Sovrn Perspectives

Part 1: Future Proofing Amid Uncertainty

Sovrn Advertising Team // January 9, 2024

Sovrn Perspectives: A Four-Part Series

At the beginning of every year, there are countless articles attempting to predict what the new year will bring. But one thing we’ve learned with absolute certainty is that the future is unpredictable.🤔

So, rather than throwing out wild speculations, this series offers perspective from two people who are uniquely attuned to the challenges and opportunities facing publishers today: Sovrn CEO Walter Knapp and President Chris George. They recently sat down with us to talk about where publishers should focus their efforts in 2024 to thrive. Up first: dealing with uncertainty.

Walter Knapp, CEO
Chris George, President

Chris George: When it comes to future-proofing amid uncertainty, publishers need to focus on three high-level initiatives:

  1. Investing in editorial quality to deliver what readers expect
  2. Developing a smart, efficient publishing infrastructure
  3. Creating and instituting the right audience and data strategies as cookie deprecation begins

Editorial Quality

CG: Over the last several years, many publishers have focused on diversifying their revenue streams — which is the right thing to do. But they tried to do it by building their own technology in many cases. All of those initiatives required material investments of capital, which unfortunately siphoned dollars and resources from their core business of creating the content that readers want.

Walter Knapp: When publishers deliver quality content they create a persistent and loyal relationship with an important audience.

Advertisers want to participate in that relationship. They need attentive, relevant audiences to drive their desired outcome (whether that’s a sale, a lead, a recommendation, or whatever). 

When physical magazines were the norm, editorial teams worked really hard to ensure ads were beautiful, engaging, and matched the content. At many print magazines, ads are a key component of the editorial makeup. As a result, those ads perform better for the advertiser while also creating a great reader experience. 

CG: I totally agree, and this is why so many publishers find themselves in trouble. They’re devaluing their editorial product in an attempt to make more money. Instead, they should be thinking about creating a quality experience — which starts with quality content — and then expanding those relationships in new directions.  

Efficient, Independent Infrastructure

CG: As publishers pivoted to building the tech to diversify at the expense of delivering quality content, many are finding it difficult to scale it enough to meet escalating revenue expectations. In addition, in the race to diversify and monetize with more and more ads, they let their website experience degrade and CMS tools atrophy. Many are now retrenching and looking for partners to handle the technology side of the business in order to invest more into editorial. Technology should be the easiest part of the job as there are a number of mature, highly performant options available to publishers. This is not an area where you should be starting from scratch.

WK: Time and again, I’ve seen publishers chase things that take them away from their core mission of developing a loyal and persistent relationship with an important audience. 

Data centers are a great metaphor. Twenty years ago, if you wanted to have the infrastructure and computing power to operate your business, you had to build & manage your own data center. Today, cloud systems like Amazon Web Services or Google Cloud Platform do the infrastructure job for you — without you even having to think about the underlying technology. 

Metaphorically speaking, today’s digital publishers are doing the same thing. Focus on what matters most and put your investments there.

CG: Another challenge is platform dependency — which is a problem that publishers have faced for the last decade. They’ll catch a boost in traffic from a platform like Facebook or in affiliate conversion rates from Amazon, and they start to become overly reliant on those platforms to drive business outcomes. We’ve seen that hurt publishers time and again, because they alter their strategy to focus on those walled garden platforms. 

And let’s be honest — those platforms aren’t there to serve the publisher. They have their own business goals, and they’ll make changes as they see fit. We’re seeing it right now as Google integrates AI into their search results page. If that reduces traffic to publisher sites by 30 or 40%, so be it, because adding AI delivers a stickier experience for Google users and a more lucrative model for Google.

So succeeding on the open web requires a certain level of discipline. You certainly want to link to Amazon and optimize for Google, but you’ve got a problem if 90% of your commerce affiliate revenue comes from those sources. So when we talk about future proofing, publishers really need to take inventory of their dependencies and think about how they can diversify more effectively.

Data Strategy Amid Cookie Deprecation

WK: As it stands today, most SSPs are predominantly a conduit to demand. Their technology provides the path, but that’s only commodity value they add to the transaction. That needs to change. SSPs need to be a “decision-support” partner that adds value to the equation in terms of better, more relevant ads and more money in the publisher’s pocket. 

CG: Absolutely. As technology advances and things get more complex, SSPs can help publishers navigate those changes and make sure they’re optimized for the current conditions. Third-party cookie deprecation is a good example of that. 

Now is the time for publishers to dig in and truly understand their audiences — and who is engaged — in order to effectively monetize their traffic. After years of advertisers relying on third-party cookies, there’s more pressure than ever to get results from every dollar. Having smart tools to help segment high quality inventory and set optimal market prices for your most valuable impressions is critical to ensure the highest possible yield.

Read More

Walter Knapp and Chris George discuss the importance for publishers to find good partners to work with to be successful. Read part 2 here.

Visit the Sovrn blog for more insights to help you grow your business on the Open Web — or contact us at for more information about our comprehensive suite of publisher tools for commerce, advertising, and data.

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