In our recent Global AdMetrics Report we showed an exponential rise in the availability of inventory from premium mobile publications via real-time bidding (RTB), increasing from 342 million requests in Q1 2013, to nearly two billion by Q3 2013 and then four billion in Q4 2013 (see image).

At the time, everyone knew that advertisers were embracing RTB. At byyd we have been charting the astonishing rise of programmatic mobile advertising since the tipping point in October 2012 when over half our mobile ad requests came from RTB-enabled inventory. As we said at the time, on this very website, RTB could become mobile advertising’s killer app, and we think we were right.

But this result also showed that publishers, with significant inventories, were also realising the benefits of RTB at the sell side.

There are several reasons for this:

  • Publishers reduce risk, by incorporating programmatic alongside other means of selling inventory. In straitened times, risk reduction is paramount.
  • They can introduce sophisticated pricing models to suit channel and inventory types, and widen their appeal.
  • They can differentiate through sponsorships and package deals alongside programmatic. This is where a publication’s sales team can really shine.
  • They can realise increased efficiency, especially through private marketplaces – and more efficiency leads to more margin.

However, while premium for desktop is a fairly well established concept, mobile is different.

What is premium on mobile?

So let us ask the first question: what is ‘premium’ on mobile? The online properties of large publishers are definitely premium, but in an era where the creators of Candy Crush could become multi-millionaires, definitions become hazy.

Perhaps it is better to take a step back and to being with, ask what premium is not. If we consider a working definition to be ‘the best’ inventory, then we immediately run into the problem of what we mean by ‘best’.

If we look at the ‘traditional’ premium publications, even before the advent of digital, it would have been those with the biggest circulations or the greatest vertical appeal, so that meant the broadsheets, red tops and glossies. Today, this roughly translates into a digital premium publication, as many of the paper-based outlets also have formidable digital operations, with loyal, profiled audiences.

But with mobile, it becomes harder to nail down. Mobile is exceptionally personal, so the people who subscribe to a large online publication will also have their collection of favourite apps which might bear little resemblance to the publication’s profile. How many Le Monde readers play Angry Birds for example? How many Telegraph readers play Candy Crush? How about a sneaky game of Vector before you open the Wall Street Journal?

It is a problem of definition. To use a social media analogy, when you think about a blog, and what defines it, you start to realise that really there is no absolute definition. Is it something you can comment on? If so, how is that different from a forum, or LinkedIn, or Facebook? If it’s a diary then how come some blogs have static home pages?

If it is all about RSS feeds then why do some websites have them? Why does Google News search have them? In fact, what really is the difference between a blog and any other site when you look closely enough?

Does it look like a duck?

I am a believer in the duck test. Widen your focus a little and if it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck and waddles like a duck, it is a duck. Perhaps this is how we define mobile premium, as a set of attributes that together indicate what something is. Here’s my take on a set of attributes that, for me, define mobile premium:

  • Professional design. This is often a real giveaway. Premium publications show some evidence of resource being ploughed into their look and feel –and this includes the interface design of the great games, however simple they may seem.
  • Quality content that is of real value to users. This is where the digital inventory of large publications really wins.
  • Properly integrated ads. They need to be designed into the site/app, with one per page, respecting the user experience while achieving standout, and not facilitating accidental clicks. It is part of the professional design piece, but one that pays attention specifically to the way the ads are treated – to benefit the audience as well as the publisher. Native ads can also be a great example of integration, and are often key to what makes premium.
  • Brand-safe environment for advertisers. This is extremely important, and something we take great measures to ensure.
  • Ability to employ the USPs of smartphones, such as location and personalisation, while respecting user privacy. Geolocation is a great means of mobile advertising, and rich media is too, but they both may make demands of user privacy. It is up to the premium publishers to ensure they do not abuse this.
  • High reach within the target audience. Again, this is what Angry Birds and the newspaper sites have in abundance, but reach alone does not make a premium site. Taken with the other attributes however, it is a fairly major one.
  • A quantifiable audience. If premium publications can offer insight through breakdowns by geography and demographics, they are using their data professionally.
  • This is how we characterise premium, and we think our definition is solid. Of course, when we talk to clients we discuss the best way for them to achieve their goals. But as a starting point, this works.

And what of the future? We will continue to watch how programmatic explodes across the mobile advertising space, both on the demand side, and with a keen eye on requests coming through from premium on the supply side. Perhaps our definitions will change, but I suspect we’ll still be using the duck test.