Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Programmatic Predictions: Ben Hancock, Head of Programmatic, CNN International Commercial

For NDA’s Programmatic Month, we’re asking some of our favourite people for their predictions for programmatic technologies and advertising in 2021. We spoke to Ben Hancock, Head of Programmatic, CNN International Commercial.

  • What impact has the events of 2020 had on the programmatic advertising industry and how is it recovering?

During 2020 programmatic has proved a demonstrably robust channel while many others have struggled.  Advertisers have looked to programmatic to quickly reach defined audiences at scale, while maintaining budget flexibility during a time of great uncertainty.  Specifically, we have seen growth from advertisers across the tech sector.

Particularly in Q4 CNN’s compelling and acclaimed coverage of the US election was sought after on global scale as audiences looked for news they can trust.  Programmatic technology enabled us to efficiently monetise dramatic spikes in traffic.

  • What is the biggest opportunity in programmatic for 2021, and why?

Better and more direct buy-seller partnerships.  2020 has seen has been the release of ISBA’s ‘Programmatic Supply Chain Transparency Study’ which clearly showed the challenges with buying across the open web (15% unknown delta, advertisers appearing on 40,000+ sites) – this has really been the culmination of a number of trends and concerns around the market.

However, by working directly with CNN our clients can access a deeper connection with our brand, audience and content.  We are starting to see moves towards this ambition on the buy-side through the rise of ‘curated marketplaces’ where buyers work exclusively with a smaller number of premium publishers. I expect this trend to only increase in 2021.

  • What is the biggest challenge that programmatic faces in the year ahead, and why?

Solving the identity challenge – the decisions the market collectively makes in the next year or two will likely define the next 10 years.

On one hand, the 3rd party cookie is going away, the result of years of over-use in the industry by following the mantra of more data, more analysis and more attribution to solve every problem.  Increased regulation and Google’s decision to remove the 3rd party cookie in Chrome reflects consumer fatigue and privacy concerns.

 However, on the other hand, it’s important to remember that 1st party cookies aren’t going anywhere.  At CNN we have invested in our own technology to enable deeper and more nuanced contextual targeting as a way of reaching our audience in the most meaningful and appropriate way.

  • What channels will fare best? And worst?

The Audio market is nascent but has seen huge growth in audience and ad supply.  The technology is starting to come together creating a viable eco-system to offer a valuable product to the buy-side.  CNN has invested in Audio products and now produces 12 original podcasts and news briefs alongside 11 showcases of popular CNN and CNN International shows. A priority for 2021 is making the ad product around audio increasingly sophisticated with a strong programmatic element.

  • Crystal ball time: what do you most hope will happen in the industry? What do you most fear?

With the Identity challenge, there are multiple competing solutions and publishers are facing another layer of complicated technology.  The industry needs to come behind as few as possible taking into account the needs of the key stakeholders.