Throughout 2017, the discussion on the AdMonsters site, at our events and on our listserv has spun off in countless directions. A person has to wonder: Was there ever a time when it seemed the industry focused on one or two issues at a time, or do we just have selective memory about these things? If the industry has had tunnel vision before… how many important side threads did we miss out on in years past?
One interesting thing about this year is that it’s drilled home that if you’re in ops, you’re only partially in ad tech, per se, and ultimately you’re in the media business, full stop. And there’s much more to the media business than maximizing your revenue on the ad exchanges. Over the course of 2017, we’ve had good reason to think about user experience, regulatory issues, workflow, communication, and issues around strategy that can feel more philosophical or psychological than strictly technical. A number of people at AdMonsters events in recent years have talked about how ops is being elevated within publisher business orgs. Well, this is part of what happens when ops gets elevated. You start to deal with more and more big-picture issues.
As we do every year, we’ve taken some time in late December to put together an AdMonsters highlight reel, from the site and beyond. For all of you out there, this is a chance to recognize how much ground we’ve covered, and also how far these important conversations have come since the beginning of 2017.
A Few Good Units: Mobile Challenges Going Into 2017
We started out the year thinking about big changes underway in mobile monetization. Looking at how the year has played out in mobile, it’s kind of eerie how much this article foreshadowed. Google was gearing up for an assault on intrusive ad units, publishers were getting familiar with IAB LEAN. Apprehension was creeping in, as it became clearer that getting on board with platform publishing was no clear line to mobile revenue. Would native prove to be publishers’ ticket for realizing mobile’s revenue potential? At the end of 2017, it sounds like the answer to that last question is “yes.” And by revisiting this state-of-mobile-monetization assessment from January, it’s evident that whatever insights we’ve harvested this year, the seeds were planted early on.
The Legal Connection: How Ops Avoids Regulatory Pitfalls
The intricacies of the law are not necessarily “wheelhouse” material for ad ops. And yet, ops’ strategic position—facing users, working with tech vendors, and interacting with a variety of stakeholders within a publisher’s business org—puts them at the front lines of a bunch of issues that have real legal implications. This article provides a road map for how ops can identify possible legal issues, escalate them to the right person or team within their company, and set up processes to reduce and mitigate the mess-ups that land publishers on the wrong side of digital laws and regulations.
At AdMonsters, hardly a week went by in 2016 without some kind of mention of header bidding. The practice truly went mainstream that year. By the spring of 2017, that brought a new set of questions: How can publishers keep this revenue growth moving upwards? How will the technology advance from here? How do we solve for latency and provide the best user experience possible? What will it take for S2S to take off, and do publishers need it to take off? What does it mean that Google is jumping into the S2S game with EBDA? How will header bidding affect the bottom line of agencies and vendors? We’re still wrestling with some of these questions, and we’ve spent 2017 reckoning with the positives and negatives of a world where header bidding is standard practice.
The Unwalled Garden: LiveIntent on Scaling the Identity-Based Marketplace
In this March interview with LiveIntent COO Dave Helmreich, I mentioned how it was already sort of cliché to pejoratively throw around the term “the Duopoly.” Of course publishers knew Facebook and Google together own an outsized share of the digital ad marketplace, and they weren’t necessarily comfortable with that arrangement. So what action might they take to retain market share, scale on their own terms, and hold onto the data they need? This interview dives into all of those questions, and lays out how publishers can benefit from developments in identity marketing. Another interesting bit: Helmreich shares some thoughts on the promise of the partnership we now know of as the Open ID consortium, which has remained a topic to watch all year and recently added 15 new member companies.
Ad Ops Decoder: What Is Ads.txt?
This has been a big year for initiatives aimed at reducing ad fraud, and ads.txt in particular has captured publishers’ interests for its apparent simplicity and practicality. The discussion around ads.txt hasn’t had a clear epochal moment to speak of—it’s more like a gradual climb, from education to implementation to buy-side incentivization, then more education and implementation—so it’s not easy to pick one AdMonsters article where the whole storyline came together. So, let’s just highlight the Decoder piece where we talked about how ads.txt works, what it aims to solve, and how it might accomplish what it’s set out to accomplish.
Invasion of the First-Price Auctions
Second-price auctions have long been the modus operandi of the programmatic market. But we started to see some challenges to that model this year, as several of the leading SSPs started experimenting with first-price auctions, and industry leaders made predictions that programmatic’s future lay in the first-price model. This article recognizes that discussion, then backs up and explains why we’re so reliant on second-price auctions in the first place—then asks questions about how exchanges might get around the challenges presented by a first-price model. This is part of a continuing discussion—the transparency of first-price auctions sounds great on paper, but as the programmatic market stands, buyers and sellers would have to put a lot of trust in the exchanges for the first-price method to take off.
Online and Offline Aligned: Conde Nast’s Print/Event/Digital Convergence
Let’s talk workflow for a minute. AdMonsters may be (mostly) focused on digital media, but many media companies don’t have the luxury of being so specific. In working across departments to grow overall revenue, publishers often face challenges in bringing together offline and online revenue sources. Conde Nast had a really compelling case study along those lines: They wanted to bring together information about digital, print and event revenue streams—then look for points where they could grow, and understand how to work with advertisers to make that growth happen. It’s a complicated proposition, but Lauren Farber, Conde’s Senior Director of Business Operations, and Al Villa, FatTail’s VP, Account Management, told us about what they had done together to make the process as clean and efficient as possible.
Ops Keynote: The Coming Consolidation of Ad Tech, Mar Tech and Commerce: Mastercard’s Jay Sears on Our Bright Future
That title is a mouthful, but Jay Sears, Mastercard’s SVP, Media Solutions, had a lot of ground to cover at his Ops keynote in June. AdMonsters touched upon the “convergence of ad tech and mar tech” as a sort of refrain throughout 2017, and Sears’ talk summarized some of the high points succinctly. In short, he told the room at Ops: If you’re in this business to be acquired, you’re doing it wrong. There’s more action at the end points of the industry—the publisher and brand sides—than there is among the intermediaries. Publishers and brands are making more data-driven decisions, and the ad tech/mar tech convergence is enabling the faster growth they need. Sears reminds us we need to ease back on the ad tech jargon and speak in the same language as consumers and business partners—in part, because we have many of the solutions they need, and it’s in everyone’s best interest to let them know how to find and use those solutions.
For ages, digital media types talked about the dichotomy of premium versus “remnant” (or whatever prettier name you want to put on it) inventory. But quietly, as the possibilities within programmatic have exploded, the conversation has shifted to a new dichotomy: custom branded media on one side, and “traditional” media on the other. Here, Gavin Dunaway wraps up a summary of how ad creative has evolved in programmatic, and how that’s blurred the lines between premium and remnant as we once knew it. And he looks into the new challenges and advantages of the current landscape, and the current state of branded/sponsored content and native advertising (let’s just call all of that “custom content”). Also, what’s programmatic guaranteed have to do with this? That comes into play, too…
The State of GDPR: Publishers’ Questions Answered
Throughout much of 2017, publishers have been wondering out loud how much they should be worried about the E.U.’s General Data Protection Regulation. How should they be preparing for its May 2018 implementation, if they’re not based in the E.U.? If they don’t comply, will its stiff penalties be enforced? It’s been a troubling issue for publishers, especially here in North America, where E.U. privacy regulations can seem anywhere from esoteric to extreme. But toward the end of the year, the answers publishers sought became clearer. After asking questions for months, we rounded up all the answers we had about GDPR—and finally, the path toward compliance appeared to be pretty well lit.