Media Briefing: Why business publishers are finding value in social video ad revenue

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However, platform programs that offer compensation for publishers’ editorial content are few and far between nowadays, after social behemoths like Meta pulled the plug on Instant Articles. 

Over the past year, LinkedIn’s Wire Program and Pinterest’s Red Standard program popped up in an effort to win favor with publishers while trying to fill the gaps left in their bottom lines from other platform deals drying up. And business publishers seem eager to join when approached with these offerings, especially when it comes to monetizing their video content.

Take Yahoo! Finance, for example. Katy Lawrence, vp of revenue partnerships, said that finding ways to increase advertising revenue from social video is a “big focal point” this year after the finance publication spent 2023 overhauling its advertising on its website, reducing ad density by 40%.

“There’s all of these mechanisms and triggers that we’re pulling at the moment and social video, in particular, is something that we are just getting to now to really dive into the commercial[ization] and the monetization of it,” said Lawrence. 

The Wall Street Journal has been producing and selling ads against its video content for years. But until the publisher was offered a spot to test LinkedIn’s Wire Program in January, monetization of video was almost exclusively done on-site or through YouTube, according to Katie Weber, svp of commercial strategy and head of financial services.

“LinkedIn has been a great way to extend and grow the video-specific elements of our [ad campaigns],” Weber said. 

Weber continued that, as viewership rates increase for video content on social platforms, WSJ is likely to increase the editorial video content published to those platforms. “We’re on Snap, YouTube, LinkedIn — we aim to be in places where we feel we have value to add and that’s not everywhere. We’ll continue to be selective about which platforms, of course, [but] with the extension of our content comes commercial opportunities as well.” 

Not all platforms will pay out equally 

Video takes a lot of time, effort and money to produce, so as a publisher, being able to monetize those products on platforms that audiences are still spending copious amounts of time on is necessary. 

“As you can imagine, you create something once and then you sell it 10 times over,” Lawrence said, adding that the more incremental ad revenue that can be sold on a piece of content, the better.

Forbes’ vp of social sales, Shae Carroll, said that the new video ad inventory on LinkedIn through the Wire Program seems to have answered a need in the ad market for targeting professional audiences with social video ads. “We haven’t really had a solution for a while,” he said, adding that he anticipates ad sales through Wire will equate to more than $1 million in the first year alone. 

Lawrence said that one of the hang-ups for monetizing social video content with ad revenue is the turbulent nature of the social platforms themselves and advertisers’ concerns for brand safety. 

So while X’s Amplify program gives publishers the opportunity to earn ad revenue on video content distributed there, some advertisers reportedly don’t want the platform included in their media plans anymore.

Yahoo! Finance does distribute its video content on the platform, but the sales team does not pitch advertisers on that inventory. Lawrence did not say if the company earns ad revenue from video ads sold by X.

Getting down to business 

As business publishers continue to push social video inventory to their clients, the question remains if B2B clients are willing to take the bait.

“We operate in a pretty pure B2B capacity and so there needs to be that connection to business outcomes and ROI, given who our brands are. So that sort of limits the lens through which you would think about social video to a certain extent,” said Weber.

A disadvantage for social video when it comes to B2B advertisers is the lack of bottom-of-the-funnel reporting, particularly lead generation, according to Penry Price, LinkedIn’s vp of marketing solutions. But it is a goal of the platform’s Wire Program to eventually have that capability, which is something LinkedIn’s other ad products offer, he added. 

Enterprise tech, financial services and the automotive categories have been consistently bullish about advertising on social video content, Carroll said, though software-as-a-service companies and other big tech brands are increasingly inquiring for video opportunities with Forbes. 

Many of Yahoo! Finance’s advertisers are in the financial services sector. While clients in this category are not exclusively B2B-focused, Lawrence said it’s important to make sure that the way those clients target and measure their campaigns with the publisher on social platforms is the same or as effective as their on-site campaigns. 

“We’re just thinking about the best ways to monetize across different layers and efforts. There’s a certain level of value and a different experience that you would have with Yahoo! Finance today versus a year ago as a partner,” said Lawrence. The big question Lawrence’s team is trying to answer in 2024 is: “How do we bring that experience to life off-platform?”

What we’ve heard

“I think starting from base zero on Instagram and TikTok these days is tricky. There’s just so many creators out there cranking out content. But I do think that [on] Substack, you have the ability to really share your voice … I’ve seen a lot of people who have no Instagram presence, no TikTok presence — like no social media presence — having a lot of success on Substack.”

Caroline Chambers, author of the “What to Cook When You Don’t Feel Like Cooking” Substack, on the third episode of the Digiday Podcast’s Creator series. 

Peretti vs. Ramaswamy

Former Republican presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy has taken on an unexpected opponent following his failed candidacy: BuzzFeed. 

Last month, Ramaswamy purchased an 8% stake in BuzzFeed and sent a letter to the company’s board of directors calling for a number of changes, such as hosting videos from political commentators, like Tucker Carlson to Bill Maher, and adding three new members to BuzzFeed’s board. BuzzFeed CEO Jonah Peretti responded with a letter of his own, rejecting those ideas.

But how much power does Ramaswamy really have, and how much of a threat does he pose to Peretti’s leadership?

That seems to depend on how much influence he can wield among BuzzFeed’s existing and potential shareholders, as well as BuzzFeed’s creditors, according to Sam Thompson, senior managing director at M&A advisory firm and investment bank Progress Partners.

When it comes to voting power, Peretti reigns supreme. As of December 31, Peretti owns 96% of Class B shares (each share represents 50 votes, compared to the single vote of a Class A share, which is what Ramaswamy bought). That means Peretti has 64% voting power, compared to Ramaswamy’s share in the single digits, and can essentially veto any of the activist investor’s proposed changes to the company or its board.

Ramaswamy defended his position in a Semafor interview last week, citing BuzzFeed’s $154.7 million of debt. Thompson said lenders can “override… [and are] senior to the equity.”

But it all comes down to Ramaswamy’s influence and any momentum he may be able to gather, according to Thompson, who has seen minority shareholder activist investors “cripple a business” by convincing others to join their cause.

There is precedent for activist investors going after digital media companies, though not always successfully. In 2015, billionaire Carl Icahn — who owned roughly 6% of Gannett’s stock — nominated two people to Gannett’s board and proposed significant changes to the company, but backed down a month later. Activist investor Dan Loeb was successful in his pursuits, acquiring a 6% stake in Yahoo before leading the charge to push out Yahoo CEO Scott Thompson and replacing him with Google exec Marissa Mayer in 2012 (and eventually leading to his hedge fund Third Point making about $1 billion).

“Any CEO is going to be wary of any activist investor and what their true intentions are,” Thomspon said. “Any time any activist situation has been fought back is because there is a contingent of investors that support and back the existing CEO and [their] plan.”

BuzzFeed’s market cap was $98.6 million as of Wednesday afternoon. The company’s Q1 2024 revenue (excluding Complex, which was sold to NTWRK in February) fell 18% year over year to $44.8 million. – Sara Guaglione

Numbers to know

8: The number of titles in the G/O Media portfolio that have been sold off in the last 15 months, with Gizmodo being the most recent.

540,000: The number of paid subscribers to Business Insider, up from 500,000 six months ago.

$2.9 million: The amount of money that Canadian business news publication The Logic raised from a group of investors, including the venture capital arm of the Financial Times Group, FT Ventures. 

What we’ve covered

LinkedIn’s publisher revenue share program is entering its next phase:

  • LinkedIn’s publisher rev-share Wire Program for pre-roll ads on editorial video launched in beta today. 
  • Publishers like Bloomberg, Reuters, Forbes and the WSJ have already signed deals with 3 to 35 advertisers each through the program.

Read more about the development of the publisher rev-share program here

The pros and cons of publishers’ AI licensing deals:

  • Are you even a large digital publisher if you haven’t signed a deal with OpenAI?
  • The recent wave of deals with OpenAI means publishers are getting compensated for their content being used to feed and train large language models (LLMs), but the agreements are also getting a fair amount of criticism.

See the arguments for and against these lucrative licensing deals here.

Publishers continue to rely on programmatic revenue, despite recent issues:

  • Programmatic marketing has its fair share of issues, but the fact is that marketers remain invested in the channel and publishers continue to depend on the revenue they get from programmatic advertising.
  • That’s according to Digiday+ Research surveys conducted among publisher professionals every six months.

Get the latest insights from Digiday+ Research here.

A brand safety watchdog wants to galvanize ad tech vendors to save publishers from MFA classification:

  • Publishers affiliated with the trade organization the Brand Safety Institute are lobbying leading measurement firms to better help them understand how such platforms flag MFA content, Digiday has learned.
  • They aim to launch a “publisher portal” to help cash-strapped media owners better understand how not to fall foul of vendors such as DoubleVerify and Integral Ad Science, with involved parties asking for direct input to the operation.

Learn more about the efforts being made to protect publishers from the MFA crackdown here.

What we’re reading

CNN’s new registration wall update is going after more audience data:

After testing variations of a registration wall for the past year, CNN has introduced recent updates that are making it more stringent for readers who’ve consumed about 10 CNN articles in a day, Axios reported. These users will have to create a username and password to continue reading, leveling up CNN’s first-party data collection abilities. 

Sally Buzbee’s departure from The Washington Post unsettles its newsroom: 

Buzbee has held the title of editor-in-chief of the Post since 2021 but will not be leading the Washington, D.C.-centered newsroom through the presidential election in November, The New York Times reported. Her departure from the Post stemmed from disagreements over a new organizational structure created by the paper’s CEO Will Lewis, which is leaving staffers confused and concerned about editorial operations going forward.  

The Daily Beast taps tabloid editor as its new editor-in-chief: 

Tracy Connor was replaced as the top editor of The Daily Beast, just weeks after two former media execs, Ben Sherwood and Joanna Coles, were given a minority stake in the struggling digital tabloid, The Wrap reported. Hugh Dougherty was hired as the new editor-in-chief of the Beast, coming most recently from the New York Post and before that, British tabloids The Daily Mail and Evening Standard. 

Newsroom protests further layoffs at The Wall Street Journal:

At least eight reporters covering national and breaking news were laid off from the WSJ last week, following additional layoffs earlier this year as well as a profitable first quarter, NPR reported. The union representing the newsroom participated in an hour-long protest in the form of a walkout.  

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