News brands' Ozone Project eyes market 'tipping point'

Nine months after launch, the joint industry sales venture is open to taking on more publishers and is focusing on four key strategy areas.

DMS panel: Piers North (Reach), Dora Michail (Telegraph), Hamis Nicklin (The Guardian), Carter, Reeve and Campaign's Gideon Spanier
DMS panel: Piers North (Reach), Dora Michail (Telegraph), Hamis Nicklin (The Guardian), Carter, Reeve and Campaign's Gideon Spanier

The newspaper industry’s joint sales venture The Ozone Project is at a "tipping point" in becoming a significant force in the digital advertising market, News UK’s commercial chief believes.

For the first time, commercial heads from four of the UK’s biggest newspaper publishers appeared together to talk about their Ozone at Campaign’s Digital Media Strategies conference today in London.

Dominic Carter, commercal chief at The Sun publisher News UK, said it had taken time to introduce the venture to the market, but this year would see more advertisers and their media agencies coming on board.

To date, Ozone has run six major campaigns from brands, starting with homeware retailer Dunelm last Christmas, Ozone chief executive Damon Reeve explained. Betfair and Jet2 are also clients.

During a panel discussion, Carter said: "I’d say we’re at a tipping point. It’s difficult to think that you launch something and the whole market is going to switch overnight; it’s not. It takes time and you’ve got to prove you have a viable business proposition.

"But, as always, when you’re asking agency networks or independent agencies, they generally have to move from something to something. That takes time. 

"We’re pretty close to that tipping point right now. We’re seeing the market is starting to recognise that what we’ve got is pretty compelling. The proof points that Damon has just mentioned around Dunelm shows we are pretty close and starting to see a market roll-up in terms of the volume that will come to us."

Ozone was launched in Cannes in June 2018 to deliver a single sales point for newspapers’ digital ad inventory as an alternative to the open digital ad market, which is dominated Google and Facebook. 

Nine months into the venture, Reeve said Ozone is now focused on four areas:

  • Technical and data capability – recognising that its data-driven competitors are "sophisticated and smart", Ozone is trying to improve its data analysis. It is also focusing on protecting publishers’ assets and audience data by committing to removing third-party trackers off website pages by the end of 2019.
  • Audience engagement – getting advertisers and brands to engage more directly with publishers.
  • Collaboration – Ozone wants to "bring others on to our platform", in terms of increasing both the number of publishers and brands that are working directly with their own data.
  • Industry engagement and regulation – Ozone is trying to be more proactive in engaging with trade bodies such as the Internet Advertising Bureau around the issue of transparency, or the Competition & Markets Authority around regulating the digital ad industry.

Ozone has 18 members of staff, Reeve told the conference: 12 in the UK and six across the US and Poland, where technical engineers are based.

"We’re not trying to be an adtech company," Reeve insisted. "But we need to demystify what adtech is and what other inventory is going to give publishers control over the business – that’s the principle."

The four publishers claimed in September last year that their platform would reach a potential monthly UK audience of 42.5 million, putting it on a par with Facebook.