Two publisher-backed ad tech initiatives have reported advances in their bids to take on the US media/technology giants and compete in a world without cookies.

Ozone is an online advertising technology and sales collaboration between the UK’s leading online publishers. Mantis is a contextual targeting solution created by Reach which serves advertising based on what people are reading (rather than who they are).

Both offer access to a monthly audience approaching the size of that offered by Google and Facebook and hope to claw back a tiny proportion of a UK ad market which is dominated by those two giants. The duopoly currently make around £15bn in UK advertising revenue every year versus around £2bn going to every UK newspaper and magazine brand combined in print and online.

Declining publisher ad revenue has contributed to the loss of thousands of journalism jobs in the past year and prompted some to see ad-funded journalism on the open web as endangered.

Reach data-sharing deal with Amazon Publisher Services

Reach has announced a deal via its Mantis platform whereby it shares information about what the publisher’s estimated 35 million monthly users are reading across its network with Amazon Publisher Services. The move means Reach ads will be sold programmatically but at a premium on a private market for Amazon Ads customers.


The deal is said to be a UK first and is significant because it offers a way to charge a premium for programmatically sold advertising without relying on the third-party cookies currently used to track reader behaviour which are being phased out of Google’s dominant Chrome web browser.

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Reach group digital director Terry Hornsby said: “The open market programmatic landscape can be challenging, but we are taking steps to make it more effective, enriching the open market itself with high-quality data and vastly improving targeting opportunities for respected partners such as Amazon.

“We know that by directly sharing signals between media owner and buyer we can better guarantee the richness and accuracy of our contextual signals, ultimately increasing ad effectiveness. This will allow us to increase our yields while providing a more straightforward experience for advertisers – a win-win.”

Ozone defies market to grow revenue

Ozone, which launched five years ago, is a joint venture between News UK, Guardian Media Group, Reach and The Telegraph. It represents 20 publishers with a combined monthly audience of 42 million.

Ozone chief operating officer Danny Spears (pictured) told Press Gazette the platform grew its revenue last year for the fifth year in a row (as many individual publishers saw ad revenue declines). And he said its solution delivers between three and five times what publishers would receive selling advertising on the open web.

Ozone uses technology to help publishers exploit their own first-party audience data and it employs salespeople who directly sell campaigns across the network.

Like Mantis, Ozone does not rely on those endangered cookies. Instead, it gathers behavioural data and signed-in user information from its publisher partners to enhance the effective targeting of advertising.

Spears described Ozone as: “A means for publishers to take their audience to market as a collective and compete with platform budgets.”

It also sells its own technology to publishers around the world to enable them to make more effective use of their online advertising.

In 2022, Ozone reported revenue (which mainly comes from its commission on advertising sold) up 30% year-on-year to £32m and it had 75 staff.

Spears said Google has been selling bundles of publisher advertising inventory itself via its own Google Display and Video 360 advertising sales, planning and reporting business for ten to 15 years.

He said: “Ozone is an opportunity for publishers to take an active seat at the table, take objective decisions around participation and a more beneficial share as a result.”

End of third-party cookies on Chrome could be publisher opportunity

Spears noted that while Google plans to turn off third-party cookies on Chrome this year, challenges over the addressability of advertising on publisher websites date back far further as 60% of publisher audience is already anonymous. He also sees the end of cookies as a potentially historic opportunity for publishers to play a role in reshaping the online advertising market.

He said: “For all of the risk and disruption this represents, it’s possible Google’s change will serve as a catalyst to a market that’s already in distress. For the last 15 years ad tech’s value extraction from publishing has been empowered by third-party cookies and that is about to change.

“In theory scaled publishers who have rich first-party ID assets and audience assets should be more valuable than they are today where there is scarcity around those assets.”

Spears added: “Publishers need to act, it is a crossroads moment. The question for the publishers is are they happy playing on the fringes of their own industry, which is today dominated by ad tech, or do they want to take this opportunity to rearchitect the market?

“The decisions that are made here will determine publisher economics for the next decade or so. This is ultra high stakes.”

Why are the tech platforms ever growing their ad share while publishers decline?

“The reason for that disconnect is in big part down to video growth and social growth – neither of which news publishers do a good job of tapping into it – that explains the structural disconnect.”

Despite Ozone’s huge audience, why does it command such a tiny share of the advertising market as compared with Google and Facebook?

“We’ve had to be pragmatic, we want to help publishers compete with platforms but we don’t have anything like the level of resource.

“They have done a fantastic job from a product perspective, for all the problems they have caused. They have created a scaled product that is easy to invest in.

“We have to make it as easy to invest in quality journalism and original content as Google makes it to invest in the long tail. Stopping platforms in their tracks is not Ozone’s focus, it can’t be – that’s where regulators play an important role in making sure at least there is a fair and reasonable playing field for us and everyone else to compete in.”

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