Small Media Orgs Get an Ad Tech Advantage With United for News

Most lack resources to compete in the programmatic market

Illustration of a hand choosing from a group of men on computers
This nonprofit will link up quality publishers with marketers through a private marketplace.
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A nonprofit backed by some major names from the world of agencies and ad tech—including AppNexus, GroupM and OMD—is prepping a programmatic offering to bring buyers brand-safe content at an international scale.

The coalition, called United for News, was formed through a partnership between Internews, a media-centric NGO, and the World Economic Forum. The pitch, as executive director Jennifer Cobb explained it, is a “premium network” of news publishers that meet a set of criteria for advertising best practices—like offering brand-safe content and operating a fraud-free website—and journalism best practices, like producing original content and eschewing clickbait headlines.

These publishers’ respective sites will then be pooled into a private marketplace (PMP), which would be managed through a proprietary sell-side platform planned to roll out in the first half of 2020, according to Cobb.

Whitelists of trusted media organizations that marketers can trust, like the one United for News is proposing here, have recently gained steam among advertisers looking to sidestep some of the brand safety snafus that come with programmatic buys. But too often, these efforts leave out smaller publishers.

“We’re watching programmatic eat the world, and a lot of the best media in these markets just don’t have the resources to keep up,” she said. Having the money to spend on better ad viewability is part of the reason why first-tier publishers, on the whole, generate more of a bump in favorability for brands.

Even steps that might seem bare-bones for digital publishers—keeping an updated ads.txt file, for example, or integrating into a Google ad server—require time, money and expertise that many smaller outfits simply can’t afford, particularly when tech partners are often taking a not-insignificant cut of the advertiser’s dollars before they hit the publisher’s wallet.

To change that model, United for News is turning ad tech on its head. Brands, Cobb explained, will be charged for access to United for News’ PMP, the same way they would be with any intermediary. Instead of these funds staying in the PMP’s pockets, however, the lion’s share will be diverted into a grant pool to get smaller, reputable news organizations “programmatic-ready.”

It’s a pitch that’s caught the ears of some of those middlemen. AppNexus, for example—an AT&T-backed ad-tech outfit with billions to its name—has come out in favor of United for News’ vision, offering to establish the first set of programmatic pipes that would plug into the network’s PMP.

Meanwhile, two of the largest agencies on the ground today, GroupM and OMD, have partnered with the coalition to ensure the ultimate product will be one that their “clients can navigate,” per Cobb. GroupM’s vp of brand safety, John Montgomery, served as United for News’ counsel when it came to defining its brand-safety standards.

“Even though there are systems that do brand safety, algorithms should always be the first line of defense,” Cobb explained. “This is about understanding what is and isn’t reputable media, and you need to bring in a human touch for that.”

United for News will initially focus on smaller international publishers primarily in South Africa and Canada—but with enough funding, Cobb added, the idea could one day go worldwide.

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