Exploring Programmatic Selling & Paywall with Anupam Sharma | Pubhouse 3 @AdOmega

Date: October 26, 2023

In a world where advertising is intertwined with so many functions of a publisher, sometimes it losses its essence. In today’s world, when paywalls are rising high, there are a not many publishers who are able to maintain the perfect balance. Today I talk with one such publisher who has managed to scale advertising revenues while also ensuring that their paywall gets many subscribers. This publisher is one of the biggest news publisher in UAE and is known worldwide for it’s journalism and their lightning fast news updates.

Today, Pubhouse goes in conversation with Anupam Sharma who’s leading Programmatic for Gulf News. He brings troves of experience to Gulf News as he has worked with top Publishers like times of India and others in the past. You can follow him here.

Hi Anupam!

This is the third part of the Pub House series and we are excited to learn from your experiences. We truly believe that publishers with years of experience are a voice to be heard. So without further ado, let us get started with our conversation

Saurabh : For our readers, let us have a deep introduction about who Anupam is and what it is that you are doing these days.

Anupam : I am a seasoned professional in Programmatic Monetization, specialising primarily in Supply Side – Publisher Monetisation. With over a decade of experience in this field, I have collaborated with prestigious publishers such as Gulf News, Times of India, ABP Digital, News18, Money Control and Zee News across India and the UAE.

Throughout my career, I have successfully managed monetization partnerships across diverse regions, boosting their revenue through the strategic implementation of advertising technologies and techniques. As an alumnus of IIM-Calcutta, I possess a deep understanding of the Programmatic ecosystem, enabling me to excel in autonomous problem-solving and self directed work.  In my current role, I lead Programmatic Revenue and Partnerships for Gulf News, based in Dubai, UAE.

Saurabh : Is programmatic sales exciting? What excites you the most about it?

Anupam : Absolutely, it is an exciting times in the digital world and so in the Programmatic. Over the past decade, we have witnessed remarkable advancements, with Programmatic advertising emerging as a pivotal force.  Today, agencies and advertisers have embraced Programmatic buying with confidence, appreciating its “efficiency” and “transparency”. This has led to steady growth in its market presence year after year. Once you dive into the intricacies of Programmatic, there is “no turning back”—it offers a consistently smooth and streamlined experience across the board.

Saurabh : In your career spanning 10 years, you have dedicated 7 years to programmatic sales. What will be your single biggest takeaway for young publishers & content creators who want to do programmatic sales?

Anupam : I strongly believe and learned that, prioritize enhancing user experience and constructing unique, specialized content; this approach naturally aligns all other elements accordingly.

Saurabh : I know there is a definition of programmatic sales and yes, it has evolved over the years.  How would you define programmatic sales and is it now more intertwined with direct sales these days?

Anupam :  In my view, Programmatic sales and buying are fundamentally tied to the concept of Real-Time Bidding (RTB) where auctions unfold with varying bids, and the highest bid succeeds. This occurs seamlessly in an automated manner, minimizing human involvement and paperwork, marking the essence of Programmatic. The synergy between Programmatic sales and direct sales is notably prominent through avenues such as Programmatic Direct (Guaranteed) and Preferred Deals. Within media buying agencies, dedicated Agency Trading Desks (ATDs) oversee these endeavours, adeptly managing the process to ensure smooth execution.

Saurabh : Although display is still a big chunk of advertising, most of us have seen it stagnate. What are your thoughts on the future of display ads?

Anupam : Certainly, there is no denying that display advertising has hit a stagnant phase, with numerous challenges contributing to this state of affairs, including banner blindness, diminished viewability, declining click-through rates (CTR), and an overwhelming supply. Despite these issues, it is highly unlikely that display advertising will vanish entirely, and advertisers will continue to find value in it.

Looking ahead, addressing these challenges is essential. Injecting creativity into the banners, such as incorporating rich media elements into display ads, improving creative designs, and adopting more interactive formats, like chat-bots within the slots, can rejuvenate the appeal of display advertising and enhance its engagement potential.

Saurabh : While display advertising is stagnating, do you think video has the potential to replace it completely or video is a completely different channel that has created its own space?

Anupam : Video advertising is not set to entirely replace display advertising, but there is a noticeable shift in market share, with video’s trajectory on a clear upward trend. The journey of video advertising is indeed remarkable, progressing from its roots in traditional TV to the expansive realms of OTT, CTV, and even venturing into the domain of Out-of-Home (OOH). This evolution can be attributed to the captivating and storytelling potential inherent in video ads.

Saurabh : Which three trends in digital advertising are you most looking forward to?

Anupam :  Digital Advertising is going to be very interesting in the coming years. Below are the top three trends which will rule the advertising world:

The first and foremost thing is AI, which is capturing all the possible grounds and making our lives easy. AI-powered creatives, AI-driven Ads and using the power of AI in ad targeting, personalizing or optimizing the campaigns more effectively and efficiently would be a revolutionary move very soon.

Secondly, the Rise in CTV adoption across the globe has already attracted advertisers to focus more on creating engaging video ads, which will work well on the OTTs.

Last but not least, Data Privacy and Compliance With the growing concern over data privacy, there was a trend toward greater transparency and compliance with regulations like GDPR and CCPA. Advertisers were looking for ways to collect and use data responsibly, while also providing users with more control over their data.

Saurabh : With 3P cookies sun setting next year, publishers are still unprepared. I am sensing a repeat of GDPR chaos and with not much to go around; publishers will pick up a solution that is much easier to implement leading to potential loss of yield & monetization. What is your opinion around this entire situation? How is Gulf News preparing for cookiepocalypse?

Anupam : Let’s see if this year marks the actual shift or if it faces yet another delay. You’re absolutely correct, most pubs are still unprepared for this change due to a numerous of internal obstacles, ranging from technical challenges and a lack of awareness to underestimating the gravity of the situation. It’s also worth observing how advertisers will prioritize their strategies, be it favoring first-party data exclusively or opting for contextual targeting. Perhaps publishers will adapt accordingly.

Here at Gulf News, we’re ready for either scenario. We’ve already taken steps to facilitate precise targeting, implementing key value targeting for both keyword-based and section-specific ad placements, aligning our ad tagging accordingly. In terms of First-Party data, our approach has evolved over the past two years behind the paywall. We’ve been diligently gathering data from both registered and subscribed users, funneling it into the Ad-server for direct campaign targeting.

However, I’m sure that post-cookie apocalypse, the Open Auction yield will likely decrease, given that the ecosystem is still not fully prepared for this drastic shift.

Saurabh : Gulf News has a subscription model for their news articles. How is that working out?

Anupam : Gulf News has successfully implemented a subscription-based model with a paywall, and the results have been highly promising. Being one of the pioneers in this region has given us a significant advantage. A few years ago, we took a bold step by introducing a subscription model that capitalizes on the strong loyalty our brand enjoys.

Our approach includes offering a premium, ad-lite user experience to our paid subscribers, coupled with meticulously researched content. We have also ensured that our pricing is extremely competitive, making our subscription offering even more appealing to our audience. This combination of factors has contributed to our success in this new era of digital journalism.

Saurabh : Publishers like Gulf News invest a lot in making quality content. What do you think about Made for advertising (MFA) sites stealing away billions of ad dollars without investing much in quality content or experience?

Anupam : I agree to some extent. While MFA sites do divert ad budgets, they lack sustainability, often delivering subpar ROI due to issues like invalid traffic and clickbait. Savvy advertisers prefer established brands with trust and loyalty. Our focus extends beyond quality content; we prioritize a better user experience for all visitors, whether paid or unpaid. A clean website with well-placed ad slots improves CTR and viewability, resulting in better yields, our ultimate goal. In the digital advertising ecosystem, a commitment to quality, ethics, and user experience should guide all stakeholders.

Saurabh : Rich media executions have taken the center stage these days. These rich media executions are a darling of brands these days and they bring out the best from the users. Do you think in a world where UX is the priority, what will happen to these executions? Are they bound to fail or will they succeed given the fact that average attention span is decreasing.

Anupam :  Rich Media executions offer a wealth of innovative solutions that captivate both brands and end users. The current and future focus is on improving user experience (UX). However, if Rich Media ads seamlessly integrate into a site’s layout, enhancing the overall experience while delivering superior yields, it’s a win-win for both parties.

Saurabh : Lastly, as we end this conversation; what is your ultimate goal in life? Where do you see yourself in the next 5 years?

Anupam : Haha, I totally get what you mean! Life has a way of throwing unexpected challenges, and I am open to whatever it brings. However, if I were to set some goals, professionally, I am aiming to reach an advanced level in my career, and I am actively working towards that. Personally, I am determined to achieve financial freedom sooner rather than later. It is all about making the most of the opportunities that come my way!

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