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The need to scale up ad tech

ad tech

The Ad tech industry in its current form is probably has reached ‘sweet sixteen’ age from its humble beginning connecting publishers and advertisers in 2005 . Today ad tech is like a teenager who is enjoying good attention ( finally profitable) and has aced the SAT score to gain entry into many universities ( IPO money) . The late teens are a fascinating age , especially when teenagers go into college , they can either self destruct or pass out as wonderful adults.

(Read this wonderful presentation by Clearcode on why I think ad tech is 16 years old- https://clearcode.cc/blog/the-colorful-history-of-advertising-technology-in-just-63-slides/)

3 incidents in 3 days tell me that the industry and other ecosystem participants are questioning the value add of ad tech

  1. Expert interview with a stock analyst :

Recently, I was doing an expert interview with an analyst who was covering adtech stocks. His fundamental issue was that if Facebook, Amazon and Google deliver most of advertiser requirements , whats the need for ad tech companies? He was not really convinced on my reasons – aggregation of long tail, incremental reach for certain types of users (e.g gaming), and third party verification that walled gardens seldom provide. I also added ad formats, performance(ROI) advertising and audiences as additional drivers. Although I felt happy I was paid to do the expert interview, I felt sad that most of my expertise was in an industry that does not seem to be adding much value.

2. Catch up with an Industry Digital media buying veteran

An industry veteran in my catch up said – ‘ we have too much ad tech’ but it still doesn’t solve any deeper issue beyond the hygiene of removing fraud and providing viewable impressions. The market capitalization of the verification industry is now $ 15 bn where as the market capitalization of one of the largest SSP/ exchange Magnite is only $1.5 bn. So even if Magnite is 3-5% of the SSP market , the SSP market will be valued at $30-50 bn. So there is $ 1 of value creation in measurement of ‘good supply’ for every $3 of supply aggregation done. This is the asymmetry of the industry , nobody is ‘trusting’ the supply outside of the walled garden and a few bad actors are spoiling the industry for everyone. And once we move beyond this hurdle , is when we discuss data and quality of audiences beyond the walled garden.

3. Key question in the board meeting of a OTT publisher

The CEO when he heard the several problems in the ‘programmatic’ business and the issues that need to be resolved to connect good quality OTT connect to leading advertisers via programmatic, he almost said lets forget this – lets focus on the subscription business and grow that because that is completely in our hands and not in the hands of a dozen third parties

So in short, ad tech maybe happy as a sweet sixteen teenager , but neither the parent ( advertiser) nor the publisher ( college) is happy. This asymmetry has continued for the last 4 years and the attempts to solve it are primitive. Using ads.txt in todays age of AI,ML and blockchain is laugable . With third party cookies going away and privacy rules getting more stringent, there is a larger problem that adtech has to solve – shrinking and non determinable addressable audiences beyond the walled gardens. But thats a PHD project for the teenager who has not even scraped past college , so it remains to be seen if ad tech will self destruct, coast along or transform into fine adults .

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