Google has a long history of working with agencies, but its push for premium video – resulting in more direct relationships with publishers – may alienate it from its longtime partners.
A seeming point of contention is Google Partner Select, a video exchange established in 2014, promising exclusive access to 30 premium publishers.
Typically, Google has worked closely with agencies – primarily for search – through its Google Partners program, meant for agencies managing at least $10,000 in AdWords spend over the previous three months.
But Partner Select is video-specific and is designed to connect Google directly to premium video inventory from publishers, which Google then supplies to blue-chip brand advertisers like BMW and Allstate.
Although agencies will still facilitate some of those buys on behalf of Partner Select brands, there are some questions about Google's shifting role in the equation since agencies have historically facilitated relationships between publishers and advertisers.
“My feeling is Google needs me more than I need them,” said one senior executive in charge of video business at a global agency trading desk. “From a data and technology standpoint, they’ve pretty much got everything they need. But without us, they have no way of going to a publisher and saying they have demand.
“If we give them that right – access to content and relationships – we’re shooting ourselves in the foot. I want that direct relationship with the publisher.”
Partner Select supposedly gives broadcast or publisher partners access to brand advertisers, and it gives advertisers a vetted pool of premium supply. But Google hasn’t clearly defined “premium,” nor has it stated how much inventory is available.
Speaking with AdExchanger recently, Google’s VP of display and video advertising, Neal Mohan, said Google is delivering programmatic demand and “meaningful reach and engagement” to its stable of Partner Select publishers, including Fox News and HGTV.
“Premium” is basically an industry code word loaded with cheerful suppositions.
“Premium is something that gives advertisers peace of mind and it suggests audience/content quality, minimal ad fraud, higher completion rate and engagement,” explained Sarah Baehr, SVP of digital for the Dentsu Aegis Network agency Carat.
The challenge remains that there's a premium video supply shortage. This shortage is exacerbated because many publishers still prefer to place their video inventory in a private auction or to monetize via pre-existing relationships with sell-side platforms like FreeWheel and LiveRail.
But brand advertisers want programmatic access across video publishers, which Google offers through its Partner Select program. The question is whether this program provides Google with enough inventory to satiate advertisers’ appetites.
As Vik Kathuria, global chief media officer for Razorfish, predicted, “The choicest inventory with higher margins will stay with the publishers and remnant will be transacted via Partner Select.”
“My thought is it’s too early to determine impact on delivery,” noted Baehr. But she said she doubts the program will amass sizable scale right off the bat because “the publishers listed have direct buys to deliver on and have suggested that they sell out.”
And Google needs access to more varied sources of video inventory, because YouTube isn’t exactly a brand advertiser magnet yet.
Certainly YouTube is doing well. On the company’s Q4 earnings call, interim Chief Business Officer Omid Kordestani said YouTube has more than 1 billion users, watch time is up 50% year over year and mobile ad revenue on YouTube was up 100% year over year.
But advertisers aren’t fully convinced. YouTube has a glut of user-generated content, but there isn’t a lot of premium content that marketers want to advertise against. And Google already has a program – called Google Preferred – designed to monetize the top 5% of YouTube inventory.
Advertisers also complain that YouTube targeting parameters leave a lot to be desired and that video competitors like AOL and Amazon have prioritized original content.
For publishers, the benefit of working with Google is access to a specialized audience.
“The reason these publishers would make a special deal with Google is if Google promises demand within their walled garden that you can’t get to otherwise,” said one agency exec. “They’re not going to sign up to sell to Google’s customers at a cheaper rate. There would have to be some form of guarantee to maximize yield.”
But some insiders question whether this is Google’s way of forcing its ad tech down advertiser throats.
“The only way I can get access to that Partner Select inventory is to buy it through DBM (DoubleClick Bid Manager, Google’s buying platform) and I don’t even have a relationship with DBM,” said an agency exec, whose sentiment was shared by another who claimed the same, that Partner Select is DBM-specific. “It’s a carrot/stick for them and shame on anyone in my position who eats that carrot.”