YouTube’s brand-safety woes give publishers a boost in selling video ads directly

To avoid future brand-safety embarrassments, agencies are increasingly looking to buy directly from premium-quality content owners on YouTube.

“We are seeing a huge increase in demand from agencies in our own YouTube inventory bought directly at meaningful CPMs,” said a publishing executive at a major media owner.

Although YouTube takes a sizeable 45 percent revenue share from a publisher’s rate card, there is some flexibility for publishers to still make a good margin should they manage to sell above their rate card. For instance, if a publisher’s YouTube inventory rate card is £20 CPM ($26 CPM ) and they sell it for £30 CPM ($39 CPM), the publisher gives YouTube 45 percent of the former.

Media agencies have long favored buying audiences at scale and for cheap rates on platforms like YouTube, but that mentality is shifting with some agencies claiming they prefer to pay more for a risk-free buy.

“Higher CPMs means lower risk,” said an employee at a media buying agency. “Buying from content owners on YouTube/Networks is certainly more expensive but can be accessed programmatically and represents a far safer buy.”

The pressure should only grow. Last week, Disney, Nestle, McDonald’s and AT&T pulled their ads from the platform after revelations that their ads had appeared next to videos of young girls that were marred by inappropriate user comments. To avoid the issue entirely but still benefit from YouTube’s audiences and scale, agencies are buying premium publisher audiences directly.

Media owners have trumpeted their brand-safety credentials to advertisers ever since the YouTube brand-safety scandal in 2017 in order to win a greater chunk of the ad revenue pie from the major platforms.

“When the brand-safety issues experienced by digital platforms are highlighted, Channel 4 and All 4 provide a natural destination for brands who place brand safety high on their agenda,” said David Amodio, Channel 4 digital and creative leader.

But evidence to show that advertiser budgets had shifted away from the platforms and back to publishers for the long term has been scant. Budgets are often paused, and after a few weeks, returned to the platforms they were pulled from. A Digiday survey of 100 media buyers the same day revealed there was no major inclination to pull spend from a platform that delivers such good results.

In this instance, however, agencies aren’t looking to pull spend from YouTube but instead to redirect it into channels with content created by premium media owners.

“Fraud and brand-safety concerns have empowered premium publishers to sell the ads and creative executions in their own environments where brand safety is guaranteed,” said a publishing executive with a large YouTube audience. “This was after several years of brands and agencies believing the user alone was most important and the context and environment were secondary. We are now seeing this extend into YouTube.”

Agencies that have bought on media owner YouTube channels directly have bought non-skippable ads, rather than YouTube’s skippable ad format TrueView, because they believe people are more likely to wait for the premium content.

“Deals also take longer to negotiate and set up but very high completion rate as people really want to see the content,” said a media agency executive.

Some agency groups have created their own lists of premium content providers with massive YouTube audiences that they have pre-approved that they want to buy on YouTube on behalf of clients, on a programmatic-guaranteed basis. Disney, Vevo and Little Dot Studios, which runs the YouTube channels for show brands such as Gordon Ramsey’s “Kitchen Nightmares,” according to agency sources.

Although the opportunity to do this has been around for some time, momentum has been slow to build, according to Elliott Baum, head of digital media sales at Little Dot Studios. “People don’t realize it’s an option, but agencies are slowly cottoning on. Everyone else is still wining and dining off influencers. But doing this [buying directly across publisher audiences on YouTube] is really the backbone of what advertisers need to do. They need to change the way they approach YouTube.”

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