A Spot of Good Ad Tech News for Publishers

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It is not a stretch to say that programmatic advertising and the broader suite of advertising technology (or ad tech) has harmed publishers in multiple ways. Whether due to the system’s monopolization by the largest tech platforms, the ability for bad actors to manipulate the system for profit,  or unscrupulous vendors playing on advertisers’ fears, it seems wherever you look, you can find evidence of the adverse impact of ad tech companies’ actions on publishers. A new report out in January gives us hope, however, that things may be looking up.

In 2020, the UK’s Incorporated Society of British Advertisers (ISBA), working with PwC, published a landmark study tracking ad tech spend, the findings of which were very disturbing to publishers. Among the findings was an “unknown delta” of 15 percent of advertising spend that could not be attributed to either the buyers or sellers in the ad tech value exchange. The fact that publishers were only receiving 51 percent of advertiser spend was also cause for alarm. As we wrote at the time, “This study should act as a clarion call to publishers, advertisers and the ad tech community that the system as it stands does not work as it should.”

At least to some extent, that call has been heard and we hope to see the improvements continue.

In addition, last month the two organizations reported “positive and welcome improvements” in the second round of the study, conducted in 2022.

They found, among other increased benefits:

  • “Improvements in data access successfully halved the time required to conduct the study to nine months (vs. 18 months for the 2020 study).
  • Greater standardisation of data quality improved the ad impression match rate to 58% (vs. 12% in 2020) and the unattributable ad spend (AKA the unknown delta) was reduced to 3% (vs. 15% in 2020).
  • The proportion of advertiser spend reaching publishers has risen by 8%.”

However, there are still many places where the deck remains stacked against publishers. As AdExchanger reported, “PwC itself has room to grow as an auditor” to better understand and audit more transactions. And publishers still take less than two-thirds of advertising dollars spent, with companies that are not involved in content creation taking a large share of the advertising placed against it.

While the report’s findings are welcome and positive, all parties have a responsibility to continue to advocate – voting with their voices and their dollars – for a stronger system for ad-supported news and content.


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