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4 mins read

Duopoly vs. The Future of the Open Web

The events of 2020 brought significant and lasting impacts across the advertising industry that we don’t yet fully understand the implications of. Combined with today’s societal and economic realities, consumers have placed increasing emphasis on selecting trusted environments who support purposeful advertising. As many approach the ninth month of quarantine, the way we consume media continues to shift, with users growing tired of being inundated with excessive content.

For those of us focused on digital advertising, we must respond by paving the way for a new era of advertising where consumers truly come first. To do this, we must continue to embrace a powerful alternative to Google and Facebook — the open web.

But first, we must understand the importance of the open web for publishers. We need to consider how the open web can be utilized to increase the percentage of digital revenue that publishers recognize, build stronger relationships with readers, and increase reader engagement. We’ll also consider how marketers can achieve scale when allocating budgets outside of the duopoly.

The Future Publishers Deserve

2020 is a stark reminder that quality journalism matters, with consumer trust in traditional news sources reaching an all-time high. In January — yes of this year — when the Australian bushfires raged on, consumers turned to publishers to find out more information about the ongoings and where to donate funds. And when COVID-19 halted the global economy, publishers were there to inform us on government initiatives, school closings, and information to help prevent furthering the spread. Throughout the year, the U.S Elections proved the importance of trusted journalism for many voters as they relied on credible news sources from the primaries all the way through Biden’s electoral college victory. And there are many more events locally, nationally and globally that make the case clear — we need publishers. And candidly, publishers need consumers too, to sustain their businesses. And that’s on all of us, as shrinking newsrooms continue putting out trustworthy journalism at record pace.

It’s not a secret that the duopoly has stunted publisher success and growth. Last year, the duopoly recognized approximately 61% of all online advertising spend. Despite the fact that when looking for COVID-related information, consumer trust in new organizations is more than twice as high as social networks, according to the Reuters Institute. Both Google and Facebook have made it easy for consumers to read headlines in previews, without clicking on the actual content to understand the issue beyond the headline. Despite all of this, the trust consumers have with publishers has casted the spotlight back on the importance of independent journalism. Publishers are rapidly working towards revenue diversifications to gain back the power. Some, like the Daily Star, are seeing the impact of this change with 47% YOY growth in audience reach, whose front pages criticizing the government helped the publication stand out amongst consumers on social media. It’s clear to say, consumer attention is shifting towards premium and trusted publisher environments.

The Future Advertisers Need

Despite consumer trust dwindling, platforms, namely Facebook, were slow to halt the spread of hate speech and false information. The Facebook boycott gained popularity in response, urging the industry to shift budgets to more trustworthy and accountable avenues. Leading to further heightening of what we already know — brand safety is crucial — for advertisers and publishers alike.

As evidenced by the #StopHateforProfit campaign, navigating brand safety in a world of user-generated content is a massive challenge for brands. For marketers to achieve the scale they need to achieve their goals, without compromising their brand’s reputation, they need meaningful choices outside the duopoly. Statements, like the boycott against Facebook, are a call to action for a much-needed alternative.

Expanding outside of the walled gardens to the open web will be critical for marketers looking to continue effectively attributing and scaling their investment’s performance in the future. The open web provides ample opportunity to engage and connect with audiences as they consume quality journalism, rather than uncontrolled user-generated content. And, it provides marketers with the opportunity to scale this traffic. With the open web, marketers can re-examine what brand safety and quality truly means to them.

Faster, Stronger, Bolder — Let’s Move Ahead with the Open Web

There’s no question that despite these challenges, the duopoly continues to have a hold on the industry. But the solution shouldn’t be to accept what’s available and easy to buy. We must embrace and create alternatives.

The path forward is a future where publishers are the preferred platform for audiences to gain trusted and verifiable information; see a higher percentage of digital advertising spend. This benefits advertisers by investing in better engagement rather than ignored impressions in a social scroll. And hey, it’s certainly not going to be easy for marketers to materially shift away from these platforms, but the change needs to come swiftly. As we know, the open-web provides an opportunity for an alternative — one that is faster, stronger, and bolder.

As the shift to digital is continually accelerated, it’s important to ask yourself: “What do I want that future to look like? And how can I help shape the future?”

Sarah Baird
General Manager, North America, Outbrain

Outbrain is the world’s leading discovery and native advertising feed for the open web. A third of the world’s Internet-connected population explore and discover information through its feed technology, which is trusted by emerging to established brands and integrated into thousands of media companies’ tech stacks to manage and monetize their publishing operations. Outbrain operates in 55 countries and is headquartered in New York City with offices in 18 cities worldwide.