AOP survey reveals publishers optimistic for year ahead

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New survey results from the Association of Online Publishers (AOP) reveal UK publishers ranked their confidence at 7.1 out of 10 when asked how ready they were to face future challenges and opportunities, with developing revenue streams through product innovation ranked as the number one business priority for the year ahead.

AOP – publishers optimistic

The findings come from Digital Publishing: Outlook and Priorities for 2024, a study conducted by the AOP – and sponsored by mediarithmics – to explore the sentiment of the UK digital publishing industry and how it is adapting to current and future challenges.

The survey was conducted between 5th December 2023 and 12th January 2024, and received responses from 99 publishers and 19 solutions providers.

Business priorities 

Other business priorities ranked by respondents with a score out of five included data privacy compliance and transparency; recruiting and retaining talent; and ensuring a diverse and inclusive workplace — all of which ranked equally at 3.9. Publishers gave generative AI policies a priority score of 3.5 – a newcomer to this year’s survey.

Future revenue drivers

Subscriptions remain the area where publishers expect the most potential growth over the next three years. B2B publishers place the same top four expectations on events, lead generation, subscriptions, and sponsorship as they did last year.

However, for B2C publishers, subscriptions are joined by audio, podcasts, and internet radio, as well as ecommerce in their top three expected revenue generators, with CTV following closely.

This is a shift from last year when sponsorship and display advertising followed subscriptions as the top three predicted revenue generators.

Advertising revenues

Focusing specifically on advertising revenues, publishers were asked where they currently see the most revenue generated.

Direct deals took the largest share, accounting for 78% of revenues, with private and open marketplaces splitting the remainder at 11% each.

When asked about expectations for the next three years, direct deals retained pole position, but the split between private and open marketplaces widened to 18% and 5% respectively.

Third-party cookie deprecation 

Building better first-party data funnels and gaining a 360-degree view of audiences are the top two priorities for cookie deprecation preparation, with 64% of publishers ranking these at 4 or 5, where 5 represents the prime focus. Improving zero-party data funnels came in at third with 59% ranking it at 4 or 5.

Publishers were least focused on testing Google’s Privacy Sandbox, or its alternatives.

Generative AI

When asked how generative AI impacts the business of publishing quality content online, publishers scored 5.5, where 0 represents a negative impact and 10 a positive impact.

Three-quarters (76%) are exploring ways to use generative AI to deliver efficiencies within their business, and 70% stated their product team is exploring innovative uses for generative AI.

However, only around half (55%) of respondents said their editorial team are receiving training and defining policies for the use of the tool, and only a quarter (26%) already have an editorial policy that prohibits its use.

ESG

Of those surveyed, 70% agree or strongly agree that ESG is important to their employees, a modest uptick from last year’s 67%.

External pressure is consistent or rising: 58% agreed or strongly agreed that advertisers expect progress towards ESG, matching last year, while those reporting the same expectation from investors rose from 46% to 51%.

However, the proportion of publishers that agreed ESG is central to their values dipped slightly from 67% last year to 62% today.

Those focused on reducing the carbon footprint of their organisations fell from 75% to 67%, though a focus on website carbon reduction increased from 44% to 47%.

Richard Reeves, Managing Director at AOP, said: “This year’s survey reinforces the positive outlook publishers have as they face the challenges and opportunities in the year ahead.

“With the industry’s focus on product innovation and high expectations of subscription revenue, 2024 is shaping up to be a promising year of growth and development for digital publishers.

“I am pleased to see ESG remains high on the agenda; though it will be important to ensure we all maintain the momentum of progress.”

George Paton-Williams, Senior Marketing Manager at mediarithmics, said: “We were thrilled to partner with the AOP on its annual survey: the bellwether for digital publishers in the UK.

“2024 will be a year that demands change from publishers to adapt to the well-publicised challenges in digital media.

“In response to these challenges, this report shows publishers have a clear strategy with some well-defined priorities to drive growth. And I’m confident about their success.”