News UK, Guardian and Telegraph to launch joint digital ad sales house
In a rare display of unity, News UK, the Telegraph and the Guardian are to offer joint digital ad sales as they seek to offer better scale, a cleaner supply chain and easier buying options for advertisers.
The three publishers said advertisers and agencies will soon be able to use one buying point to buy digital inventory and access audience data across The Sun, The Times, The Daily Telegraph and The Guardian.
The move, which comes after a series of false starts over the years, will offer much better scale - meaning the publishers can square up to Facebook, which has been poaching ad revenues. It will also simplify ad buying for agencies and advertisers by consolidating multiple platforms into one.
The initiative, dubbed 'The Ozone Project', will have its own chief executive and sales team. However, the publishers will maintain their own competitive ad sales houses and the project does not support multiplatform campaigns or print - marking it out from the failed joint projects of the past.
Ben Walmsley, digital commercial director at News UK, told Mediatel that the platform - which will provide "a better advertising ecosystem altogether" - will "absolutely" be open to other publishers, including magazines.
Meanwhile, Hamish Nicklin, chief revenue officer, Guardian News & Media, said: “We are working together to build a better digital ecosystem for advertisers, readers and publishers.
"The Ozone Project is a response to the challenges we all face and aims to facilitate the highest standard of digital advertising and ensure quality journalism and content continues."
The news comes after the revelation at the end of 2016, that in worst case scenarios, for every pound an advertiser spends programmatically on the Guardian only 30 pence actually goes to the publisher.
However, The Ozone Project says ad buyers will have "direct and transparent" access to an audience of more than 39.4 million unique users "in brand-safe, fraud-free, premium environments across the UK’s most trusted publishers".
It is well-established that the online ad ecosystem is wildly complicated with thousands of technology companies creating a complex market with little accountability. This has created concerns over viewability, fraud, brand safety and ad effectiveness, suggesting brands could be wasting budgets.
The World Federation of Advertisers (WFA) believe 55% of investment goes towards the 'tech tax' - the money spent on trading desks, demand side platforms, ad exchanges and data, targeting and verification services.
Any consolidation of digital ad sales should go some way to reassure advertisers while providing a revenue boost to publishers.
Commenting on today's news, Celine Saturnino, chief commercial officer at media agency Total Media, was slightly downbeat on the project.
"The biggest opportunity that publishers can explore in this space is multimedia, so whilst creating a centralised buying platform is a show of strength, it seems to fall short of what is possible," she said.
"In order to set itself apart, the Ozone Project really needs show what benefits it can bring beyond what can currently be achieved through existing DSP platforms - which already provide centralisation."
However, Dino Myers-Lamptey, UK Managing Director at MullenLowe Mediahub, said the move was "good news for advertisers and agencies", who should not underestimate the significance of this decision from publishers to put aside their "fierce rivalry" and work together.
One of the leads behind the Ozone Project, Dominic Carter, group chief commercial officer, News UK, said it was motivated by a "shared ethos" to create a channel for advertisers to gain direct access to publishers’ audiences at scale via a transparent and effective platform.
Meanwhile, Dora Michail, managing director of digital, The Telegraph, said: “Funding quality journalism is essential for the good of the media industry and society as a whole.
"The Ozone Project puts in place an infrastructure that creates a better marketplace for advertisers, consumers and publishers alike.”
The project, which has been in development since September 2017, will launch in the autumn.