How Publishers Can Prepare A Tech Stack To Reach An Increasingly Fragmented Audience

Advertising to Fragmented Audiences

2021 will make it or break it for publishers. The coming year will double the pressure on media owners, and only the savviest players will stay afloat. Digital advertising as we know it is coming to an end. We are moving to a much more fragmented marketplace, and publishers need to rethink their place in this ecosystem.

Publishers will face critical challenges with performance, user identity, and the protection of personal data. In order to survive, they will need to be on the cutting edge of technology. Furthermore, I will break down the main issues 2021 will pose for publishers and outline technologies that can solve them. 

Challenges For Publishers

2020 turned out to be a perfect storm for the industry, as publishers endured double pressure from economic recession and gradual elimination of ad IDs. Legislative push for personal data protection and depleting advertising budgets create an entirely new environment where digital publishing needs to adjust to the three main challenges.

Corona Crisis

The first big test for publishers is the economic recession caused by COVID-19. Advertisers are pausing, deferring their campaigns, and re-allocating budgets to more cost-effective channels. 

Dire times are coming for ad-supported media. According to the IAB, the corona crisis has driven massive growth in news consumption, but publishers cannot monetize it (news publishers are twice as likely to be boycotted by media buyers vs. others). 

Buzzfeed, a viral media that was experiencing double-digit revenue growth over the last couple of years, recently implemented staff cuts alongside other digital news publishing pillars such as Vox, Vice, Quartz, The Economist, etc. While global publishers experienced some resilience during the crisis, a lot of local and regional media went out of business. 


One of the biggest challenges for publishers in the coming year will be establishing user identity. With the elimination of the 3rd party cookies by Google, the addressability across web channels will be fading out. This will affect audience targeting, remarketing, frequency cap, and multi-touch attribution.

The digital advertising ecosystem is losing common IDs, which would inevitably lead to a more fragmented landscape. The industry already offered several alternatives to deterministic tracking, based on assessing cohort effectiveness, such as Google Privacy Sandbox, and Apple’s SKAd Network. However, even the most advanced solution of that sort won’t lead to the return to business as usual. Fundamentally, we are moving towards a more anonymous web. 

It is a new landscape, where advertisers will struggle to avoid overspending in terms of imprecise capping, reaching clients with the wrong message, and targeting too broadly etc. It will take some time to design new ways of user acquisition and will require new tools and attribution models to evaluate the effectiveness with no reliance on user advertising IDs. 


A surge in privacy legislation, such as Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the California Consumer Privacy Act of 2018, makes it much harder to target and personalize ads for users’ online behavior. 

Those legislations which focus on the user’s data will define the coming changes in the tech stack and brands’ data strategies. This regulatory framework disrupts the existing models of tracking user’s behavior but opens the doors for publishers to gather users’ data with their consent. 

The scale of the data might decrease, but the policy will increase the quality of available data in the long run. Publishers need to use the remaining time to build models for effective interaction with the audience. Privacy regulation should be in line with the publisher’s tech stack and approaches to data management. There is no one-size-fits-all solution because there’s different privacy regulations in different markets. 

How Can Publishers Succeed In The New Landscape?

Data Management

In the new fragmented market, users’ data is the most valuable asset for advertisers. It gives brands an understanding of the customers, their interests, buying preferences, and behavior on every touchpoint with the brand. However, the recent privacy legislation and the looming phase-out of advertising IDs are making this asset incredibly scarce. 

One of the biggest opportunities for publishers today is to segment their 1st party data, activate it in the external systems, or provide it to advertisers for more precise targeting on their own inventory. 

Savvy publishers are using machine learning algorithms to understand content consumption better and compile first-party behavioral profiles, which would be truly performance-driven for a particular brand. For instance, a car review website might gather segments of 30-40 old mid-income professionals; the primary market for a sedan launch. A fashion magazine can collect audiences of high-income females for luxury apparel brands targeting. 


Modern websites, platforms, and apps usually have an international audience, which rarely can be fully monetized through direct deals. Programmatic can deliver global demand through oRTB and other programmatic buying methods with a market-based price for impressions. 

Recently Buzzfeed, which previously was pushing its native integrations, went back to the programmatic channels for selling their ad placements. Publishers need a solution that will allow them to manage demand partners flexibly, analyze the best and worst-performing ad placements, and assess the bid rates. 

By mixing and matching different partners, publishers can get the best price for their premium placements as well as remnant traffic. Header bidding is the perfect technology for that, and with minimal setup, publishers can simultaneously accept multiple bids from various demand platforms. Header bidding is the perfect technology for that, and with minimal setup, publishers can simultaneously accept multiple bids from various demand platforms. 

Video Ads

Ad-supported media needs to experiment with popular ad formats to compensate for the paused advertising campaigns’ revenue losses. 

In 2021, advertising priorities will gravitate more and more towards video ads.

Modern consumers spend up to 7 hours watching digital videos every week. Video is the most engaging type of content. Viewers grasp 95% of a message when watching it in a video compared to 10% when reading it.

According to IAB’s report, nearly two-thirds of digital budgets are allocated to video advertising, both on mobile and desktop. Videos produce a lasting impression that results in conversions and sales. To get the most out of the programmatic game, publishers need capabilities to display video ads, which would be compatible with the major demand platforms. 

Tech Stack For Growing Fragmentation 

In these turbulent times, publishers have to make the most out of all the possible revenue channels. Several technological solutions will allow publishers to unlock underused potential and increase CPMs. 

Technologies for leveraging first-party data, using modern programmatic methods, and deploying in-demand ad formats are part of the must-have for the 2021 tech stack of digital publishers.

Frequently, publishers assemble their tech stack from diverse products that don’t integrate well between themselves. The latest trend in digital publishing is using a single platform that fills all the needs, where all functionalities run smoothly within a uniform system. Let’s review which modules are must-haves of the integrated tech stack for media. 

Ad Server 

First and foremost, a publisher’s technology stack needs to have an ad server. A proper ad server is a prerequisite for effective impression monetization. It needs to have the functionality to manage ad campaigns and inventory. An ad server allows to set up ad units and retargeting groups and provide real-time statistics on the ad slots’ performance. To ensure a reasonable fill rate, ad servers need to support all existing ad formats, such as display, video, mobile ads, and rich media. 

Data Management Platform (DMP)

From the efficiency perspective – the most important thing for the media in 2021 is the user’s data management. Collection, analytics, segmentation, and activation of the audiences are must-have functionalities today. 

When publishers are using a DMP, they can provide additional data layers for advertisers, boosting the quality and CPM of the delivered impressions. Data is the new gold, and publishers can either offer it to target their own inventory, appraise the impressions higher, or activate them in the external systems and monetize on data-exchanges. 

The elimination of the advertising IDs will skyrocket the demand for 1st party data, and DMP is the critical prerequisite to collect and manage user data, set up data pools, or convey information to advertisers through user graphs. 

Header Bidding Solution 

Header bidding is a technology that removes the informational asymmetry between advertisers and publishers in regards to traffic value. Header bidding allows all parties to get a fair demand-based price for ad spaces. It is an auction where DSPs have equal access to bidding, in contrast to waterfalling and oRTB, where they enter the auction in turns. 

Implementing header bidding requires development resources, an experienced ad ops who will set up line items in the Google Ad Manager and agreement signing with bidders. Get ready: setting up the header bidding action requires a dedicated team, time, and effort, which is sometimes a lot even for large-sized publishers. 

Video And Audio Players

To start serving video ads, the ad format with the highest eCPMs, publishers need to do some homework. Video advertising is more complicated than display and you need to account for several technical aspects. First of all, you need to find an appropriate video player compatible with the header wrapper of your choice. Audio ad formats are also booming, and deploying audio players on your web-page can bring additional demand from advertisers. 

If you have some JavaScript knowledge, you can customize your players and integrate it with a header wrapper. Otherwise, you can use the ready-made solutions, native players that easily integrate with the programmatic platforms.

Creative Management Platform (CMP)

CMP is a prerequisite for managing programmatic creatives for various platforms and ad formats. CMP streamlines all the creative management. It should have a creative studio, a tool for editing, adjusting and creating rich banners from scratch with templates. One of the must-haves of the CMP is the functionality to adapt unique creatives for ad serving on different platforms and support of dynamic creative optimization (DCO). And, of course, a good CMP has to provide a library of ad formats compatible with major DSPs and analytics on creative performance in real-time. 

Overall, publishers need to hire a CMP that helps quickly make and deploy in-demand creative formats without endless adjustments, while also customizing and focusing on scale.

To Sum It Up

There are a lot of building blocks for the success of digital media. They include capabilities for effective ad serving of popular ad formats, as well as programmatic solutions to integrate with the major demand partners. These components have to work together seamlessly, and ideally should be part of the integrated tech stack. 

When you choose a unified tech stack rather than assemble it from the modules of different providers, you can be confident that creatives will be delivered without latency, poor user experience, and high ad server discrepancy. 

A proper tech stack needs to have the functionality to serve video and audio ads, data management, header bidding, and creative management platform. Those are the must-haves when choosing a provider, and you shouldn’t settle for anything less.

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