Programmatic natives: Sharethrough on automated content
“If we build the perfect native monetisation solution for publishers then advertising revenues will naturally follow,” said Chris Quigley (above) managing director for Sharethrough Europe, who FIPP spoke to alongside Nate Gosselin, the company’s global head of strategy.
It’s a welcome breath of fresh air in an industry that seems increasingly hell-bent on ignoring the importance of premium environments, particularly with regard to native content. What’s also slightly enticing about Sharethrough is the ease with which the company talks about programmatic and native in the same breath, as if that union were the most natural thing in the world.
Jamie Gavin caught up with Quigley and Gosselin to ascertain – from both a commercial and editorial point of view – exactly how the Sharethrough model works for media owners.
First and foremost, native and programmatic advertising are two huge, growing, online ad-sectors contributing to the expansion of the industry. Why are they still seen as two completely separate entities within the sphere of online advertising?
Gosselin: “That’s a great lens for the current conversation. It seems that in some circles the discussion is dominated by worries about declining publisher revenue, but we believe that the introduction of programmatic will allow us to create more value in feed placements. Publishers, brands and tech companies are building massive stores of data around user preferences and interests, which programmatic is now letting them bring to bear with content. Going forward, smart organisations will be able to target relevant, useful brand content to users, which will increase engagement and make feeds more valuable for all stakeholders: users, advertisers, and publishers.”
And so if native can be programmatic, do we see a media future where editorial content itself begins to become served in real-time and to data-segmented audiences?
Gosselin: “It’s an interesting application of the technology. I think as users we would all love to have everything be personalized and relevant — although I do worry about how productive we will be if we want to click on every article we see! At the moment it’s a couple of steps ahead of the current environment, but it could certainly develop with the available technology.”
Let’s take a look at the model then. You guys predominantly look after media owners rather than advertiser brands and see yourselves as being very much ‘Publisher-first’. Why is this?
Quigley: “Sharethrough’s vision is focused around helping publishers scale their native ad revenues; building meaningful revenues for publishers in a way that doesn’t disrupt or annoy the user. We have found that the atomic unit of most feeds include the same general elements: a headline, thumbnail and (in some cases) a description. Our tech takes those essential pieces (plus a “Sponsored by <Brand>” element) and assembles them in the feed, in the publishers’ desired look and feel, all in real-time.”
“Sharethrough is very much a publisher-first company; we believe that if we build the perfect native monetisation solution for publishers then advertising revenues will naturally follow (which has proved to be true). The majority of our tech investment is focused on our publisher-side product. Having raised over US$20mn in the last 12 months, our native ad platform is hugely well-invested in, and a hugely powerful way to drive revenues for publishers.”
One huge talking point right now is single-user identification, i.e. identifying me as me whether I’m on my iPhone or my laptop and serving content accordingly depending on whether I might be in say a work or a home state of mind. Are you developing your own techniques for this?
Quigley: “We power one format (in-feed) across multiple screens: mobile web, mobile app, tablet and desktop. We see ourselves as a supply-side platform that enables a variety of content distribution strategies for the different clients we serve and continually build tech to support that value proposition. That’s why we allow our users to target by device, support an in-platform data partner and also allow clients to use their own data platform through our programmatic access points.”
Gosselin: “and just to add to that we do encourage our Clients to think about the implications of content on various screens, e.g. the work/home split you mentioned, but ultimately it’s up to the needs of each individual campaign and how the Client chooses to execute it.”
Sharethrough is clearly a forward thinking company with an impressive – and growing – client base. The growth of programmatic native could also hold serious connotations for editorial content going forward, moving towards a media map that is ever changing by user and device. For the time being the steps that Sharethrough is taking in programmatic native will seem pioneering enough to an industry that still sees the two as very much separate entities. And with a firm focus on premium content and a ‘publisher-first’ approach it is obviously an exciting platform for the development of real-time experience.
Sharethrough is a FIPP member company.
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