As Playwire and our industry face the singular challenge of COVID-19 and its heretofore unseen impact upon the global economy, we want share as much information as possible about trends we are seeing in advertiser spending and publisher traffic – both from our company and from industry sources – as well as describe the ways in which Playwire is reacting to what we have seen so far.

By now, it should be clear to all that the spread of the virus, and the need for people everywhere to restrict their activities, is having an overall depressive effect on consumer confidence and spending.  Early on in the COVID outbreak, it looked possible that it would primarily affect a narrow section of industries, such as travel and entertainment. Indeed, this is where Index Exchange and YieldBird identified the main preliminary impact.  However, just a week later, we can see much broader, and indeed economy-wide, effects.  While the US Consumer Confidence Index has not yet been updated, Britain and Canada’s confidence indices show major declines, and last week the Dow Jones experienced its worst point drop in history.

These economic trends are already showing up in digital advertising numbers.  According to the IAB, 70% of advertisers have adjusted or paused their spend, and digital ad spend is down 33% overall.  The bright spot is OTT, which has seen a 35% increase in spend already. Ezoic’s Ad Revenue Index paints a similar picture, showing how Q1 ad spend did not increase throughout the quarter the way it normally does, then drops off a cliff around March 18th.

We are seeing the same story play out at Playwire.  Here’s what monthly metrics look like for video ads:

Video Ads Data

Video Ads Data


It’s as if the ad call and CPM charts are mirror images of each other, with prices dropping just as traffic jumps up.  But a near-doubling of ad traffic is not enough to make up for a nearly 60% decline in CPMs. Here, we see not only the depressive effect of COVID on advertiser spend, but also that more traffic does you little good if everybody else’s traffic goes up too:  buyers know they can command low prices when there is so much supply and too little competition for it.

And that’s a confusing and frustrating outcome for publishers, some of whom expected the spike in volume to their sites to equate to increases in revenue.  Historically, this has been the case: roughly speaking, more pageviews = more revenue. But the soft market is producing the opposite effect, except in narrow cases like kids’ educational sites (some of which have skyrocketed in usage, and which remain strong advertiser targets).

On the display side of things, the numbers look a little different, but the basic story is the same:

Display Ad Data

Display Ad Data


No real overall change to ad calls; a lesser, but still noticeable decrease in CPMs, leading to a commensurate decrease in revenue.

Fortunately, the IAB believes currently that most of the impact will be in Q2, with Q3 and Q4 looking stronger.  We’ll be watching advertiser demand carefully to try to verify this prediction.

Where we feel good at Playwire is seeing that we are beating the market overall.  Google tells us the following key fact: In a benchmark against our competitors, Playwire commands eCPMs that are 26.3% higher overall.  That’s a remarkable figure; we’re proud to know we are doing far better for our publisher partners than they could get elsewhere.

How Playwire is responding

But we are not resting on our laurels.  With so many questions swirling among publishers, Playwire is holding a public town hall meeting on Thursday, April 2st, at noon Eastern.  There, both Playwire partners and other publishers can log on to learn more about these trends, understand the potential impact on their businesses, and ask questions of the Playwire team.  Playwire will have high-level representatives from every division of the company ready to participate and advise.

Additionally, Playwire is increasing the staffing of our Partner Success team to handle the increase in publisher feedback.  Playwire has always been a publisher first company, and considers strong partner communication to be one of our strengths; we are dedicated to preserving the highest level of quality in partner support during this difficult time.

Meanwhile, our development and yield ops teams continue to move forward at their speedy pace with revenue-improving innovations, from upgrades of the header bidding stack with new bidders, updated adapters, and a wider range of server-side options, to innovations in evaluating optimal ad layouts for publishers, to novel predictive capabilities as part of our ever-expanding Revenue Intelligence initiative.  We’re tireless in our efforts to wring every bit of revenue out of our partners’ pageviews.

COVID-19 presents a situation where we are all asked to learn and adapt on a constant basis.  Playwire sees each day as a new challenge, but also a new opportunity to strengthen our relationship with our partners, and secure the ad revenue that is their lifeblood.  We know our partners well; we know the people behind the company, the hard-working people that have devoted themselves utterly to making a business out of digital content and e-commerce.  And so it is our responsibility and privilege to get up each day and make it happen in the digital advertising space, no matter the situation.