LONDON: Online publishers need to put more effort into retaining control over their first-party data while resisting the tendency of media buyers to dictate the value of their audiences, according to a new report.

The 2013 Content and Trends Census from the UK's Association of Online Publishers (AOP) found that 36% of its members thought their biggest corporate challenge was agency demands for their first-party data.

John Barnes, chairman of the AOP, described first-party data as one of the "crown jewels" – along with editorial content and overlays of third party data – which were essential to establishing the value of a publisher's inventory to advertisers.

He said the census had revealed that agencies were demanding this information "possibly to circumvent publishers and target consumers directly". Barnes also argued that publishers needed to protect this data, the result of their trusted relationships with readers, while finding ways of demonstrating its value without giving away key information.

These sentiments were echoed by Google's head of publishers at its UK partner Business Solutions division. Speaking at an AOP event in London, reported by The Drum, David McMurtrie warned that power and control currently resided with buyers who were able to choose the audience and the price.

"They are dictating to you as publishers what the value of your content and inventory is", he said. "You need to fight against that."

McMurtrie suggested that publishers can create unique packages based on their audience data that they could then trade while setting floor prices.

He also encouraged publishers to embrace programmatic and start trading more brand inventory this way rather than using it as a vehicle for remnant inventory.

The AOP census had noted publishers' greater interest in private marketplaces and real-time bidding, with 65% and 74% respectively expecting to increase participation in these spheres.

But they were less certain about the role of programmatic trading, with 39% saying it offered a major opportunity and 42% only a small one. The pressure from agencies was once again evident in the survey finding that 26% of publishers felt driven to use programmatic trading due to agency demands.

"It's all about advertising accountability," observed Tim Cain, head of research and insight at the AOP, adding that the growth of automated buying meant publishers could lose control.

"This year's Census shows they are finally acknowledging the role data can play at helping them to retain control," he added.

Data sourced from AOP, The Drum; additional content by Warc staff