Prothom Alo successfully shifts from programmatic to direct ad revenue model

By Jessica Spiegel


Portland, Oregon, United States


In a growing digital advertising landscape that is constantly shifting, it’s critical for news publishers to keep optimisation in mind. To that end, ABM Jabed Sultan, chief digital business officer at Bangladesh’s Prothom Alo Digital, shared the company’s optimisation strategies during the recent INMA South Asia News Media Summit.

Prothom Alo is the top Bangladeshi and Bangla language site in the world, with more than 17 million monthly readers and more than 1 billion monthly ad impressions.The amount spent on digital advertising in Bangladesh is huge, Sultan told INMA members, and it’s still growing.

Programmatic vs. direct ad revenue

Over the past 10 to 12 years, Sultan said they’ve made an effort to shift ad revenue focus from programmatic to direct ads. Today, programmatic ad revenue only makes up 16% of their overall advertising revenue, while direct ad revenue makes up the remaining 84%.

Rather than discouraging programmatic, however, they’re “trying to optimise it more, to make more money with less inventory” because “direct ads generate at least 3.6 times higher revenue than programmatic for the same inventory.”

They’ve made an effort to increase direct ad revenue. So while the amount of revenue generated by programmatic advertising has stayed roughly the same for the last seven years, it’s become a smaller percentage of the total and therefore less crucial to their revenue goals. 

He did, however, acknowledge, it’s easier to accomplish this task if you’re already a “top brand like Prothom Alo.”

Challenges for publishers with direct ads vs. programmatic

Sultan outlined three major challenges news publishers face:

  1. Price: “We’re competing with much larger players whose offer is cheaper,” he said. The average CPM for programmatic is US$.18, compared to US$.65 or more for direct ads.

  2. Technology: The big players have more technology at their disposal, including retargeting users with real-time data.

  3. Convenience: Automated systems make it extremely convenient for advertisers to work with the big players, who offer efficiency, transparency, scalable and flexible spending, and larger reach.

But news publishers can overcome these challenges. “We’re hungry — we need food,” Sultan said. To that end, he shared five of Prothom Alo’s “signature recipes.”

  • Premium inventory: “We don’t sell impressions,” he said. “We only sell quality impressions.”

  • Options: The big players may offer fewer options, but “because it’s our platform, we can offer whatever formats we want to” with multi-format ad support.

  • Tailor-made content for brands: “We know storytelling. When we do tailored content for brands, it works better than an advertisement.”

  • Wide distribution across various platforms: Prothom Alo has a variety of platforms, including newspapers, magazines, apps, radio, social media, and even physical events. Campaigns can be distributed across all of them for greater magnification for the advertiser.

  • Contextual ad placement for better performance: “We know our content better than anyone else,” he said, so they’re better equipped to place ads where the content suits the brand.

Along with those “signature recipes,” Sultan said there are three additional considerations that help to optimise revenue.

“Rich media and innovative ad formats can help with higher ad revenue,” he continued, as can “trying to be a digital marketing solution partner for brands.” He added that “instream and outstream video ads can be the next big thing for text publishers.”

Since Prothom Alo “can’t afford some of the tools that have been mentioned” during this summit, Sultan said. “We’re trying to build our own programmatic platform that we can control.”

About Jessica Spiegel

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