Apple is making changes to its news service, including a deal with Verizon to sell ads and new guidelines for publishers, as it tries to make the platform more accessible to marketers and media.
On Thursday, Verizon Media won the right to sell ads for Apple News and Apple Stocks in Canada, Australia and the U.K. Verizon Media is the entity built from the acquisitions of Yahoo and AOL. Verizon touted the deal as a way for advertisers to tap into its automated ad network to place native, display and video ads in the "brand safe" Apple News.
Meanwhile, NBC Universal announced this week that it extended an exclusive deal first struck in 2016 to sell Apple News ad inventory in the United States.
“For Verizon and NBC, they love to have the additional ad inventory to sell,” says Brian Wieser, GroupM’s global president of business intelligence. “And Apple doesn’t necessarily want to invest in the sales force to maximize the value of that inventory.”
These deals give Verizon and NBC rights to choice ad inventory in the Apple News environment, like the “top stories” section, which features articles from a variety of publications. The other publishers can sell ads in their proprietary channels and articles, while NBC and Verizon fill any leftover ad space.
The terms of the deals were not disclosed, so it’s unclear how much money Verizon and NBC guaranteed to Apple to control the ad sales. Apple, Verizon and NBC declined to comment for this story.
Apple News is popular, attracting 90 million readers a month in the United States, according to comScore, but it has been a challenge for many publishers. “The money is underwhelming,” according to one top publishing ad sales executive, who works closely with Apple and spoke on condition of anonymity. It’s a sentiment that has been shared by a number of publishing partners participating in Apple News (and Apple News Plus, the $10 all-you-can read monthly subscription service).
There are a number of reasons the service is tough terrain for publishers. One is Apple’s strict privacy rules, which mean that publishers don’t get granular insights into who reads their stories. Apple also puts restrictions on how advertisers can use data to target ads and then measure their effectiveness on Apple News.
The Apple deals give NBC and Verizon unique integration with the platform, which could make working with them more attractive than doing deals with individual publishers.
This week, NBC shared new information about ad sales on Apple News, claiming that brands are pouring in. “We increased the number of advertisers on the platform by 2X,” NBC said in its online statement about the renewed deal. It did not say how many advertisers in total or mention revenue, however.
NBC Universal shares 12 of its media brands to Apple News, including “Saturday Night Live,” “Today,” and NBC News.
Meanwhile, Verizon Media owns properties like Yahoo News, Huffington Post and TechCrunch.
Verizon and NBC now have sales rights in different regions, but publishers like Bloomberg News and The Washington Post can sell their own ads on their Apple News channels and articles. The recently updated guidelines say that those publishers get to keep 100 percent of the revenue from ads they sell. They keep 70 percent of the ads Apple sells (through its deals with Verizon and NBC) into their articles and channels. And publishers get a cut of half the revenue from ads sold into the communal areas of the app.
Apple quietly released an update to its publisher guidelines this month, spelling out more clearly how media companies can operate on its platform. The guidelines cover types of ads available—including display, native and video ads—brand safety issues, privacy policies and advertising specifications. Here’s what publishers should know:
The updated policy guidelines provide a unique look at what exactly Apple considers too offensive for marketers—topics publishers should avoid if they want ads to appear in their channels. “As part of our commitment to a brand-safe environment for publishers, ads won’t display in the following Apple News sensitive content categories: Accidents and disasters; Corporate crime; Historical events; Obesity; Reckless endangerment; War and unrest,” Apple’s guidelines say.
For news publishers, those topics can cover much of their content.
The "brand safety" categories “sound like a direct response to Facebook and YouTube,” says Clare Carr, vp of marketing at Parsely, an analytics platform for publishers.
Apple’s strategy is to differentiate itself from Facebook and Google, where advertisers have been most concerned about having their messages appear alongside potentially toxic material, Carr says. “Apple is saying we’ve built these safe audiences for you and you should be spending money here,” Carr says.
Last month, Parsely reached a deal with Apple to help publishers measure their audiences on Apple News, so they can get a sense of how many people read articles.
Apple is prodding the entire digital publishing industry to think more in terms of contextual ads, which are based on a webpage’s content, not on personal behavioral data derived from tracking people online. Apple has made changes to its Safari web browser making it more difficult for publishers and advertisers to conduct such tracking. Facebook and Google have had to respond with similar tools to help users cover their online tracks.
Apple’s rules allow for only a handful of third-party companies to integrate with its platform to provide automated digital ad services, such as reporting on the performance of the ads.
“If Apple News’ publishing tools and analytics were easier I think you’d see more small publishers using it and getting incremental revenue from ads or subscriptions,” says Jason Clampet, co-founder of Skift, a travel and hospitality media company. “But those are really walled off now for only the biggest players, and those guys are always going to complain that it doesn’t deliver them enough money.”
Hear more about the challenges facing publishers at Ad Age Next: Publishing on Nov. 14. Buy tickets here.