Digiday Publishing Summit News & Notes

The Digiday Publishing Summit kicked off on March 29th at 2pm (MST). The event was 3 days long and featured some of the digital publishing industries biggest brands and most well-known thought leaders. We provided live updates on Twitter, and have a rundown of each day’s biggest and most important news and information below.

We highlighted the buzz that seems to be coming out of the conference and what some of the industries most influencers had to say about some of the current climate’s hottest topics.

digiday moguls

What we know ahead of the Digiday conference…

Prior to the Publishing Summit, Digiday organizes a premium, invite-only event for 50 of the industries top influencers to discuss hot-button topics and other ways to move the industry forward. Aside from skiing, here’s what was on their agenda…

  • Platform Publishing
  • Going Direct
  • Beyond Ads

The content inside of these discussions centered around several key top-of-mind topics.

digiday publishing summit vail

One of the hot topics was obviously viewability. This has become a hotter and hotter topic this year. As demand providers and publishers continue to seek greater transparency in this process; with some publishers claiming they will now only pay for viewable ads. I expect this to be a common question in hallway conversations all week long.

The other big subject (probably the biggest) is the impact of platforms, and more specifically, the duopoly. This is the subject of some of the most anticipated keynotes of the event and was a very heated subject during the Moguls event.

digiday duopoly

Digiday had a great write-up on exactly how some of these industry leaders were weighing in on the subject here.

We don’t own our audience!

The subject of how publishers should be treating 3rd party platforms is likely not to be solved at this event, but it will be interesting to see where some of the world’s top brands have settled on the subject. Many are wary of building on top of existing platforms but feel they must do it it to some degree to grow their business.

The key for all of these publishers is finding balance.

Lastly, the best summary I can give of some of the rest of the content discussed at the Moguls event is that it was regarding… transparency. Publisher’s want greater transparency from all sides. They want to ensure that when they market to users that they know where their ads are displaying. Conversely, when they work with demand providers and adtech businesses, they want to know where the money is going and who is really adding value and who isn’t.

This is a topic that will expand over the next few days and it will be interesting to see which way the wind is blowing.

Digiday Publishing Summit Day 1 News

Day 1 was very heavily influenced by two interrelated themes, the duopoly and brand building. These two things cannot be separated.

duoploy digiday

The CEO of Bloomberg media, Justin Smith, kicked off the day talking about these two subjects at length. He concedes that the duoploy is here because all other forms of monetization and audience reach have not been able to deliver the way these platforms have.

He went on to discuss why both Facebook and Google make publishers so vulnerable, and discussed some of the opportunities very large publishers might have to work with smaller platforms (like Twitter).

digiday news

His outlook was not all negative, though. He discussed how we are still in the infancy of digital advertising and quickly pointed out that digital advertising is still less than half of all advertising (with TV and Print still taking about 60%).

Ultimately, he offered a roadmap and some suggestions for publishers that want to mitigate the risks of the duoploy while still maintaining digital revenue growth.

The overarching theme of this was to build value in the brand and to think creatively about how you – as a brand – connect with your core audience.

digiday events

One of the big takeaways that I think can apply to all publishers was an emphasis on creativity and brand marketing. Differentiation will be key to publishers that want to succeed beyond the big platforms. Facebook and Google make content a commodity; regardless of quality. Having a brand that means something is a way to build value in your brand long term.

Some of the creative suggestions centered around possible e-commerce integration, subscription content, in-house creative, and a much more dynamic focus on user experiences to build better property loyalty.

Doubling down on brand to beat the duopoly

The next major speaker was the CRO of USA Today. He talked about how they were increasingly proud of how they had managed to “scale trust”. He claimed that because USA today connected journalists from hundreds of small U.S. markets to a global platform that they could provide a level of information diversity that gave them much higher quality content than the majority of the web.

usa today

His presentation focused on why building trust was a big key to them building their brand. They claimed that many publications can build brands that 50% of people will trust while the other 50% will never trust. Ultimately, branding and trust are inexorably linked for many media publishers. For USA Today, this seems to be a key part of their strategy.

He finished his presentation being asked if he trusted Facebook. His answer was basically, no. He summarized that Facebook essentially treats all content – fake news, real news, credible sources, unscrupulous sources – all the same. It’s up to publishers to overcome this and fight back.

Other interesting notes from Day 1

One other really interesting note I found fascinating was that almost every major publisher that spoke, championed newsletters and e-mail outreach for publishers that were trying to build their brand.

The idea being that it is a high-quality way to capture your existing audience and directly re-engage them. They touted statistics about trust via e-mail and controlling the referring links.

This is something I pushed almost 6 months ago for smaller publishers, yet e-mail marketing is hardly a new idea. I was surprised to see it get so much attention. Either way, I don’t think the sentiment is wrong.

Day 2 of the Publishing Summit… Brand, Brand, Brand

Day 2 of the Digiday Publishing Summit saw the industry momentum double down on brand building. The day kicked off with the founder of Mashable sharing their insights on brand building and changing strategies as digital media shifts around them.


Pete was very clear that Mashable had made some mistakes in the past. He identified those mistakes as a movement towards “more is better”. More content, more subjects, more everything would lead to more traffic and more ad impressions; however, he stated that this was the wrong strategy for the way the market incentives were shifting.

He discussed how Mashable had shifted to become a filter for their audience. He said that they needed to have a perspective that their audience would appreciate and recognize. This is how they are viewing their brand now.

snapchat media

Continuing on, Pete was very bullish on Snapchat for branded publishers. He said that all the big brands were already there and that they were going to be the future of video/television for these brands. This theme was present throughout the event; as brands seem interested in partnering with any platform that isn’t currently Facebook or Google.

digital media

Next up was the SVP of CBSi. He had a very strong stand on subscription content as a strategic mechanism for controlling their ad and content ecosystem. He referenced the current climate with Google showing ads next to extremist content as a means for justifying why this strategy was smart.

He finished talking about how quality needed to be a paramount attribute for publishers that wanted to pursue subscription content. He claimed that header bidding was helping with this process. He said header bidding was still in its early adoption phase.

playboy rebrand

Last up was the Brian Hoar from Playboy. It was one of the more interesting sessions of the day; as Playboy had recently been through a major rebrand. Brian admitted that this rebrand was mainly done to appease advertisers.

Brian talked about how Playboy had gone from being a magazine to a media/brand empire. This meant that elements of the Playboy brand had to change to remain connected to their audience.

Brian finished with talking about how they had previously just viewed Google and Facebook as brand building tools but were now viewing them as potential sources of monetization.

Interesting notes from Day 2

Trust for Facebook and Google are at an all time low among large publishers and major brands. For most of these organizations, it’s all about their brand right now. Ensuring that they are not commodity content lost on these major platforms.


For these brands, finding creative ways to enhance user experiences, provide better brand delivery, and better understanding their core audience seem to be some of the most important issues.


Artificial intelligence was also a major point publishers were interested in leveraging. Many of the publishers were interested in the research and data that companies like Ezoic had brought to the market.

You can see the rest of the major issues that publishers were concerned about on the picture of the board above.

That’s all of our coverage for now.