Entries Tagged as 'Ad Networks'

Ad Nets & Ad Nots

Nice post by Andrew Chen about the proliferation of ad networks and the surprising success of several that have sold for very high multiples. He summarizes it this way:
My overall lesson from all of this is that a lot of times, people view things as “winner take all” and sometimes it is that way – but in this case:

mature industry + real revenue + adjacent space heating up
= huge outcomes for everyone

I think this is true, but it’s probably cyclical and there’s bound to be a lot of consolidation ahead. True, thanks largely to MySpace, YouTube, Facebook, et al, total ad inventory available has skyrocketed. True, no single network or handful of networks can meet 100% of this growing demand. And true, multiple pricing models and targeting technologies help to make this a market for the multitudes.

But consider some of the pressures working against “huge outcomes for everyone.” Various estimates put the total number of operating online ad networks in the hundreds. Yahoo’s Right Media Exchange and nascent others can accommodate all of them – but only for as long as they contribute real value to the marketplace. Better targeting, better optimization, better something is required for establishing a niche, staying in business and succeeding.

Without the exchanges, there is almost literally no hope for dozens of these networks. Media buyers are humans, and they are in short supply as it is. There is simply no way for them to add another thirty phone calls and meetings to every day to give serious attention to every network that wants their business.

Ultimately, there can and will be “a number of” winners. That number will probably be closer to 20 than 200, however, due to basic Darwinian principles. Some reasons why this is so:

1. The largest contributors of inventory to ad networks already work with 10, 20, 30 or more networks. It’s a big, ugly, inefficient process in which networks pass ad impressions back and forth, up and down a daisy chain or waterfall, depending on your metaphoric predilections. As in a beauty contest, there can only be one true winner, and that’s the number one network in line. Ad impressions get stepped on many times, the way poppies get reduced to heroin and then to a street mix that’s cut time and again before it hits the “user.” (At last, an excuse to relate web users and drug users ;)

2. Conversely, the hundreds of ad networks are all selling the same media placements. They are all offering every known and quite a few imagined forms of targeting, but they all base their targeting decisions off the same limited data set – primarily context. This is true of contextual ad networks and of behavioral networks that rely on context to define behaviors or interests.

In the end, individual networks won’t win simply because inventory is growing and they’re bigger and badder in getting to the best of it first. Media placement, context-based targeting or some new spin on optimization don’t matter that much. With apologies to my publishing colleagues, that’s the commodity end of the business.

Advertisers need a better, more predictive and accurate data source to drive much more value through the media value chain.

Behavior’s new flavors

By next March, a dozen companies you’ve never heard of will launch notable products, ad networks, or services based on behavioral targeting. Some are newborn; others are already making money, but still flying low. They come in lots of new flavors:

1. Targeting with ISP data. Competitors include Adzilla and Nebuad, which have raised $10.25MM and $30MM recently, and Phorm. They all work with ISP subscribers’ data to target more relevant content and ads. Other companies with strong ISP relationships will enter this market, as will a venture that includes ISPs as founding partners.

2. Data exchanges. As one founder described it to me, “it’s a little Tacoda and a little Right Media. It can’t miss!” The theory is that sites will gladly sell user data rather than continue to give it away to ad servers, networks and research companies. At least two raw startups and two veterans are racing to produce the first commercial-grade data exchange, where advertisers can bid on audience by behavioral segment. They split the ad market, with two of them being all about performance and two going for brands.

3. Purchase behavior. Tom Hespos wrote recently that purchase behavior may be the new behavioral “thumbprint.” And he’s right: One company documents a conversion rate increase of 790%. The aCerno Transaction Marketplace is an online data co-op whose 300+ customers can target their own and each other’s customers all over the web.

4. Exotic behavior? Agent-based modeling is the secret science that will propel one startup’s better targeting engine. The goal is to super-size valuable segments comprising enormous populations of target-lookalikes.

5. Beyond behavior. Mindset Media offers brand marketers the chance to tailor their messages according to twenty elements of personality, such as “Humility” and “Bravado,” “Creativity” and “Compliance,” each of which has up to five distinct “mindsets” that can be targeted at scale. Tasty.

More flavors and details to come.

How much advertising do you really sell?

Q: When does “sold out” mean “plenty of inventory available”?

A: Almost always.

Herein lies the dirty little secret that will continue to drive online ad prices down over time for all but a fraction of the highest value branded inventory. In February 2007, Right Media presented findings of an Insight Express survey conducted among about 100 small, medium and large publishers, with representation by directors, VPs and higher from sales, operations, administration, marketing and editorial.

avginvalloc2.jpg This slide shows that, on average, only 52 percent of total inventory on respondent sites is sold by the site’s own sales staff. Another 25 percent goes straight to networks. Respondents also said they used more than one network, with 43 percent using four or more ad networks to monetize their inventory.

Download the deck here: How Publishers Think About, Manage & Monetize Non-Premium Inventory.