LADbible Group expects latest shifts in the programmatic market to benefit publishers

The way programmatic advertising is done is changing from an open marketplace, where everyone transacts with one another, to something more controlled. Publisher LADbible Group believes that moment can’t come soon enough. 

It’s probably not the first publisher many observers would tip to make such a claim. After all, most of the money it makes from programmatic advertising comes from the open marketplace.

Sometimes that money comes after the publisher’s impressions have been sold via the unified auction that is Google’s Open Bidding, other times it’s done through ad tech vendors like OpenX and Sharethrough directly. Then there are those moments when impressions are sold via a reseller like Improve Digital, which essentially acts like LADbible Group’s agent to find buyers sourced directly from another ad tech vendor or through reselling arrangements. 

Here is how the publisher described this setup: the money it makes from the open programmatic market comes from a combination of client side and server side side integrations, using a managed service wrapper solution such as Google’s Demand Manager, and Amazon TAM’s server-side header bidding solution. This allows for increased bid liquidity for their impressions. Simply leaving the open market taps on isn’t enough to increase yield for its inventory.

“Our private marketplace spend is still relatively small compared to the open market, despite the industry seeing the opposite,” said Roy Beeharry, head of programmatic at LADbible Group.

It’s all there in the publisher’s ads.txt file, which contains information about its programmatic partners. As it stands, there are 23 partners helping it sell impressions.

Sure, this all serves a purpose: it allows a publisher like LADbible Group to sell more ads on the back of lower costs. But it’s not necessarily sustainable given the state of the open marketplace. Look to the evolution of curated marketplaces, as proof.

“Curated marketplace offers up a perfect synergy between publishers (sellers), advertisers (buyers) and third parties (SSPs),” said Beeharry. “This is typically transacted through deals, and not via the open market. Curated deals give a buyer and advertisers access to premium curated supply, with improved brand safety, targeted audiences, contextual environments and focused device types.”

Typically premium publishers are approached by SSPs to be automatically opted into their specific curated marketplaces, which takes the burden out of setting up individual PMPs themselves. For now it appears that media agencies are cherry picking a few SSPs to facilitate ad spend through curated marketplaces, although spend is still relatively small compared to Open Market in general. 

“What we can see from LADbible Group, is that the pipes work really well, so we anticipate more and more agencies to funnel larger budgets in the not too distant future,” said Beeharry.

If moves like this pan out, it could potentially mean more upside for publishers. 

“The whole supply chain benefits from this new wave of innovation, with sellers and buyers finding greater control of what supply paths they are comfortable working towards,” said Beeharry. “As Marlo from The Wire said so eloquently without any remorse, ‘the price of the brick is going up’, but in all fairness that’s great news for the entire programmatic ecosystem.”

At least that’s the theory. The reality might not bear this out. Not least because a lot of this shift toward curated marketplaces is being driven by media agencies. Whenever this happens in ad tech it tends to mean they have to fall into line behind the agencies otherwise no ad dollars. This industry is nothing but cyclical. 

“We’ve always been of the view that much of this technology, if we embrace it properly, will help us grow, not dis-intermediate us,” said WPP CEO Mark Read on the company’s earnings call last week. On the ad tech point, it looks like the estimates I’ve seen indicate that the so-called ad tech tax is decreasing, which is what you’d expect as the market gets bigger and more efficient.

Still, the latest cycle will be slow to come full circle. After all, most advertisers continue to do the bulk of their programmatic advertising this way, by bidding against any number of other advertisers in auctions for online ad inventory.

Update: this story was updated on 03.01 with additional information from The LADBible Group. The publisher wanted to clarify points on its programmatic strategy that were made in an earlier version of this article.

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