This story is part of a series on publisher coalitions and co-ops around the world. Read our earlier pieces on Pangaea and the Association of Online Publishers in the UK, La Place Media in France and SouthernX in Africa.
In Greece and Romania, online publishers seeking an alternative to Google joined Project Agora, a publisher coalition led by ad-tech company TailWind and the first to launch in Southeast Europe.
Project Agora’s marketplace launched in December. In the first 60 days, it monetized 36 million impressions in Greece and 21 million impressions in Romania, where the eCPM was 0.61 euros. It's a modest volume, but the results so far are impressive.
During the launch period, click-through rates averaged .23% in Greece, and viewability averaged 62%, compared to a country average of 45%.
“Towards the end of the year, we are going to over-deliver to guaranteed 100% viewability,” according to MRC standards, said Odysseas Ntotsikas, managing director of ThinkDigital Group, TailWind's parent company.
Early buyers have included international names like Air France, Vodafone, Emirates, BMW, Mondelez and Skoda. This pleased member publishers, who rarely do direct deals with many of these large international brands.
“We knew that programmatic buying was already working in other markets in the EU and US, and that soon it would be a necessity in the Greek market as well,” said Savvas Vitalis, online media sales manager at coalition member Star.gr.
Including Star.gr, Project Agora has attracted 18 media companies with 43 websites in Greece, and eight media companies with 81 websites in Romania. It plans to expand to other countries, like Hungary and Dubai, soon.
TailWind’s parent company, ThinkDigital Group, operates a sales house in Southeast Europe, which also represents publishers like Facebook, Microsoft and Daily Motion. ThinkDigital also controls a performance marketing agency and trading desk.
“We’re making liquidity in the market. We are acting as a facilitator in the whole process, creating this trusted, independent space between publishers and buyers where they can transact,” Ntotsikas said. “The difficult and challenging part was to unite players that were competing up until that point.”
Part of that trust comes from its revenue model. “We are making a commission out of the clearing prices that is the same across the publishers. Publishers have access to the platform,” Ntotsikas said. “We need to give them transparency and full visibility, so they understand we’re on the side of the publisher, and not an ad network trying to arbitrage between the two.”
It’s also embarking on an educational mission. “In emerging markets, they have heard about programmatic, and probably tested the solutions that are available, but there is a huge lack of education and knowledge on this issue. There was mistrust in exposing their inventory in this way, that CPMs would go down and would cannibalize direct sales,” Ntotsikas said.
But a desire to combat a common foe, Google, galvanized publishers. “They all wanted to have an alternative to Google,” Ntotsikas said. “Google dominates these markets. In Greece, Google has 70% of the overall market, and in Romania, 60%. This is due to the fragmentation that exists in the market,” with many small publishers scrambling for the remainder of the market share.
But not all publishers joined Project Agora. Another group, composed mainly of Greek publishers who dominate media like broadcast and print, is creating its own exchange, which has not yet launched.
Project Agora is also educating the local buy side, which is currently unfamiliar with programmatic tools. “Local agencies do not have access to [demand-side platforms] yet,” Ntotsikas said. “We’re working to provide them with the technology and educate them.”
That means working with international trading desks: IPG’s trading hub Cadreon in Budapest, GroupM’s Xaxis in London, and Publicis’ VivaKi in Amsterdam. “In some cases, we are doing deals with the local guys, and execution is done by the hubs,” Ntotsikas said.
It’s slowly increasing supply to meet demand. Project Agora manages 250 million impressions, but only finds buyers for a fraction of them. In March, it expects to monetize 60 million of these impressions, a 110% increase compared to February.
For Romania’s Digital Antena TV group, the “positive trend we see in terms of quantity and quality of the sales” is driving the partnership, according to company head Augustin Roman.
Ntotsikas said Project Agora is giving publishers significantly higher CPMs than the Google Display Network: CPMs in Greece were 10 times as high, and in Romania they were six times as high.
Fill rates, however, are lower.
“In markets like ours, you need to create the supply and the demand. We’ve started with a minimum commitment from the publishers, which is 10-30% of their remnant inventory, until we build the demand,” Ntotsikas said.
Project Agora uses AppNexus to power its marketplaces and Lotame as its data-management platform. It’s created 15 demographic segments, including “business travelers,” “politicos,” “young parents” and “urban hipsters.”
This year, Project Agora plans to enable more rich media and IAB Rising Star units to flow through the platform, and to add video “as soon as there is enough remnant inventory to justify creating a marketplace,” Ntotsikas said. It currently serves ads in mobile web, but will add in-app ads as the marketplace continues to grow.
Publishers hope Project Agora will facilitate a flight to quality.
“As a premium publisher, we expect an elevation from the flat ‘all is the same’ approach to a more sophisticated, efficient market that rewards quality," said Tina Dimiza, Internet and new media director at Greek publisher and broadcaster Skai.