Apple's latest iOS is out, the news app is updated, and for publishers a new ad serving trial is under way with help from an unlikely ally, Google.
A select group of publishers are testing ad insertions into their Apple News pages using DoubleClick For Publishers, according to a number of publishing executives familiar with the trial. Publishers like Condé Nast, Gannett, Time Inc., CNN and other media partners have been in talks with Apple for months about changing the technology behind the ads in the popular news app. Many publishers already use Google's DoubleClick on their own properties and want the ability to just extend campaigns using their own tech.
"Apple is just starting to do more for monetization," said one digital publishing partner, speaking on condition of anonymity. "We're starting to get excited about it, but can only design and develop ad inventory for Apple News once we have the right pipes in place."
Apple News has close to 50 million monthly U.S. visitors, according to ComScore. It has become a meaningful source of traffic for many publishers, which have often struggled to turn mobile properties of their own into moneymakers. And it looks sleeker than ever with the recently introduced new iPhones and software. The iPhone X is on its way the iPhone's highest-definition screen yet.
The major gripe from publishers has been the ad set-up. Apple has a deal for NBC Universal to sell about half the inventory in its news apps, and publishers have the ability to fill ad inventory on their own pages within it, but most say it has not been lucrative.
Inviting a rival power like Google into Apple's system raises issues, of course, including the privacy concerns that Apple prioritizes more than Google. Apple has made advertising in News difficult for many publishers, not only by forcing them into its ad platform to serve ads in the news app, but also by restricting the type of data it allows for use in ad targeting.
Apple's latest Safari web browser, for example, automatically resets data collected by cookies, which are the only way publishers and brands get meaningful insights about the consumers visiting their pages and seeing their ads. On Apple News, the same data constraints prevent publishers from offering highly targeted ads. That negatively impacts the price of inventory, cutting it by at least half, according to one top publishing partner.
DoubleClick would not upend the data dynamic, publishers say, keeping their visibility into audiences very much in the dark. Still, it would be an improvement over the current system where they have to use Apple's ad program, which adds extra steps.
Apple Advertising Platforms is the proprietary ad technology that publishers can tap to serve ads into Apple News. It is a successor to the iAd service, which never took off as a third-party ad server.
"For publishers, it's all about ease of use," says another Apple publishing partner, speaking on condition of anonymity. "They want to serve ads the same way they do on their own sites or else it causes friction."
It's unclear which publishers are allowed to test DoubleClick on Apple News, but publishers reached for this article, speaking on condition of anonymity, say there was hope that the test would roll out to everyone before the end of the year.
It's also not clear whether the ad-sales deal with NBCU will be affected. NBCU and Google declined to comment. Apple did not provide a comment by press time. (UPDATE: A person familiar with the deal between Apple and NBCU says it will not be impacted by the news.)