Recap: The Arena Group Talks Video Strategy with EX.CO at AdMonsters Ops

July 05, 2023 - by

Both the publishing and digital ad industries are in a period of massive flux, with paradigm-shifting changes occurring on what feels like a monthly basis. From the depreciation of third-party cookies to the IAB's new guidelines surrounding in-stream and out-stream video, ongoing debates about whether or not AI will be good for the publishing industry—the list goes on. Publishers and advertisers alike are wondering: what's the best way to navigate this new environment, especially when it comes to video content?

One company that's been navigating the changes successfully and thriving under these new conditions is The Arena Group. The publisher has some of the most notable names in media under its umbrella, including Sports Illustrated, The Street, Parade, and Men's Journal. Recently, at Admonsters’ 2023 Ops Conference, The Arena Group COO Andrew Q. Kraft sat down with EX.CO’s co-founders, Tom Pachys (CEO) and Shachar Orren (CMO), to discuss this ever-shifting media landscape as well as how The Arena Group is approaching video to engage audiences. Read on for five key takeaways about where these industries are headed and what publishers and advertisers need to know to stay ahead.

1) The IAB's new guidelines might not be as scary as you think

As Kraft pointed out, there's no reason for publishers to be "scared of a standard"—because ultimately, most of what publishers put out video-wise will now simply be labeled 'accompanying content' under the IAB's new guidelines. Will in-stream get a bump? Sure. But for everyday publishers, it's not going to make much of a difference, at least financially, because the bulk of the money will be going to accompanying content, which is what publishers are already producing. And it’s the ability to automatically generate accompanying content at scale that has made EX.CO such a valuable partner for The Arena Group. 


2) Readers want the option of engaging with articles through video

Not long ago, The Arena Group was facing a problem: they knew that readers liked video; they knew that on-page video was good for monetization; but they didn't have access to enough content to put video on every webpage. Their custom videos often went viral, and their library of content provided useful highlights for certain pages, but 95% of their pages were still video-less.

Part of the problem here, as Kraft pointed out, was that it just wasn't economically possible to create or license a relevant video for every single webpage. Then they realized: what if you could convert the article itself to a video format, and give the audience the ability to engage with it that way?

This is where EX.CO came in: the technology allowed The Arena Group to auto-generate video that promotes other articles around the site. "And that made all the difference for us," said Kraft. As it turned out, readers really did want the video option: a significant percentage began to consume The Arena Group's content that way, significantly enhancing the on-site experience for their audience. That these videos also happened to "monetize really well," as Kraft put it, was only a happy bonus. 


3) "Data is everything"—but only if it's actionable

At the event, Kraft described what his team calls the "anomalies report." Every week, at The Arena Group's weekly finance meeting, it is someone's job to comb through the data and flag any abnormalities—basically, "what's weird," as Kraft put it. 

For instance, maybe the active cookie count dropped 10% on a site yesterday—the team would then dig into why that is and take actionable steps to remedy the problem. "If you have one takeaway as a publisher in this audience," Kraft said, "be data-centric. Because then you can find those anomalies, and those things will allow you to beat the industry norm." But Kraft also stressed the importance of actionable data—because "data that's not actionable is a waste of time."

4) When it comes to digital advertising, transparency is key

The world of online advertising is infamously murky—interests often conflict, and a full accounting of just how exactly ad dollars are being spent or distributed can be hard to come by. As Kraft said at the event, what he appreciates about EX.CO is their transparent demand management process and the careful decisioning around which demand source to deliver an impression to. EX.CO provides the best of both worlds: partners manage their own demand sources alongside ours, which allows them to optimize their yields with full control and transparency. 


5) The ad-buying process is changing for the better through machine-learning

Pachys comes from a product technology background and had a lot to say at the event about the ways that AI (or, as he clarified, machine-learning) are changing the nature of the advertising game for both advertisers and publishers. EX.CO, he said, has "actually tried to predict, for each segment of the audience—almost for each user—which price is the right one for them." 

Being able to predict what a given user is worth through machine-learning, Pachys said, can significantly increase the value of your inventory, at scale, in a way that would not be possible through (for instance) manual changing of CPMs on a given platform. "You just can't do that manually, no matter how big a team you have."

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