Supply-side platform AdSlot's pitch to help sell publishers' guaranteed inventory via programmatic methods begins with avoiding anything that acts like a private marketplace.
The company, which acquired ad agency workflow provider Facilitate Digital more than a month ago, has launched its Guaranteed Marketplace for direct online display sales this week. And, as AdSlot CEO Ian Lowe wants to make clear, this is not another attempt to make real-time bidding platforms a more friendly and acceptable venue for publishers' "premium" inventory.
Instead, the 700 global publishers AdSlot has lined up for its Guaranteed Marketplace will simply have the option of putting up inventory -- from standard display ads to sponsorships -- with set prices based on CPMs.
"This is end-to-end electronic trading of guaranteed inventory on a futures basis," Lowe said. "It's not a deconstruction of an impression using cookies or algorithms as a price discovery mechanism. It's automation of the old world with some important innovations at the same time."
Although most of the ad industry is starting to understand that there's more to programmatic buying and selling than RTB, Lowe said that for many publishers, the word "programmatic" in the term "programmatic direct" is potentially misleading. While much attention has been paid to private exchanges and marketplaces, these systems still reflect the prerogatives that were established by RTB, which was the first kind of programmatic option for display and remains the primary activity for automated ad sales.
Many publishers have felt pressured to embrace private exchanges as more dollars shift to automated systems. Over the past year, most major publishers -- such as The New York Times, Time Inc., Viacom, ESPN, Gannett, Hearst and Condé Nast -- have embraced programmatic sales methods. The primary vehicle has been through the use of private exchanges and Deal IDs, both of which offer direct lines of ad inventory to small selections of buyers and at particular prices.
Recently, some ad-tech companies on the sell side have vied to reach these major publishers with the promise of programmatic without the need for tools to control the auction process. Companies like AdSlot and rival isocket have been telling publishers they can do better by avoiding the lure of private exchanges and Deal IDs.
The way AdSlot's new platform works, a publisher can expose as much or as little of their guaranteed inventory as they choose. Theoretically, they can unload their "remnant" inventory, but they probably won't get much out of it if that's all they offer. AdSlot wants its system to provide a workflow solution that serves all the publishers' ad offerings. The main promise is the simplicity in executing a sale, as publishers can literally drag and drop products into AdSlot's marketplace.
Buyers can then come in and model that inventory by audience and a range of other metrics and decide whether to make a deal. Campaign turnaround shrinks from a week or more to two days.
"Publishers are never going to release their premium inventory to a black box where they can't set the price and don't know who is buying," Lowe said of exchange-based buying models. "Agencies are not going to accept it because an auction removes their buying leverage. In our platform, the publisher sets the price and the agency can negotiate with that. There is no bidding algorithm, there is no auction. What they want to do is to simply automate what they do now."
Two publishers familiar with both AdSlot's and isocket's programmatic direct offerings, but who still use private marketplaces, expressed interest in being able to find a better programmatic solution that helps them maintain control. But they weren't ready to declare favorites.
"There's an evolution going on now, and at first, the only thing available for programmatic was RTB, and then came private exchanges," said one publishing executive. "And now there are more 'programmatic-direct' offerings. For now, we're going to try them all and see what works best. But I would expect that each option has its proper place and use case. So I don't think it's going to be one model that's going to prevail in the near term."
Lowe said AdSlot will build up its roster of 700 publishers over the next few months as it integrates Facilitate's main agency workflow product Symphony into its system.
The Facilitate acquisition gave AdSlot a tighter connection to agencies and the spending that ultimately attracts sellers. Facilitate captures about $1 billion in display spend from agencies a year, Lowe noted. Following the acquisition, Facilitate's 40 staffers were added to AdSlot's 75 employees. In terms of the business model, AdSlot charges publishers based on the revenue that is drawn from its platform. Facilitate Digital's revenue model is a per-user license fee on the agency side.
"If we have a technology position with buyers on one end and we have a wide range of global publisher partners on the other, connecting the two should give us the best possible scenario under which we can drive the migration of dollars from spreadsheets to our marketplace," Lowe said.
Among the launch partners on the demand side is NextMark, a media-planning software provider. The two companies started working together last December, but work on AdSlot's Guaranteed Marketplace started shaping up a few months ago, said NextMark CEO Joe Pych.
"For anyone delivering technology for programmatic direct, partnering is critical to success by its nature," Pych said. "No one player is going to have a monopoly on all the supply and demand. Instead, there will be aggregators of supply, like Adslot, and aggregators of demand, like NextMark. For us to serve our customers well, it's important to connect with as much high-quality inventory as possible. Likewise for Adslot, it's important for them to connect with as much high-quality demand as possible. By working together, we hope to create the 'Rodeo Drive of digital advertising,' as one client called it."