Media Briefing: Publishers air pain points at the Prebid Summit

This Media Briefing covers the latest in media trends for Digiday+ members and is distributed over email every Thursday at 10 a.m. ET. More from the series →

This article was updated to reflect Google’s formal name for its in-browser auction.

This week’s Media Briefing looks at what was on publishers’ minds at the Prebid Summit on Monday.

  • Words of the day: Interoperability and sustainability
  • Forbes debuts generative AI search tool on its website
  • The New York Times’ mea culpa, Jezebel is up for sale and more

Words of the day: Interoperability and sustainability

There are still a lot of unknowns coming down the pike for how the programmatic advertising market will function following the removal of third-party cookies from Google’s Chrome browser next year, if the conversations at the Prebid Summit on Monday were any indication. 

Publishers both on and off stage at the conference held in Manhattan voiced concerns about a lack of interoperability between header bidding platform Prebid and Google’s Privacy Sandbox, as well as the pointed fingers at them to fix the sustainability problem in the programmatic ecosystem via supply path optimization.

Interoperability is paramount 

As Google rolls out the Privacy Sandbox, it is also building its own in-browser programmatic auction, that Google is calling the Protected Audience auction, for Chrome as a way to replace the third-party cookies that are currently used to sell ad inventory on the browser. Prebid is able to sell that ad inventory using Google’s Topics and Protected Audience APIs to get the necessary information from Chrome, but with the rollout of Google’s Protected Audience auction, publishers and programmatic consultants have concerns that the information shared with Prebid will become less of a priority as Google hopes to keep transactions within its auction.

So while Prebid and Google’s Privacy Sandbox aren’t working against each other per say, once third-party cookies disappear from Chrome, interoperability could decrease leading to one or the other’s loss of business.  

One programmatic consultant who spoke anonymously for this story, said they are concerned that Google will start “tipping the scale in their favor,” as the company continues to roll out its Protected Audience auction.

And once third-party cookies are removed from Google’s Chrome browser, DSPs and SSPs will be looking for cookieless solutions and will likely need to “play in Google’s Sandbox a bit more than they’d like to,” they said, as the need for cookie-dependent SSPs and resellers declines. 

For Justin Wohl, CRO of Salon, Snopes and TV Tropes, it stands to reason that if Google is running its own in-browser auction, Prebid is going to be “inherently disadvantaged. It’s going to be dependent upon what Google gives it to succeed.” And for that reason, especially if Google’s in-browser auction allows publishers to call SSP partners through it, he said he can imagine a future where his team isn’t using Prebid on Chrome at all.

“Google has a longstanding tradition of working within their own walled gardens, and the idea that there would be collaboration with Prebid — I’d welcome it, but I’d be shocked,” said a programmatic lead at a publisher who spoke on the condition of anonymity. And while their opinion was based on Google’s historic patterns, they added that given the current trial Google is facing, prioritizing interoperability would be a wise move on the part of the platform. “I’m not Google’s antitrust lawyers, but I see the argument for playing nice with Prebid.”

Jana Meron, founder of programmatic consultancy Lioness Strategies, said that while it is “plausible” that publishers would eventually discontinue using Prebid for their Chrome inventory, “Google is in beta with their header bidding solution, and they aren’t looking to pick a fight right now. They are under enough scrutiny.”

Prebid acknowledged within its Summit that complete interoperability was its goal. Google was a sponsor at the Prebid Summit and Alex Cone, product manager of Privacy Sandbox, echoed the importance of interoperability and pointed out that Protected Audience is currently interoperable with Prebid and many early SSP adopters are using Prebid to integrate with Protected Audience.

“At the end of the day, the Privacy Sandbox only succeeds at improving privacy across the web if publishers and their technology providers use it. Prebid is an important tool in our industry, so we’ve been thrilled to see the Prebid community lean into the work,” said Cone.

Patrick McCann, the chair of Prebid.js, said during an onstage session, “We think Privacy Sandbox will provide advertisers addressability they can’t find in other places for monetizing gated audiences and I think [advertisers will] really value that. So I imagine that a lot of the money will shift there … so our goal is for Prebid to be completely interoperable with it.”

Representing the publisher perspective during that same session, Jason Tollestrup, the vp of programmatic strategy and yield at The Washington Post, said his company is actively testing the Privacy Sandbox because his team wants to be able to provide feedback to Google and decide whether to advocate for interoperability during this “short window” for voicing concerns. 

Sustainability and SPO 

A point of contention brewed amongst publishers when it came to the topic of supply path optimization in the name of sustainability. Publishers feel they’re being told by agencies, marketers and sustainability measurement firms to solve the sustainability quandary within the digital advertising ecosystem on their own. However, publishers argue that sending fewer bid requests through resellers (basically, trying to sell the same ad inventory through several auctions) is a marginal sustainability improvement at best compared to the behavior of SSPs. 

“We’re sending 10 times too many requests to that exchange, but that exchange is then potentially sending that opportunity to thousands of places,” explained Wohl. Carbon emissions are “really insignificantly changed at the publisher level relative to the behavior of SSPs,” and while he said he’s undergone the efforts to eliminate resellers within his business, whether or not it makes a difference in the grand scheme of things is yet to be determined. 

The programmatic lead echoed the same sentiment. “We the publishers are getting way too much of the heat on this. I think it should be the DSPs and SSPs looking at themselves,” they said. But at the same time, if all of the publishers got on the same page about practicing SPO, maybe there would be a larger shakeout that occurred as a result of them taking a stand. 

One Prebid Summit attendee whose company helps publishers with their programmatic revenue added anonymously that the file sizes of creative ad units that get sent out by marketers has to take some of the blame as well. Creative units that are 20mg big are going to have more of a significant impact on a campaign’s carbon footprint than a 1mg ad unit, they said.

What we’ve heard

“You can make more money from [longer-form video] advertising, but we were challenged with production budgets, because to make video on the internet, you still have to spend a lot of money …over the last two years [we’ve worked to] build [live stream capabilities] in house, [which] has allowed us not to have the same overhead needed to produce a lot of live content or video at scale.”

Bennett Spector, Bleacher Report’s general manager, on the latest episode of the Digiday Podcast

Forbes debuts generative AI search tool on its website

Forbes is taking the user experience of generative AI chatbots like ChatGPT and applying it to the search function on its own website to see if it improves audience engagement.

“There hasn’t been much innovation” to site search tools till now, said Vadim Supitskiy, Forbes’ chief digital and information officer. In May, the Associated Press added AI capabilities to the search tool on its licensing platform AP Newsroom.

Forbes’ new generative AI search tool, called Adelaide (after the wife of Forbes founder B.C. Forbes), will allow Forbes’ site visitors to ask a question in the search bar and receive an AI-generated summarized response based on Forbes’ own content archives. It will also surface five articles relevant to the initial search query. 

For example, a site visitor can type in: “Who is the richest person in Nebraska?” To which the tool will respond with: “Warren Buffett is the richest person in Nebraska, with an estimated net worth of $117.9 billion. He is known as the “Oracle of Omaha” and is one of the most successful investors of all time. He lives in Omaha, Nebraska.”

Image description –
A screenshot of Adelaide in action

A user can then ask Adelaide, “How does he make money?” Adelaide will remember that the previous question was about Warren Buffett, and will answer accordingly. A new unrelated question, such as “Who is the House speaker?”, will reset the conversation. The tool also gives users cues on sample questions they can ask, such as “What is a ROTH IRA?” and “Which stocks have reached 52-week highs?”

Adelaide was built using Google’s Vertex AI, Google Cloud’s machine learning product for search and conversation, said Anil Jain, Google Cloud’s global managing director of strategic consumer industries.

Supitskiy and Jain declined to share how much it costs to run Adelaide. Around five to seven part-time employees were working on the product, Supitskiy said. Vertex AI’s pricing model is based on consumption, according to Jain, ranging from less than a cent per 1,000 generated characters to a couple dollars per hour. The data from Adelaide does not get shared with Google, Jain said. Forbes has had a partnership with Google since 2018, and Google helped develop Bertie, Forbes’ AI-powered content management system.

The generative AI search tool will roll out this week to a randomized 5% of Forbes’ audience at first. Adelaide is trained on 12 months of Forbes’ archives to test how well the model performs before feeding it too much data, Supitskiy said. Eventually, the plan is to expand it to Forbes’ entire archive and to all site visitors, he added. It took two months to get Adelaide up and running, Supitskiy said.

Forbes will track to see if the generative AI search experience leads to increases in pages per session, sessions per user and time spent on the page, Supitskiy said. Forbes will also monitor how many people use the search tool, how many questions they ask and how many suggested articles they click through. – Sara Guaglione

Numbers to know

32%: The percentage of Americans who say they trust mass media either a “great deal” or a “fair amount” to report the news fairly and accurately, according to a Gallup Poll. This ties with 2016’s historic low. 

15 minutes: The video upload limit TikTok is testing for a select number of users, up from 10 minutes. 

1.4 million: The number of daily Threads users in the U.S., lagging well behind X’s 29 million daily users in the country, though the gap is reportedly closing slowly. 

What we’ve covered

Spotify is getting closer to podcast profitability, according to Q3 earnings:

  • Spotify is on track to break even on its podcast business by next year, according to the company’s latest earnings.
  • Increased subscription prices, cost cutting efforts and improved ad revenue have all contributed to Spotify reaching its breakeven goal in the intended two-year timeline set in June 2022. 

Read more about the company’s latest earnings report here

WTF are content credentials?

  • For all you know, this sentence could be written by artificial intelligence technology. 
  • In an attempt to help people distinguish between AI-generated and human-generated content, Adobe and the Coalition for Content Provenance and Authenticity have proposed a system for disclosing how a piece of content was created.

Learn more about content credentials here

Wondery launches three podcast FAST channels on Amazon Freevee:

  • Wondery is putting its podcasts into three free, ad-supported streaming TV (FAST) channels on Freevee, also owned by its parent company Amazon, in a bid to reach a new audience for their podcast shows. 
  • But it’s also a way for the company to monetize its podcast content in a new, low-lift, way.

See why Wondery is getting into FAST channels here.

Publishers pitch their methods for growing and engaging audiences to marketers:

  • Publishing execs from The Sun to Betches Media touted their ability to grow and engage audiences to marketers at Advertising Week, focusing their pitches and panel sessions on their strategies to reach niche audiences.
  • Meanwhile, TheSkimm urges marketers to review brand safety considerations

Read what publishers were selling at Advertising Week here.

What we’re reading

G/O Media has put Jezebel on the auction block: 

Jezebel is up for sale, according to Axios. The sales process is being headed by deputy editorial director Lea Goldman who has reportedly spoken with Bustle owner BDG, HollywoodLife owner Factz and Dear Media. 

Inside The New York Times’ mea culpa for early coverage of the Gaza hospital bombing:

The Times is one of a number of news organizations facing scrutiny for how the explosion of the Gaza hospital was initially covered. According to a series of Slack messages obtained by Vanity Fair, a number of editorial staffers, including an international editor and a junior reporter, expressed concerns that were ultimately dismissed. The Times issued an editor’s note stating it relied too heavily on the claims by Hamas in its coverage. 

Some news publishers are adopting a ‘don’t-say-terrorist’ directive: 

Reporting around the Israel-Hamas war remains contentious within some newsrooms, however. According to Mother Jones, a number of news publishers including the CBC and the BBC issued policies around using the term “terrorist” to describe Hamas as the classification is a matter of opinion and to avoid taking sides in coverage. One BBC reporter has resigned as a result of the mandate. 

The Messenger may be out of money:

The Daily Beast reported that the media startup’s staffers are pushing to unionize after a myriad of concerning events have come to pass, including The Messenger president Richard Beckman alluding to the site running “out of money.” A Messenger spokesperson denied that claim, however.

More in Media

NewFronts Briefing: Samsung, Condé Nast, Roku focus presentations on new ad formats and category-specific inventory

Day two of IAB’s NewFronts featured presentations from Samsung, Condé Nast and Roku, highlighting new partnerships, ad formats and inventory, as well as new AI capabilities.

The Athletic to raise ad prices as it paces to hit 3 million newsletter subscribers

The New York Times’ sports site The Athletic is about to hit 3 million total newsletter subscribers. It plans to raise ad prices as as a result of this nearly 20% year over year increase.

NewFronts Briefing: Google, Vizio and news publishers pitch marketers with new ad offerings and range of content categories

Day one of the 2024 IAB NewFronts featured presentations from Google and Vizio, as well as a spotlight on news publishers.