access models, at the other extreme, we have one in four applying subscription packages, most often combining on and offline products. In between, freemium is the model showing most opportunity, again as last year, with one in four publishers suggesting it will be the most prominent model in the next twelve months, and more than three times as many as will apply a metered model before subscription.

The most significant priorities for content delivery appear to be changing. Whilst desktop and mobile are equally important for 80% of publishers and VOD for one in two, we’ve seen a drop for apps on both tablet and mobile from two thirds of publishers classing them as a significant priority to only 40% or so for each. By contrast, we are seeing a re-emergence of interest in email from 12% in 2013 to 31% in 2014 seeing it as a significant priority channel and likewise social platforms Facebook, Twitter and YouTube all growing in focus as a priority amongst 29%, 26% and 20% of publishers respectively.

Video is continuing to grow in importance with both volume of content and consumption growing, and now we’re starting to see an uptick in advertising revenues as publishers make more use of video exchanges and social media platforms (about one in three for each). Whereas last year, just 6% of publishers took more than 10% of their total advertising revenues from video that number is now 11%.

“Responsive design is now being practiced by nine out of ten publishers.”

Revenue opportunities

As last year, overall, the revenue opportunity via mobile is seen to be mainly hindered by agency attitudes or focus (two in three publishers), and formats and reporting and the dependency on low yield ad networks (both one in two publishers). For tablets, it’s now also agency attitudes (44%) then the size of audience (38%) and sales skills in house (31%).

The most significant revenue generation models for mobile have shifted and video has now leapt to the fore amongst one in two publishers for both mobile and tablet, ahead of unique mobile ad formats, sponsorship, and in-app ads or for tablet, digital editions.

In keeping with previous Census results, mobile is seen as the biggest area of opportunity and also challenge. Interestingly, the opportunity on tablets is not being seen as highly as other areas such as behavioural targeting (69%), community and social networking (66%) and native advertising (62%). iPad / tablets as an opportunity has slipped to 55%.

The main issues affecting mobile and tablet development are seen to be in-house skills and resource (59%), device fragmentation and managing multiple tech partners (both 53%) and integrating mobile with current sales teams (both 44%).

Overall, in summary, this year’s Content and Trends Census presents another bullish view of growth by digital publishers over the coming twelve months. The economy as a challenge has significantly subsided from 58% believing that in 2013 to just 17% in 2013. By contrast, competitors and non-media companies are the biggest threats believed to be faced. Once again, the challenge will increasingly be technology led as publishers are striving as ever to deliver great content with great user experience, whilst drawing fair value for their content and finding new models for advertising that reflect the platforms that audiences are using.

A total of 32 organisations, representing over 700 publisher brands and publications, and around £1 billion of digital revenue, from AOP Board and Affiliate membership, completed the survey in July and August this year. Members represent the broad range of newspaper and magazine publishing, TV and radio broadcasting and pure online media in the UK: producers of original, branded, premium and quality content. AOP members can access the full report.

About Tim Cain
(Details last updated: 23 March 2017)

Tim Cain is the owner of consultancy firm Digital First Media. Tim has more than 20 years’ experience in the media industry. Previously, he was managing director of AOP. He has also held senior publishing roles at EMAP and Bauer Consumer Media and was a board director of UKOM and member of JICWEBS.

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