The Case for Independent Publishers as Premium

by | Jun 7, 2024

I saw the recent list of 100 Premium Publishers report from The Trade Desk (TTD) and it got me thinking about the often overlooked class of Independent Publishers and making the case for them as Premium Publishers, especially around streaming since 66 of the top 100 from the list are TV networks and streaming services.

TTD’s report draws attention to the major players dominating the space (in other words, the largest publishers), which are no doubt on a premium level. However, amidst this focus on established giants that bring a perceived level of scale like no other, it’s crucial for advertisers to recognize the value that smaller, independent publishers bring to the table. While they may have a smaller reach of larger entities, these independent publishers offer unique advantages that can be strategically leveraged for premium advertising.


One of the most compelling reasons to consider smaller independent publishers as a premium option for advertisers is their ability to cultivate highly engaged and loyal audiences. Unlike larger publishers, where content can be broad and general, independent publishers tend to cater to niche markets. Take The Red Green Show, one of our CTV properties and channels, as an example. Chances are you haven’t heard of the show (the show ended in 2006 after 15 seasons), yet it has more than a million fans, mostly men, who enjoy the show, interact with the brand regularly, and watch more than a million hours of the show each month in streaming. It’s not quite the scale to land on any popularity list, but with such a high level of fan engagement and consumption, premium certainly comes to mind when describing it.

The FAST streamers, many on the TTD premium publisher list, have certainly honed in on this kind of premium content by offering fans single IP channels, estimated to be 30% of all FAST channels, that range from general ratings hits like Baywatch, NFL and Saturday Night Live to the more obscure and specialized like Dance Moms, Billiards and The Red Green Show. The more specialized content tends to resonate deeply with its audience, fostering a sense of community and trust, something advertisers can translate into higher engagement rates and more meaningful interactions with potential customers. 

Premium to whom?

The idea that a publisher achieving grand scale is synonymous with premium can be deceiving. Disney+, for example, is at the top of the TTD premium list and boasts more than 111 million subscribers, but only about 22.5 million ad-supported subscribers and an estimated 45% aged 2-17. It would be tough to kick Disney+ off any premium list, but if you take the user dilution into account and look at Disney+ through the lens of an advertiser wanting scale across a broad adult audience for a fair price, a case could be made that Disney+ might be better suited on the same list with the likes of The Red Green Show on the independent, niche publisher list.

Quality Niche Content and Audiences

High-quality, original content is a typical defining trait of any premium publisher, large and independent publishers alike, and it’s what attracts ad budgets. However, independent publishers tend to have advantages by focusing on more precise, niche content without the pressure to churn out massive amounts of material to satisfy a broad audience. While ad buyers tend to direct budget to the largest audiences, usually as the path of least resistance (i.e. Easy), it’s the independent publishers and the focus on thoughtfully crafted content that’s tailored to a passionate fan base that can often yield higher engagement rates for ad campaigns.

“In the long tail, the uniqueness of the content is essential… We need to find a way to incentivize new and interesting content because I think that’s one of the great sort of promises of independent publishing,” Rocky Moss of said during a Zoom discussion focused on the value of independent publishers.

Flexibility and Innovation

Smaller publishers have the agility to innovate and adapt quickly to changing market trends. They are often more willing to experiment with new formats, creative ad integrations, and even pricing. This flexibility can be a significant advantage for advertisers looking to implement bespoke campaigns or explore cutting-edge advertising solutions that align closely with a brand’s specific needs and objectives, something that can be more challenging to negotiate with larger, more rigid platforms.

While advertisers desire to focus the bulk of their efforts on large, named publishers, the reality is that advertisers and their gatekeepers should not dismiss publishers unable to meet arbitrary levels of scale, have unfamiliar content, or lack strong name recognition because it might just be that millions of passionate fans identify with the content and interact at a premium level of engagement.