Premium Publishers And MFA Have The Same Business Models. That Must Change | AdExchanger

Premium Publishers And MFA Have The Same Business Models. That Must Change | AdExchanger

For media owners, the difference between thriving or fading away in the first-party web depends on building, growing, maintaining and protecting their direct relationships – not only with the audience, but also with the advertiser.

However, after years of chasing the warped incentives of the third-party cookie era, many publishers have forgotten how to be audience-centric.

These publishers’ business objectives have become indistinguishable from those of made-for-advertising (MFA) sites. For both, monetization boils down to an endless quest for scale and shallow insights into their audiences that can be turned into ad revenue.

But this approach won’t work in the era of the first-party web, in which deep engagement with audiences and a unique content proposition will set the true premium publishers apart from the rest. It’s time for media owners to truly prioritize quality and leave the MFA business model and mindset in the past.

Focusing on quality – and minimizing distractions

First-party assets – namely, a user experience and content that foster deep audience engagement and consented collection and use of data – don’t grow on trees. And relationships with audiences and advertisers are not built overnight.

Effective monetization in the first-party web requires a sharp shift in the type of knowledge and skills employed. And this transformation is not a fast process.

When developing their overall strategies, which now require them to move away from an advertising-only approach and toward revenue differentiation, publishers must stop following the advice of executives who have made their careers in ad tech and have little or no knowledge of media.

Instead, publishers should build their strategies on the unique strengths of quality media owners: distinctive content, a great user experience and audience centricity (i.e., catering to what the audience needs and expects). This, in turn, will generate trust, consent and high-quality data assets. Any first-party web media strategy missing this foundation would be built on sand.

And publishers must not allow themselves to get distracted by the ad industry’s ever-shifting controversies.

Take, for example, the narrative promoting interoperability as the Holy Grail. Remember, digital advertising – especially programmatic – have benefited from third-party-cookie-enabled interoperability for 20 years (without strict privacy-compliance requirements until 2018), during which time media owners’ revenues have consistently shrunk.

Interoperability is undoubtedly a challenge, but getting it back would not bring self-sustainability to media owners.

And the recent outrage caused by the sizable portion of ad spend that goes to MFA websites is yet another distraction.

MFAs have always accompanied high-quality media in the programmatic open marketplace. Even worse, MFA inventory has often found a golden gate on premium media owners’ pages through content recommendation widgets, where this low-quality inventory is still polluting content and hampering the media owner’s value proposition to its audience.

Getting wound up about MFA now feels worryingly out of time and out of sync with today’s real concerns at a time when media owners must sustain a razor-sharp focus on how they’re gathering and using their first-party data assets.

The real Holy Grail for publishers in the first-party web is to achieve one single, unified strategy – including a data layer built in collaboration with the audience itself – that can support multiple use cases and revenue channels (subscriptions, advertising, events, newsletters, whatever the individual publisher’s users need and expect from them, rather than what shiny industry trends suggest).

Above all, publishers must build lasting relationships with audiences and advertisers in preparation for the first-party web. That’s the foundation that will make everything else work together. And it’s ultimately what sets premium publishers apart from MFA.

Originally published at on October 16, 2023.

Read more