Blog posts for publishers

Exploring the online video advertising boom (Webchat Summary)

Coull CEO Irfon Watkins recently took part in a live webchat hosted by The Guardian. The chat brought together a number of selected industry experts to discuss their views on the online video advertising boom. Some great points were raised, a few debates and some predictions for the next few years of advertising.

We’re a generation that have grown up with TV advertising, whether we watch it or not. But with online media now dominating our everyday consumption, how much should we be investing in online advertising, video and mobile? The IAB reports that UK digital ad spend has reached a record high of over £3 billion in the first 6 months of 2013 (source: IAB).

Below I have highlighted some of the key questions and answers that arose from the webchat.

Q: For publishers video is the most valuable inventory – but will that bubble burst as it becomes more mainstream?

A strong opinion from the panel was that as online video becomes more and more measurable, more money will be put in to it from TV budgets. There’s also a suspicion that video inventory will become more expensive as metrics improve. Doesn’t everything?

Q: Mobile video is exploding (including tablets), what are the challenges that this area is facing?

The major problem at the moment is being able to track and measure across mobile devices.  Paul Coggins from Ebuzzing says that mobile technology “is so fragmented, that up until now the industry has ignored the need for some form of industry standard in terms of delivery / tracking and reporting. This should be an industry priority”.

As it stands, the lack of measurability is making advertising investment risky when budgets are being challenged.

Q: What makes an effective and interesting video ad?

Irfon believes that the most effective ads are the most relevant ones. He states that relevance should be determined by the content, not by second-guessing the intent of the user.

Adding a control element and an interactivity element also works wonders. Zach Weiner, from Emerging Insider Communications, says that they’ve been seeing far more exceptional responses to video when consumers are asked to participate in the format in an engaging manner. This sense of control allows an ownership of the ad, and for a consumer to feel like they are part of a two way conversation.

An interesting point was raised about how the increase in consumption of digital video and far more ads appearing will desensitize consumers (like we’ve seen in TV), so it’s important to keep things personalized and “making sure creative remains king”.

Q: One of the big challenges the display market is facing is ad blocking – is that a potential threat to online video too?

Celine Saturnino from Total Media raises a good point about how the benefit video has is it’s shareability. A lot of video content is discovered across social networks where consumers are actively sharing content – here, there are no ads blocking them.

Others believe that ad blocking is a major threat, but there is more that publishers can do to improve the situation. Vincent Flood from Video Ad News says that publishers “should be reminding users that ads enable people – all people – to have things for free.” He also suggests that publishers could start implementing technical solutions to combat the problem.

Is this going against the grain though? Consumers are using ad-blockers for a reason. How will they respond when their software is then blocked by publishers? Irfon argues that ads will be blocked when they are annoying and irrelevant. Not due to their content but how they are presented to the consumer. We must get smarter in the delivery.

Q: So given that the way forward seems to be personalized, relevant and engaging ads, do we think that we will achieve this ‘nirvana’ of great ads, or this just a pipe dream?

Irfon made a good point here; “We are a long way from getting consent from consumers to track them in order to deliver these super-personalised ads. We should be addressing accurately targeting relevant advertising based on content, device and location. I think that will be the basic premise of buying video ads in 5 years.”

Another opinion is that super-personalization of videos comes at a cost – content quality. Targeting is a way of satisfying already existing consumer needs. Mihkel Jaatma from RealEyes says that “video should be about branding and shifting/creating new needs – that’s where the big opportunity lies for brands”.

In all, it was a fantastic webchat with some really interesting and valid points being raised. In one hour, the panellists explored a huge range of topics surrounding online video advertising, from the issues and benefits of pre-roll ads to debating the future of programmatic ad buying. You can still check out the full conversation over on The Guardian – click here and scroll down for the comments section. It was great to be involved.

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Alternative ways for online publishers to create revenue

Many traditional print publishers now have online offerings, allowing them to access new revenue from digital marketing. Until fairly recently this was done mainly through the ubiquitous form of banner advertising.

However, recently the rise of ‘banner blindness’ has struck the internet as explained by Jakob Nielsen: “people won’t see ads at all, ads might as well not exist as far as users are concerned.” The stats certainly back this up as although the typical internet user is served 1,707 banner ads per month, click-through rates are as low as 0.1%.

Publishers who used to make money from banner ads are therefore suffering a drop in the revenue being generated. So what are the alternative ways to create advertising revenue online?

Text Linking

Ok, so this is really simple. Companies like Skimlinks monetise any existing product links you have by turning them into equivalent affiliate links, or they search your content for product references which can then be turned into relevant affiliate links.

Image monetisation

Monetising images is a great way of getting more relevant advertising on your page and because of the way we consume content, images are more likely to generate interest than random, generic advertising.

There are various monetization companies such as Luminate, who overlay your images with an ad that they contextualise based on keywords in the surrounding text. Or Stipple who place icons on top of your image linking to relevant products to purchase.

Marrying content and commerce

For years publishers have wanted to get more value from the content they already generate. More is now possible, with examples such as Esquire who are launching an online retail store. The editor-in-chief, David Granger, explains, “Magazines have already done one essential thing — we’ve made people want things: a better life or better shoes…But for the hundreds of years magazines have stopped short of delivering that desire”. Therefore, large-scale publishers could be earning revenue by selling products which they have already marketed through their content on their own online stores.

Syndicating content

Another inventive way of creating revenue is by syndicating content. For example, Hearst Magazines syndicate their content to women’s lifestyle site, republishing existing content from their portfolio. This is a great, effortless way to make the most of your content whilst not having to use it to advertise irrelevant products.


Monetising video is the big next thing in online marketing. As Google product marketer Mel An Chan says: “When we think about the multi-billion dollar future of digital advertising, we believe that much of that growth will be driven by video. Video advertising is a very compelling way to connect and grow an audience.”

This quick run-through demonstrates the variety of options for publishers seeking new revenue streams. In our tech-savvy age, there is no excuse for irrelevant, stale banner ads to be languishing on our pages, instead publishers should look towards advertising that enhances the user-experience, drives engagement and delivers sustainable revenue.

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Publishing – Then and now: revenue

This is the last of our trilogy of blogs exploring the differences between traditional print and online publishing. This week, we’re talking revenue.

The internet disrupts the status quo

Before the days of the internet it was straightforward for publishers to make money from print titles. Customers expected to pay for their favourite content, and were willing to do so. Adverts in print publications with good circulation and a clearly defined audience were premium inventory, with advertisers queuing around the corner to spend budgets. The combination of established audience and strong ad rates was a lucrative one.

Unfortunately, these profits have significantly declined since the advent of the internet, as consumers have been presented with access to an almost unlimited amount of information, none of which they have to pay for.

Revenue through sales

Paying for content was once the norm, particularly given consumers were buying a tangible, physical product like a newspaper or magazine. Online publications however often find it hard to charge money for access to content. There are a plethora of free online publications to compete with, and studies show it is often only possible to charge for content if you are already an established brand with a loyal following.

Publications in the UK and US with an established readership, such as The Times, The Sun and The Wall Street Journal, have put up ‘paywalls’ for which members have to pay to access the publication or in some cases, specific content. It’s a gamble between losing readers to free competitors and solidifying your readership, not a decision to be taken lightly.

Opportunity to increase efficiency

Paywalls are still being experimented with, and they’re a subject that will be covered in more depth in a future post. However, the majority of a publisher’s revenue has always come from advertising, not subscriptions, so what’s going on online?

Online advertising presents publishers with a vast range of formats; from standard banner adverts to far more sophisticated ads embedded within videos and images, and tailored to a publisher’s content. Technology also promised more intelligent advertising, delivering ads that are relevant to an audience subset, rather than the readership-wide, one-size-fits-all approach of print ads.

Is the opportunity being realised?

With the flexibility, personalisation and dynamic nature of digital ads you’d expect online publishers are sitting pretty right now, especially considering the global audience that has been opened up to them, where once they were restricted by physical distribution.

As we referenced above though, that’s clearly not the case. Many are unable to generate sufficient revenue from the most established online advertising formats such as display. Users have learned to tune out adverts that don’t benefit them, so they don’t click and the value of publisher inventory has dropped accordingly.

Seeking alternatives

Because of this, publishers are now exploring new ways to drive revenue from their digital channels. ‘Native advertising’ is the latest industry buzzword and has been met with mixed reactions, due to concerns about integrating ads within editorial content without effective guidelines on format and transparency.

Despite concerns around native, as an idea it is at least based around giving brands a platform to give users value, typically in the form of interesting, compelling content. Regardless of the label that’s attached to it, advertising that gives users value also gives them a reason to engage with it, gets better results for advertisers and increases the premiums publishers can change for inventory.

This is where we think online advertising is moving. Given the current state of affairs, it has to.

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Publishing – Then and now: audiences


In our second instalment of ‘Publishing: then and now’, I will compare print and online publishing by focusing on how the medium of a publication affects the way audiences consume its content.

More often than not traditional print publishers now offer additional online versions of their content, but what are the advantages and the disadvantages of this when it comes to the audience?

The advantages of print publishing

Despite our technology-obsessed age, hard copy still occupies a position of prestige. There is also a general perception that print is more synonymous with ‘deep reading’, meaning its audience are engaging proactively with the content; something which makes them more likely to return to that publication again.  This contrasts with online consumers who on average spend less than a minute on a website and read only 28% of words on a page.

A more browser based consumer experience has now emerged with users ‘content-snacking’ and moving quickly between sites, rather than immersing themselves in chunks of editorial.

Print publications however, often have a very devoted readership; people will buy every edition of Vogue or The New Scientist because they respect and are loyal to the brand. Because of this, print publications often have a more solidified following, as evidenced by the fact that magazine ads routinely cost more than online ads do. Despite this loyal following, print publications are very limited geographically and can only facilitate an audience in countries where they print or distribute their content.

So, what are the advantages of online publishing?

Online publications have advantages when it comes to accessing audiences. Although online content may not have the same solidified core of consumers as print, it does have the capability to access a much wider audience and tap into the online habits of those audiences. Online publications can be accessed from anywhere in the world, at the click of a button, tap of a finger or command of a voice, so the potential readership can be massive.

Online content also has the added advantage of being translatable, so while more and more internet users are beginning to speak English, those that don’t are still catered to by a lot of publications, and the potential reach that comes as a result of that is enormous.

The ability for publishers to bridge the language barrier with online content means the medium transgresses print to such a degree that it’s hard to make a valid argument against it.

The accessibility of online publishing can also make it easier to build a relationship with users. Techniques such as linking to recommended articles mean that once a user is viewing your content you can give them a more personalized experience by offering related content and strengthening their interest in your publication.

Furthermore, publications do not want to run the risk of being ‘ungoogleable’! Those without an online footprint run the risk of becoming obsolete in digital terms, because users expect to see their favorite brands and publications when they’re online. If they can’t, they may just find new favorites.

Is online the only way forward?

There are however disadvantages that come with the relatively new reach and accessibility of online. What disadvantages you may ask? Well we’ve touched on relationship building being positive but the flip side is that it can sometimes be hard to cement a relationship online because readers may have linked to your content from elsewhere, or stumbled across it accidentally. They might read a snippet, and leave your site, not thinking about where the content came from and not having made any engagement with the publication itself.

We are consuming content in bite-size chunks for instant gratification and this means online publications can often have a more fragmented audience.

So, print publications often have a loyal following of ‘deep-readers’ whereas online publications benefit from being able to access a wider audience and offer added value.

Ultimately it’s the delivery of quality, engaging content that must remain at the forefront of any publication; regardless of its format. Making the transition to online publication is really a matter of when and not if; yet the details that have always made print so compelling and successful cannot be left behind, shelved to become dusty book covers labelled ‘online predecessor’.

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Publishing – Then and now: format

As a way of addressing the issues facing many publishers, I am doing a series of posts looking at the changes between the print-only days of old and the online publishing times we live in now. This is a topic with much scope for discussion and in this series I will be looking at the challenges and advantages that each medium presents by breaking them down and considering three elements – format, audience, and revenue.

First up, is the format!

Advantages of online publishing

The major benefit of online publishing is flexibility. Publishers can easily upload content whenever it becomes available without having to wait for the next hard copy to be published. This is particularly advantageous in today’s fast paced consumer climate where it is essential to stay current and where content is often delivered to us in real time.

Online publishing also reduces the cost of print and distribution and makes last minute editorial changes possible. In fact many of the restrictions of print media, such as page limitations are no longer applicable within digital formats. Publishers benefit from reduced production costs and the consumer benefits from ease of access and added content value.


Another major benefit of this format is the wealth of media that can be utilised in online publishing. Color images are expensive to print, however online images are standard and cost effective. Online publishing makes it easier to utilise multiple mediums such as audio and video; changing the way readers consume content. Information is now more accessible as a result of merging formats and the popularity of multiple devices allows information to be more easily digested on the move.

The options available for content delivery help online publishers build a more personal relationship with their readers.  Dynamic media platforms make for a more interactive experience because they offer elements such as reader comment sections and content sharing across social media. It’s not just publishers who are generating content anymore, readers are encouraged into a dialog with the author and other readers join the conversation. This interaction creates a network of engaged viewers and changes the very nature of original content consumption.

So, are there any advantages in print publishing?

The print format does still have its advantages both in terms of aesthetic and tradition.

Buying the morning paper has always been and still is for many, part of the daily routine. Whether you attack the sports section first, read from the front, or go right for the juicy opinion piece somewhere in the middle; it’s a force of habit that’s comfortable, enjoyable, and tangible.

While audio and video offer fantastic new engagement and interaction possibilities, it remains to be seen whether ‘traditional’ consumers really want that level of sensory overload with their coffee and toast. Some users may quite simply be bewildered by sites with ever-changing landing pages making it harder for them to find what they want.

Furthermore, formatting online also presents its own issues. It’s crucial for publishers to ensure the user experience is streamlined for access on PC, laptop, tablet and mobile devices. Column width, font size, resolution and navigation all become very important to how information is conveyed to a reader. It matters little how great content is if the reader can’t view it properly.

While print media may still hold sway for traditional readers, the online format of publishing is clearly the preferred delivery method of current and future consumers. The flexibility to edit and upload content at little or no extra cost as well its ability to adapt vastly popular formats such as audio and video make it the critical next move for publishers who want to realistically and successfully compete in the market.

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How trust in publisher’s videos creates demand that leads to a sale

Video is coming up fast on the inside lane and overtaking written content as the first place we turn for answers to our questions. Each day, over 100 million Americans watch online video, a 43% increase since 2010. By next year, video content could account for over 50% of online traffic.

Whether you type ‘how do I?’ into Google or Youtube depends on your age  – the younger you are, the more likely it is to be Youtube that you turn to first. But whatever the demographic of your audience, video feeds the demand for quick, clear, easily digestible nuggets of information that can be consumed on the go.

Video is easy to understand and makes a quicker emotional connection than written content. Because it’s easy to share, it spreads faster.  Not only is watching video less demanding than reading copy – it’s also easier to trust.

Show don’t tell

Seeing is believing, so a video demo that shows how straightforward it is to use a product is more credible than a written review that tells you it’s a breeze. People looking for answers to their questions seek out online video product reviews, trials, and how-to-guides to help them make decisions. And videos from trusted sources fuel demand for the products they feature.

What does this mean for great publishers with a high proportion of video content on their sites? In a nutshell, it means potential revenue.

Trust and revenue for publishers

Whether your videos offer inspiration, entertainment, or information, it means you have a large audience who trust you, and who will consider the products you feature. Your videos will be in the palm of your audience’s hand, and if the products are an integral part of content they have sought (rather than an advert they haven’t asked for) they’ll engage with it. If, at that point of piqued interest, they’re in the market to buy, it would be right and good if you could take a cut of the sale.

A new generation of online tools are bridging the gap between publisher’s video and consumer sale. The current state of play works against publishers. Your video creates a demand that takes the viewer away from your site – they go back to Google to search out where to buy it, or to a price comparison site to find out the best deal. New tools link your audience directly with the merchant, cutting out the search step, and rewarding you for your part in generating the sale.

Embedding a discreet natural next step in your trusted content such as ‘click here to buy’ is helpful for your audience. To see how we allow you to do this, check out Coull in-video overlay in action here.

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An introduction to Programmatic Buying and Real-Time Bidding

Just like native advertising, the two terms ‘programmatic buying’ and ‘real-time bidding’ are getting a lot of column inches.

It’s often the case that these buzzwords sound impressive, but don’t stand up to any level of scrutiny. These fluffy terms are bandied about by businesses desperate to be part of the zeitgeist. So, let’s take a look at what they both mean for advertisers, and find out whether they are a radical game-changer or just a flash in the pan.

What are they?

Programmatic buying

“Programmatic buying involves computerized, algorithm-driven trading that allows for quick buying of ad impressions according to pre-set parameters.” (As defined by Business Insider)

It enables an advertiser to match ads to audiences on an individual, impression by impression basis. Traditional display ads work like outdoor posters, you pay your money and you get residency in that spot for a certain amount of time. Whether your target audience sees the ad really depends on the quality of publisher placement you’ve agreed, it’s a rough science.

Programmatic buying means that when a user loads a webpage, this automated system checks who they are, then serves an ad from an advertiser who has specified that audience. Inventory for programmatic buying can be anything from display ads to in-content video or, more commonly at the moment, pre-roll video placements.

Real-Time Bidding (RTB)

“Real-time bidding or RTB is a style of programmatic buying in which digital advertising opportunities are auctioned off in real-time.” (Business Insider)

RTB is a variation of programmatic buying, letting advertisers bid for the right to serve an ad to a particular person on the impression by impression basis programmatic buying enables.


Why should I care?

Together, programmatic buying and RTB are an effective way to get the right ad in front of the right person at the right time.

Another benefit is transparency. With ad space brokered automatically via a third-party, rather than direct with publishers, delivery of an advertiser’s content is completely auditable.

However, where these highly-targeted advertising techniques could really shake things up is on mobile devices. It’s well documented that people are spending an ever-increasing share of their internet time on their smartphones and tablets, and they’re doing it on the move.

Google takes home more than half of mobile ad revenue globally at the moment, and the vast majority of that is from search (an RTB format). Search puts advertisers in front of people actively looking for their products or services, it makes sense for everyone involved.

What RTB and programmatic can do is take that logic to the rest of the marketplace. As we explored the other week, mobile users are unforgiving of advertising that intrudes on their experience, so advertisers and publishers need a way of giving them more of what they already want, of giving them value. RTB and programmatic buying are a way to make sure that advertising becomes relevant, that it becomes personal, and therefore becomes more effective.

Get it right and it is a radical game-changer.

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