If you have ever asked for an advertising budget from a digital media planner, you’ve most likely been told, “We only work with premium publishers.”

Working for an ad network early on, I remember carefully choosing publishers for media campaigns that would satisfy a brand’s appetite for premium. 

These publishers were the usual suspects: the big sports names, the ones with the well-known and well-loved acronyms. No games, no social networks — nothing my mother wouldn’t be familiar with. Premium simply meant that the brand would be proud to have their name next to the logo. 

What Does Premium Really Mean?

One of the definitions of the word “premium” is “of exceptional quality or greater value than others of its kind; superior.” The advertising community determines the superiority of one publisher over another and thus gives the “premium” publisher the ability to charge more.

But what does a premium publisher look like today?

Programmatic facilitated a new premium. And the most obvious first signs of this transformation arrived with the growth of mobile advertising. 

Publishers who celebrated their superiority in the desktop world were unpleasantly surprised when they offered their mobile inventory to advertisers in a programmatic environment. Low CPMs and fill rates were met with much head scratching as publishers struggled to understand why their premium stamps of approval were not translating from desktop into mobile.

Many heated conversations transpired between the powerful premium publishers of desktop and their SSPs. Why were the mobile CPMs not complementary to desktop? Why weren’t top advertisers interested in bidding on their inventory? Mobile must not be that important. How dare these DSPs not see the value?

What these publishers failed to understand was that their name alone would no longer demand a plethora of bidding at a high CPM.

So, which mobile publishers were generating the high CPMs?

Mobile app publishers passing device IDs and actual latitude/longitude data became the new “premium.” DSPs and advertisers were willing to pay more — a lot more — for these publishers.

As the traditional premium publishers refused to invest in the most sought-after platform (app) and were unwilling to pass the proper data, they were bypassed in superiority by mobile publishers that were — gasp — gaming publishers, utility publishers — publishers with names that were neither well-recognized nor well-loved.

They were names I would never have dared to put on a traditional media plan, yet they were now commanding respect and loftier prices in the open exchange.

Programmatic & the Evolution of Premium

In 2016, eMarketer recently reported, US programmatic digital display ad spending will reach $22.1 billion, an increase of 39.7 percent over last year, which represents 67 percent of total digital display ad spending in the US. 

As more and more managed service budgets pour into programmatic, the list of premium publishers continues to evolve. Agencies have become smarter about how they buy digital media. Advertisers are now investing dollars with publishers that previously would not have been allowed in their reception lobby, let alone on a media plan.

Generally speaking, advertisers today are increasingly less concerned about a publisher’s name (within reason) and more concerned about the following: Was my ad viewable? Did the user watch my entire video? Can the publisher provide me with unique first-party data to target against at scale that I can’t get elsewhere? Is this data very accurate? Does the publisher require their users to log in across multiple screens to access content? Did my inventory perform?

If the answer to all of the above is “YES,” you may be on the road to earning yourself a premium title. 

A well-known publisher may always be welcome on a traditional media plan and within the lobby of a major agency. However, the workflow of an insertion order and its transactional output will eventually succumb to automation. Rich first-party data will only increase in significance. The traditional “premium” publishers have a lot of work to do to defend their title.

As the digital media world shifts to a more intelligent and automated way of buying, and “viewability,” “data,” and “completion rates” become the new sexy, get ready to welcome some new names onto the premium playing field.

And be prepared to show them some respect.