Key Points

  • The ad tech industry is built to put advertisers first, often leaving publishers with the leftovers.
  • Ad tech consolidation, lack of transparency and accountability, and rapidly shifting technology are largely to blame.
  • Publishers can fight back by demanding accountability, insisting on transparent revenue sharing, and choosing an ad monetization platform and partner that will fight for the publisher.

Publishers are the heart of digital advertising, and no one but the publishers seems to know it.

Advertisers feel their messages and ad budgets matter most. They “pay the bills,” so to speak, so they feel empowered to set their prices, control the level of competition in advertising, and hold publishers hostage to their whims and the ever-shifting ad industry.

Meanwhile, most ad tech platforms worship at the altar of advertisers. They see their advertisers as their highest priority customers because they’re the ones who are taking center stage in the advertisements the public sees. That’s why most ad tech companies are built around servicing those advertisers above all else.

But at Playwire, we’ve known the truth from day one. Publishers make the whole machine move. They create great content — engaging websites, amazing mobile games, game-changing desktop apps — that attract passionate audiences who are open and receptive when they’re in a publisher’s specific ecosystem. Only then can advertisers and ad tech partners deliver relevant ads that lead to real viewability and engagement.

So if all that’s true, why is the ad tech industry still failing publishers? Here’s our perspective on where things stand and where we go from here.

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Ad Tech Stack Pillar

The Complete Publisher Ad Tech Stack: Everything You Need to Know

The State of Ad Tech for Publishers

The way we engage with content is rapidly evolving, and that means advertising must evolve just as rapidly with it. In ad tech, new players are emerging while established companies are struggling to adapt to the shifting ad tech landscape in 2022

This is having a major impact on publishers, who find themselves caught in the middle. They rely on advertising to generate revenue but are hamstrung by the high costs and low transparency of the available ad tech platforms. 

The result? Established publishers see their revenue drop without clarity about why, while new publishers who create genuinely great content struggle to find their place in a crowded market where the rules constantly change. 

In most cases, publishers have two choices: build and manage ad-tech in-house, which leads to a lack of clarity and a struggle to allocate resources correctly; or outsource to an ad monetization partner that won’t give them the transparency or control they deserve.

The broad problem is that the ad tech industry has grown so quickly that many of its inherent problems have been allowed to grow with it. But when you’ve spent 15 years in ad tech fighting for publishers like we have, you can see that there are some more specific issues at play.

Ad Tech Consolidation

Ad tech companies across the industry are buying up other ad tech companies at a rate we’ve never seen. The reason is simple: as digital advertising tools become more readily available and inexpensive, the barrier to entry into the industry becomes lower. An ad tech partner can now build a basic header bidding stack with very limited capabilities, wrap it in a professional-looking digital package, and try to compete. 

Is their product effective? Not necessarily. But they get by on making revenue promises they hope to be able to profit from before they actually have to deliver. They either get bought up or vanish entirely, and guess who’s left bearing the consequences? Publishers.

The upshot is that big companies are getting bigger and small companies are getting smaller. Go with one of the big companies and you’ll find you’re not a priority to an organization with countless clients and an advertiser-first mindset. Go with a small company and they may not be here by next quarter. Either way, you’re taking a major risk that could have a greater impact on your site or app than you realize until after the damage has been done.

Lack of Transparent Revenue Share

The way in which revenue is shared between publishers and ad tech platforms is often opaque because that’s how advertisers and ad tech platforms often like it. This lack of transparency makes it difficult for publishers to negotiate fair terms with digital ad platforms — or to negotiate at all. 

When publishers can’t track ad revenue and where it’s coming from, they can’t plan or budget for the future of their business or its monetization strategy. 

Overall, opaque revenue sharing has a net negative effect on the entire ad tech community. It creates tension and mistrust between publishers and ad tech platforms, damaging the very relationships that are essential for a thriving industry. Publishers end up frustrated, disillusioned, and lost on what to do next.

Reduced Accountability

Ad tech has long been plagued by a lack of accountability, and publishers bear the brunt of the negative consequences. 

It’s difficult to track where ads are coming from, which makes it difficult to identify and root out bad actors and other issues. This can easily lead to publishers inadvertently running ads that support fraudulent activity or inappropriate brands. 

When there’s no one responsible for ensuring that ads adhere to industry standards or best practices, the result is ad fraud and lower-quality advertising.

Moving Fast to Places Unknown

Industries that move and grow quickly are exciting. But without a trusted ad tech partner, publishers find the ground shifting beneath their feet more quickly than they can catch their balance. 

The answers to crucial questions about new advertising technology and new ad monetization platforms can vary for every publisher. But one thing that always remains consistent, no matter the publisher, is that a truly reliable and experienced partner can make all the difference.

That’s why Playwire takes the time to walk through every website, game, app, and beyond with our publishers to make sure we understand your unique user experience, audience, and any special concerns or goals you may have. We provide unlimited access to our team of experts because we know that questions can arise quickly in an industry that shifts this rapidly.

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Ad Tech Stack Resource Center

The Complete Ad Tech Stack Resource Center

What Publishers Can Do

What can a publisher do to combat an industry that often puts its needs last? The answer is to partner with a proven ad tech company with a track record of putting publishers first.

Here are three key tips for choosing the right partner for your needs.

Identify Your Minimum Requirements

What do you expect from your ad tech partner?

There’s no right answer here, except for the truth. Every publisher is different, and what they need from a monetization partner will depend on their individual goals, their product, and their audience.

But here’s what you should insist on when vetting ad tech partners.

This is by no means a comprehensive list. But it should give you a sense of what you should look for in an ad partner and their platform.

Bet On Experience

Any partner you consider should provide more than just promises about their experience and capabilities. As a publisher, you have a right to demand proof. 

Are they certified with the Trustworthy Accountability Group (TAG)? Do they provide access to a data management platform that will help you make the most of your unique audience while remaining compliant with all online privacy regulations? Speaking of compliance, what about child safety certifications such as COPPA, KidSAFE, or CARU for children’s publishers?

What about their customer testimonials? Are they genuine, positive, and extensive? Or does the partner speak in vague generalities about their “lots” of happy partners?

No matter how large or established an ad tech company seems, they need to prove themselves to you.

Take Nothing at Face Value

At Playwire, we benefit from potential partners investigating claims we make alongside our competitors. That’s because our claims are all verifiable. The same can’t always be said for other ad tech partners.

If a partner you’re considering makes any kind of claim, like having a direct sales team or boasting some proprietary capability, call them on it! Ask for verifiable proof of that sales team or technology that sounds too good to be true. Far too often, it is. 

Publishers have power. Don’t be afraid to act like it.

Demand Transparency

One of the biggest problems with the ad tech industry is the lack of transparency in revenue sharing. Ad tech businesses can essentially take whatever piece of the pie they want, and publishers don’t even know what percentage they’ve been left with at the end.

As a publisher, you deserve better. Playwire was founded on the idea that a publisher’s relationship with their ad tech partner should be fully transparent from day one. That’s why our revenue share model puts us both on the same side of the table. We make money when you make money, which ensures that our interests are always aligned — never at odds.

Playwire: The Publisher-First Ad Tech Company

Playwire has been demanding more for publishers for over 15 years. From our expert-level revenue amplification guidance and access to pivotal pools of first-party data to our in-house direct sales and creative teams, we’re a true end-to-end solution built to serve publishers.

Ready to take control of your ad revenue? Contact us today.

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