Paid Distribution Part 1: The Value Is In The Audience

May 29, 2017

Paid distribution of branded content and its implementations are debated fiercely amongst the world’s top publishers. This is the first post in an ongoing, 4-part series around the topic. Further posts will tackle Facebook, Content Networks, and Strategies. Stay tuned!

It’s no secret, the branded content market is growing quickly. Today, publisher revenue from digital premium branded content is $6 billion – with $3 billion going to the top 100 publishers alone. Revenue forecasts estimate premium branded content to continue growing 35 percent year-over-year. The only problem? Organic publisher audience growth doesn’t quite match up.

Organic publisher audience growth is only growing by maybe 5 to 15 percent year over year. The incremental audience reach required to deliver on branded content programs will become a major challenge. If your branded content revenue is growing at 35 to 50 percent this year, then you are likely going to need 35 to 50 percent more views to the content.

As a result, publishers turn to buying traffic to deliver on branded content campaigns. They are doing more of it than you’d expect. According to our research, 79 percent of publishers use some form of paid distribution on almost half of all their campaigns. Most blend this cost into the overall price, while 27 percent disclose the paid costs to their clients.

You may expect me to rail against paid distribution, and implore publishers to stop buying traffic completely. I do believe paid distribution of branded content is here to stay. I’ve been advising publishers to rethink how to execute paid in a more sustainable, profitable and differentiated way.

How To Do Paid Distribution for Branded Content, Intelligently

One of the largest publishers in the United Kingdom charges their clients different rates for branded content that is distributed through social channels. Onsite distribution is priced 3 times higher than views coming from social networks like Facebook. The benefits are twofold.

For one, there is the transparency: brands are well aware of what Facebook charges for distribution and don’t expect publishers to make much margin for that value add, and they can plainly see the performance metrics from that specific instance of paid promotion.

Secondly, onsite distribution offers brands quicker access to a more engaged and relevant audiences who are ready to consume content.

Another strategy is what a large American publisher with a major social presence has done. This branded content pioneer uses their own first-party audience data alongside Facebook data to find their readers on social, developing sophisticated Custom Audiences in Facebook and then subsequently target them with custom content promotions.

Here’s the underlying point: when a brand works with a publisher to execute premium branded content programs, what is it they are really buying? Is it the expertise required to make compelling content? Yes, definitely. But just as importantly, they are also buying the publisher’s premium and quality audience.

Currently, there are so many options for where content can live and how it’s being promoted. If a publisher is using paid distribution to drive audiences to their own content we’ve arrived at the best case scenario. It’s when publishers end up using paid distribution to attract random, unengaged readers – like in the case of content networks – that they need to pump the brakes.

The next instalments in this series will detail more steps publishers should take to future-proof their paid promotion strategies, and the perils of popular paid options.


JULY 2017

Polar’s Snapshot of Global Branded Content Performance presents the complete picture for major markets and publishers this past quarter.