Generally, conventional wisdom says a publisher would sell more ad units at a lower price in a weak market. However, publishers are doing the opposite and pulling their inventory to take a short-term revenue hit and protect their inventory price from falling further. This will help their business in the long run by not falling into the trap of price cuts which would be difficult to win back.
Programmatic advertising market operates under an auction system, lower advertiser demand, and higher web traffic to publishers site has pushed programmatic ad CPM’s down by 10%-20%. Since buyers are now more loyal to price than brands, publishers are preventing prices to tank further to a point of devaluing their inventory over the long term. While some publishers are reducing their inventory in the open market to keep the prices from falling further, others are using ad slots to push internal subscriptions or eliminating ad slots from the pages. For instance, Buzzfeed is getting rid of display ads that receive lower viewability scores.
Unfortunately, the publishers are acting independently and not considering the impact on the broader market. They aim to protect their own inventory prices from falling low as they fear it will take a longer time to return to the previous levels especially if advertisers are buying at a bargain now and unwilling to pay more later when things are back to normal.
As quoted by Digiday, Andy Ellenthal, CEO of the ad sales reporting platform STAQ shares a similar opinion and said, When advertisers return to their normal spending amounts, “they’re going to absolutely remember that a publisher was 25 cents in April of 2020.”
As per the above STAQ graph, the average U.S. display ad CPM in the open auction has fallen from a high of $1.34 on March 1 to $0.91 on May 3.
Even though average CPM has bottomed out on April 8 at $0.83, Andy Ellenthal believes CPM’s will not experience a U-shaped recovery but more of an L-shaped recovery, a slow and steady upward trend. This means publishers whose CPM has fallen least will have to cover the shorter route to return to previous prices.
DigiDay interviewed a few publishing executives and one publishing executive said,
“I’ve got to manage my supply to keep it in balance with demand, and demand has fallen so fast that now we’re trying to get ahead of the game. How much supply can we take off the table to control the CPM without actually truly hurting our business more than it’s hurt now?”
A second publisher executive said that the removal of one ad unit across their sites is equivalent to more than 1 billion monthly impressions. It is a generous number but not significant enough to move the market. Media Math’s DSP sees more than 180 billion impressions each day.
On this Ethenall said,
“These publishers always have to strike a balance between fill and yield. Chances are they are not going to fill 100% of their ad slots right now. If you have a billion impressions that go unsold anyway, what’s the value of them if they’re only pulling down pricing for your better impressions?”
Many publishers have adjusted their floor price to a minimum level at which the inventory can be sold. However, the lower ad demand has made the publishers pull inventory and protect prices as inside programmatic advertising, everything revolves around “Price.”
One of the publishers used to increase floor price by 15% every two weeks since the beginning of Q1. However, in the second half of March, a significant number of impressions went unsold. The publisher could have reduced the price to sell his inventory but he didn’t and said, “in no way do I want to drop my floors to 25 cents because I don’t want crappy ads coming in.”
Lower the ad prices, the higher the chances of giving in to undesirable advertisers who can jeopardize the ability to attract genuine advertisers. Publishers use this opportunity of lower demand to seek out prospective advertisers, but they are wary that lower CPM can alleviate advertiser’s interest in doing programmatic direct or private marketplace deals.
Publishers are also looking at this opportunity to experiment repurposing of impressions that can boost their other businesses and become less reliant on advertisers. For instance, if a publisher can see that house ad proclaiming its subscription product can attract more subscribers and yield than those impressions to advertisers, they would monetize on house campaigns and not take revenue from programmatic advertising.