‘Doing more with fewer’: Why Turner cut its SSPs from 30 to 6

Turner is getting stricter about what ad tech vendors it works with.

In the course of about a year, Turner went from using 30 supply-side platforms, ad exchanges and ad networks to sell its inventory to just six. Turner reduced its vendors to make it easier for advertisers to string together user data to run cross-device campaigns across Turner’s brands, said Amit Chaturvedi, ‎evp of revenue operations and product management at Turner.

The vigilance on ad tech is part of a broader strategy that involves Turner trying to capitalize on the ad industry’s growing pot of programmatic ad spend. Chaturvedi declined to provide specific numbers, but he said Turner’s programmatic business, which had little to no revenue three years ago, now brings in more than $100 million a year.

“Last year was about deploying header bidding across display,” Chaturvedi said. “This year is about shrinking the [ad tech] footprint and doing more with fewer people.”

A little over a year ago, Turner had six web developers, product managers and analysts spend a month gathering and analyzing data about all of the places where Turner publishes content and runs ads. The team found that as brands like CNN grew their digital presence to the point of producing content on 60 platforms, the company’s number of ad tech vendors ballooned.

To make it easier for advertisers to organize user data spread across so many distribution points, Turner started reducing vendors. About 15 product managers and analysts spend a few hours each week monitoring and testing ad tech vendors as Turner continues to adjust how many vendors it uses.

One change Turner made is that its 21 brands in North America no longer use different viewability vendors for different platforms. Instead of using one vendor to measure ads on Android apps and another to measure ads on a Roku channel, for instance, each brand now uses the same viewability vendor across platforms to help standardize data. Ever since the company reduced the number of sell-side platforms it uses, it has primarily relied on just two SSPs to sell inventory across all its properties.

Last year, Turner adopted header bidding — which lets publishers simultaneously offer inventory to multiple exchanges before making calls to their ad servers — to bring in more demand to its digital inventory. The media company also restructured its sales division so that each team included a programmatic specialist. By getting the company’s programmatic offerings in front of more advertising clients, Turner doubled the revenue it drove through private marketplace deals. Turner’s next goal in programmatic is to do more with advanced TV and dynamic ad insertion, Chaturvedi said.

Turner is trimming its ad tech partners at a time when some publishers are purging third-party vendors to gain more control over their sites. The Washington Post built its own ad products to replace ad servers, native-ad and video vendors. Outside Magazine purged content-recommendation networks from its website.

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For Turner, reducing ad tech fees wasn’t the primary objective of its vendor cutback, Chaturvedi said. Instead, the goal was to bring order to its data, so advertisers could more easily run large campaigns across its digital properties.

“What you don’t want is fragmentation of ad tech plus fragmentation of distribution,” he said. “That is just a really messy situation.”

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