AdMonsters PubForum Miami: The Live Blog

Re-Live the Magic from Miami

In front of us, the PubForum main room dais. To our right, a palm-tree-lined waterway where someone else’s yachts are docked just beyond arm’s reach. Must be AdMonsters Publisher Forum in Miami, at the luxurious Eden Roc resort! If you’re here with us, hopefully you brought your most outrageously casual tropical shirt—heck, Rob Beeler certainly has—and if you’re following along at home, get your shades ready.

We’ll be live blogging keynotes and select other sessions here in the main room at PubForum 40. Keep an eye on this space if you weren’t able to make it down (your loss—this place is pretty sweet, and so’s the weather), because we’ll be updating it intermittently throughout the day on both Monday and Tuesday.

First up, AdMonsters Chairman Rob Beeler will welcome the assembled crowd at 9 a.m. At 9:20, he’ll introduce our first keynote, Keith Grossman, Global Chief Revenue Officer at Bloomberg. Keith will be speaking on the topic of “Why Today, Tomorrow and the Next Day Are the Most Exciting in Digital Media.”

9:06 a.m.: Rob walks out to the Miami Vice theme song. This is the 40th AdMonsters PubForum, and Rob points out this is the 20th year he’s been in ad ops (and we still haven’t fixed everything).

9:26: Keith Grossman takes the stage for his keynote. He says he means it–in spite of concerns about Google, Facebook, ad blocking and viewability.

9:28: Keith asks for a show of hands of who thinks this is the most exciting time in media and who thinks it’s the scariest time. We have eight who raised their hands for “scariest,” and Keith jokes they’re full of it. There are a lot of scary things out there–immense change in the last 10 years. Just looking at the Lumascape “gives me a headahce,” he says.

9:29: Change is real, and there’s a pessimistic camp and an optimistic camp. People have a more favorable view of change when they’re in control of it. But “Difficulties mastered are opportunities won,” as Winston Churchill said,

9:30: First, let’s stop talking in extremes. Let’s stop talking about how one thing or the other is the future or death of everything else. “Things don’t replace things, they just splinter,” wrote David Pogue of the New York Times. Adoption and scalability lag when you look at what’s supposed to be “the future.”

9:32: Former Chinese Premier Huang Hua asked, “What is the nature of the age?” Keith says this has been a perspective-changer for him. So where are we? We are more connected than ever. Digital is anything that can be digitized, and no one is an “expert.” Expertise is very niche. This creates an interesting premise. Keith says The Seventh Sense by Joshua Cooper Ramd is an interesting study of change on the macro level.

9:34: Take Vogue. Twenty years ago, there was one way to reach the Vogue consumer. Now there are so many that don’t involve even touching a copy of Vogue the magazine. This might sound scary. Choice and value of brands is infinite. The consumer faces a paradx of choice–it can be overwhelming for the consumer. So the value of the brand comes down to a trusted filter.

9:36: Keith likes to think of the future of his three-year-old daugheter Ellie, who’s old enough to say, “Daddy, I want to watch TV.” But she doesn’t mean TV, per se. She’s not talking about the platform. She’s talking about the experience–screens. Beyond Ellie, there’s a screen and the user wants to do something on it.

9:37: A connected device is more powerful and flexible than one that stands on its own (per The Seventh Sense). Also, content has the potential to become shareable, editable, available, measurable and interactive. As a traditional media source, you’re not going to “beat the web.” It’s exciting because you have all these newer. ways to monetize.

9:39: What’s the net takeaway? Reframe your perspective. “The future is decided by optimists,” says Kevin Kelly.

9:40: Rob wants to know where Bloomberg is placing bets, if we’re not going to think about “platforms.” Keith says they need to break down the difference between fads and trends. It’s a trend, he says, that anything that can be digitized, will be digitized; and anything that can be digitized will be sold more efficiently through computers. But programmatic will evolve over time. The promise of vendors differs from what’s delivered, usually. Now, Bloomberg is 100% sold out in digital video. There’s no reason to incentivize people toward programmatic today. There’s a push toward big data, but we’re in a world where data can surround you but not necessarily help the user. Data is not the end-all of everything.

9:45: What about the share of market Google and Facebook has, Rob says? Keith suggests it might be a bit overstated. And there’s so much room for growth for pubs like Bloomberg, the share of the market they have relative to Google and Facebook is not a major concern. There’s still tremendous room for growth.

9:48: Question from the room: Native advertising and its capacity to let information in the publisher might not want. Keith clarifies he’s not opposed to it. It’s either informative or deceptive. People realize content is paid for when it “sucks,” he says. At Wired, they had a partnership with Netflix, which was very clearly branded. And it held its own against the rest of Wired’s content that week. There are other examples of this, he says. Good content can be desirable and heavily consumed regardless of whether it comes from in-house editorial or from a sponsor. You can’t break consumer trust–but pubs and brands looking to cash in with low-quality content may end up weeded out.

9:52: Question: How do you weed out fake news? Keith says it seems reasonable that a company the size of Twitter can flag (or just tag) fake news as false. Facebook is in a tricky position. They claim they have massive influence over consumers’ buying behaviors, but they say they’re not responsible for users being misinformed.

9:55: So should a publisher like Bloomberg be closer to or more distant from social platforms? Keith says Bloomberg has seen a huge return from its Twitter partnership because they can share video content on Twitter, and there’s no character limit to a video.

10:01: Video had always been linear, with a beginning and an end. But in digital it has much more depth.

10:03: Bloomberg’s strategy has had to move away from being platform seller to integrated brand sellers.

10:06: Where does that put ops as enablers? Keith said there used to be a time when it was expected sales and ad ops opposed each other. He had his desk and that of the head of sales facing each other, so if anyone came to either with a complaint, they’d stand literally right in front of the other.

Next up we have Index Exchange President and CEO Andrew Casale talking about “What’s Birthed the Wrapper and What’s Next.”

10:09: Where did wrappers start for Index? Over lunch in 2015. Index had done a lot of header integrations with major pubs. Pubs had to be very involved at this point, but the value was there for pubs. One pub said he’d heard every pitch from vendors, but his engineers were strained, he had limited resources. He wanted header to work for their pub, but he wanted to work with all the vendors he’d had conversations with.

10:12: By October, Index was able to go live with a wrapper. It took a lot of work, but adoption has been rapid. The product itself doesn’t just sit on the shelf–it’s customized to each pub, because everyone uses DFP differently.

10:13: It used to be pubs would ask the RTB wallet, “What are you willing to pay?” Now they ask, “What’s your price?” Header has been very influential in this.

10:14: “Wrapper” is the name you get when you ask engineers to name a product. They saw the solution as a wrapper library. Why not “container?” Well, container tech is ubiquitous and complicated, and Index didn’t want to suggest they were competing with those companies.

10:15: The wrapper didn’t used to involve much code. Now it does. There are a lot of timing factors to account for. There’s pre-fetch. The product keeps evolving and the code evolves with it.

10:16: What has wrapper done? It’s changed the way pubs work with ad tech. Position is no longer a business model.  The ability to arbitrage is very difficult when companies sit next to each other. At some point, Google will fight Facebook and vice versa, and pubs will benefit.

10:17: How about server-to-server? Some have said wrappers should be server-to-server. Index agrees, but it’s a question of how you get there. The black box is out of ad tech’s hands in the wrapper. In server-to-server, it’s different. You have to trust the machine.

10:22: Where are we in the state of the wrapper? Race conditions, pre-fetch, single-request architecture and video are all complicated propositions. The wrapper could become a new paradigm in the pub’s ad stack. Index thinks header is pub control over programmatic. It’s different from partnering with an SSP, and it’s more empowering for the pub.

10:24: Rob wants to know how much of Index’s time is leveling the idea that Index is an essential partner with the prospect of democratizing the marketplace. Andrew says transparency is their greatest value prop. And the future of programmatic is take rates going down, Index predicts. This will move all competitors into a level playing field that will boost efficiency, he says. There’s no long-term Index bet that they’ll control the marketplace because the control sits in the pub’s hands.

10:27: How will Google exchange bidding change things? Andrew says that if it ever achieves scale, the ad server will do it, which is why Index has bet on EBDA. But it’s a bit of a hedge bet. Pubs love control and don’t want to give it up, which is why they’ve invested so heavily in the wrapper. A few major players may exist in exchane bidding, eventually, but Andrew thinks the market is going to go more to server-to-server.

11:55: Morning attendee breakouts are done, and we’re back in the main room for STAQ’s sponsor session. James Curran, Staq’s CEO and Co-Founder, and Megan Latham, Global Head of Ad Operations at Bloomberg, are in front of the room to talk about “Taming the Measurement Madness.”

11:59: James asked about discrepancies. Megan said the number of players in the market increases discrepancies, but moreso creates complexities. No one figured out how to operationalize all this, and to deliver against anything, you have to do a lot of math from a lot of different systems. It makes traffickers’ jobs “three times as difficult.”

12:00: Vendor consolidation is not happening as quickly as hoped. Megan says discrepancies have to be managed, while planners have to optimize. You need metrics beyond clicks–sometimes the buyer won’t give you KPIs.

12:01: Europe is about where the U.S. was in viewability a year ago, Megan says. In Asia, it’s not happening yet. But it will.

12:02: In programmatic, ou need to take that data from vendor partners, who don’t all report in the same way, and inform all parties who need to know. Most digital vendors have APIs. It’s not even a question anymore at Bloomberg: Any partner needs an API. The resources aren’t there to compile the data manually.

12:05: James says Staq is hearing from partners that if you can’t get better CPMs, get better reporting. Megan says Bloomberg can’t waste ops’ time on data entry.

12:07: James asks if BI tools are next for Bloomberg, and Megan says it is. Finance is using BI tools now. Ops is going to be on board next.

1:30: We’re back in the main room following lunch, and Rob is presenting the State of Ad Ops, with Gavin’s assistance.

Rob has said before that ad ops is like a rubber band, or maybe an accordion–things seem to be great, and then it snaps back in the opposite direction. There are some positive developments underway: header bidding, OTT video, publisher-side creative services, e-commerce initiatives, selling on time-based metrics. There are some annoying trends: problems around viewability, rendered impressions, ad blocking and a talent shortage. There are some developments and trends that are neither explicitly good nor bad: mobile monetization, new ad units, digital measurement, buy-side relationships.

About new ad units: The IAB is rolling out new standards for ad formats, but at the same time they’ll be sunsetting several others that have been in circulation for a long time. Gavin asked the room whether the new formats are leverage for pubs who want to change specs. The answer came back quickly: No. The IAB’s standards are not an ultimatum for the buy side. We’ll have to wait and see, other people in the room said.

That in mind, Rob asked if anyone in the room had trafficked a Flash ad in the last year. From my position in the back of the room, I didn’t see any hands go up.

3:30: After a set of afternoon sessions, a caffeine fuel-up and an unexpected fire alarm, we’re back in the main room, where Rob is explaining the Digital Media Leadership Awards: There are people in this industry who go out of their way to share their insights. The DMLAs are how we acknowledge that. This year’s DMLA winners are Mike McLeod (Director, Ad Product and Technology at PGA Tour), known among publishers as a leader in understanding viewability issues; Oleg Korenfeld (EVP, Advertising Technology and Platforms at Mediavest | Spark), a veteran of the agency and publisher sides, who Rob calls “someone who embodies what it takes in connecting the dots;” and Alanna Gombert (SVP, Technology and Ad Operations and General Manager at the IAB Tech Lab), who’s come up through AdMeld and Right Media. Alanna and Rob are now launching into a keynote “fireside chat” on the topic “The Good Ship Programmatic.”

3:36: Alanna explains the IAB is largely a pub-facing org, while the Tech Lab is global and agnostic. Its role is to make standards more robust. They’re launching new standards in display to make digital easier to deploy across the board, including in mobile. They’re also working on a TV convergence group for optimal cross-platform understandings.

3:41: Alanna says no one has upgraded to VAST 4 yet, and that she’s speaking to everyone in this room. It’s difficult to upgrade VAST, and the IAB is going to have a designated team helping people upgrade.

3:43: The protocol were created from a business perspective first, and the technology side has had to do a lot of cleanup. What prevents VPAID from being deployed across the board? Alanna says her team is working to answer this question. VPAID, she says, seems to be the most contentious product they have, because it can be used any way anyone wants.

3:45: Question from the audience about fraud. Alanna says we have to start small, “which means, are we doing it right?” Follow-up question about what percentage of vendors are compliant. She says maybe half.

3:46: IAB is launching a compliance program, certifying implementation of protocols. VPAID and VAST came first. MRAID is coming. This will help understand what’s going on in the market on the tech side, she said, and will hopefully make deployment easier. Response, she says, has been strong so far. A lot of the testing will be done programmatically with the scripts, but there will be human oversight.

3:49: Contentious products: Autoplay audio and autoplay video. The former is not allowed. The latter is under debate. Share your opinions now, Alanna says. Video is eating up a ton of mobile data plans. This is especially true in Japan and Europe, she says, and the IAB Tech Lab is thinking globally.

3:51: One publisher says it “just pains me” that autoplay is allowed. He shares an anecdote about a platform that put a video on their home page, set to autoplay, so anyone who loaded the home page triggered it. That risks ruining things for every other video provider out there, he says.

5:54: Gavin wants to know if the new standards include outstream. Alanna says it is. Their decisions, she says, come from research. Outstream videos tested well. “We’ll come to a good place,” she says. “It’s just the autoplay video piece” that consumers dislike and will be problematic as far as the new standards are concerned. Users hate ads that appear and obscure content. It makes them angry. Same for video overlay units, or ads in the middle of a slideshow.

3:57: Gavin asks about what the Coalition for Better Ads is about. Alanna says IAB is part of it and they’re working on building technology for the initiative. The goal is to create a “less annoying user experience.” the new criteria (“thou shalt not [x],” she explains) will feed into LEAN and ad portfolio guidance on creative weight.

3:59: Rob wants to know more about LEAN and where it stands. Alanna says it started as a way to address ad blocking. It started as an acronym, and now Alanna’s job is to make it actionable. It’s addressing all sorts of user experience issues, including grading creative with a score that can help publishers understand when an ad is worth loading. She says she’s trying to make it more of a math probem, addressing creative, tags on the page and other factors.