Mediagene Inc. is a leading player in the Japanese Internet media scene. Based in Tokyo, the company publishes Gizmodo, Lifehacker and Kotaku in Japan under license from Gawker media. It also runs its own women’s titles, Cafeglobe, MY LOHAS and Glitty alongside news sites Roomie and the Android update service Tabroid.

Across its eight sites, Mediagene gathers 145 million page views from about 20 million unique users every month and CEO Motoko Imada believes the future of her business depends on understanding exactly what every member of that audience cares about.

Working with DMP supplier Cxense, Mediagene analyses its own audience data to deliver content and advertising that is highly relevant to individual users. “The data collected by Cxense is very fast, so we can analyse what is going on in real-time,” she says. “We can provide what the audience wants to read now, which increases our page views, our audience satisfaction, and our advertising revenues”.

Mediagene defines itself as a ‘targeted media’ business, serving narrow, but highly engaged audiences that care passionately about very specific subject areas.

Gizmodo Japan is typical; more than 7 million visitors to the gadget site deliver almost 70 million page views a month. The audience – 90 percent male, with 60 percent aged between 36 and 45 – visits frequently for news about the latest gadgets, from PCs, smartphones, cameras and tablets to robots. Almost 40 percent visit 50 times a month with just under 20 percent visiting 200 times a month. “That’s more than 8 times a day” says Imada, “These are super-heavy users”.

But even with an audience this engaged, Imada says display advertising rates collapsed, forcing Mediagene to look to new revenue streams. She believes the answer lies in content marketing, native advertising and real-time audience analytics.

Targeted media offers content marketers the opportunity to place brand stories at the centre of a specialist ‘information ecosystem’. “Sponsored content ads are very efficient,” Imada says, quoting the results of an attribution test done on a sponsored article about Sony cameras. “Sony did the attribution test with Mediagene. They found that 36 percent of the people who bought the camera had read a sponsored post about it on Gizmodo.”

Mediagene also sees an opportunity to maximise content distribution for specialist, sponsored content beyond its own sites. Sponsored content from the womens’ site Glitty placed in a mainstream news app called Antenna achieved a reach of 3 million and did very well in a brand lift survey for the cosmetics featured. The rate of recognition for the product was 44 percent up amongst those who had read the post; interest was up 36 percent up and desire to purchase was up by 30 percent.

“Our content changed attitudes,” explains Imada. “It sent people to social reviews and catalogue pages and 9 percent of those who saw the post bought the cosmetic within a week.”

Seeing this success, the company has created a premium content distribution network using audience data from selected, targeted publishers. The network, called Brand Connect, is controlled by publishers with native ads placement optimised using audience and content matches.

“We talked to other media companies in Japan and signed up several premium targeted media players,” explains Imada. “Ads will be placed with 100 percent audience data, sometimes with 100 percent content data, and sometimes 50-50 audience and content data.”

Imada points out that precise ad and content targeting is key and that this relies on strong audience data insights. “We distribute ads only when the audience data matches. This is efficient for brands and for the audience. Also, we only distribute content when the audience data matches; this is good for the audience,” she explains.

As more and more brands use programmatic marketing techniques, Imada is clear that media companies should not be giving away their audience data by participating in native ad networks. “If we release out data to others, as we did with display ads, we won’t be able to continue in the media business any more. This could be the last chance for us, but it could be a big chance.”

The Cxense DMP used by Mediagene delivers automatic capture of a wide range of user and traffic data, allowing ads and content to be targeted against specified categories, keywords, day and time, geography and device. Imada says, “It gives us content insight and audience insight in real-time, we can make predictions in real-time.”

Imada worries that media companies are not taking control of their own data and says publishers need to regain control of the advertiser value chain. “Brands and technology companies have data, but not media. We as publishers are empowered to maximize revenues through big data; Audience data is where we change the game.”