Real-Time With Isocket CEO John Ramey On Programmatic Direct's Huge Stamp Of Approval

Three of the largest digital premium Web portals -- AOL, Microsoft, and Yahoo -- this morning announced an agreement to work together in adopting "programmatic premium," or "programmatic direct," as their sales method of choice. Essentially, AOL, Microsoft, and Yahoo have put their collective stamp of approval on programmatic direct and are ready to lead the charge.

Programmatic direct is using technology to speed up and automate the process of direct deals. It eliminates Excel spreadsheets, fax machines, RFPs, IOs, etc., from the trading process. It deals with direct, guaranteed campaigns, and fills "the manual gap in the middle with tech," John Ramey, founder and CEO of programmatic direct company isocket, explained to me in a conversation I had with him over the summer.

Of the three companies to be a part of today's news, Microsoft is already ahead of the game, having named isocket as its programmatic direct partner of choice. I caught up with Ramey to chat about this morning's news, isocket's partnership with Microsoft and other large publishers -- including Conde Nast, and why he believes the news is a "watershed moment" for programmatic direct.



RTM Daily: You called this a "watershed moment" for programmatic direct in a blog post of yours. Why?

John Ramey: For a programmatic premium or programmatic direct ecosystem to work, you have to have the biggest buyers and sellers in it. Some of the naysayers were saying, "Oh, programmatic will never reach the big boys. Or the premium inventory. Or direct sales."

So what's so significant about this announcement is you can't get any bigger than those three when it comes to the direct sales of premium inventory. That's their blood; their DNA.

I call it a watershed moment because those three properties -- the three largest direct sales organizations in the world -- coming together to say, "We believe this will happen. We will make it happen. We will work together and bring tech to our direct sales." That's huge.

People will point back to this time and say, "That's when it became legit."

RTMD: Are they simply pushing out standards for the industry to adopt? Or is it more than that? What happens if others don't accept their standards? They aren't the first to come together to try to create uniformity.

Ramey: They used the word "standards" in their announcement, [but] I don't think that's the right way to describe it. It's less about them having identical tech protocols and more about them saying that they are embracing programatic direct, and saying that they are doing it together.

It's not that they are necessarily going to promote standard A and others will promote standard B, because you have companies like us -- part of whose value is creating that standardization layer. Yahoo might have a different API word than Microsoft, but because we are there, we create that standardization.

RTMD: So you see this announcement as a huge breakthrough for programmatic direct because of the size and importance of AOL, Microsoft, and Yahoo?

Ramey: Yeah. And a lot of very significant publishers were already embracing this. It's just that when people are thinking about "is this ideology really the future?" -- AOL, Microsoft, and Yahoo's statement -- joint statement -- to the world of "this is how we are going to do direct sales" [is big].

Reading between lines, that's in significant contrast to…putting inventory into real-time bidding (RTB) and private exchanges. This just legitimizes [programmatic direct]. Even though there was already a lot of momentum…it brings more buyers to the table.

RTMD: You mentioned private exchanges…what happens to the idea of them now? And how exactly is programmatic direct different?

Ramey: That's why we don't use the term "programmatic premium." We prefer "programmatic direct" because other companies -- private exchange companies -- have been using the word premium because it's inherently fuzzy.

What they might mean by premium is that it's the 25th impression on the bottom of the page on Even though it's remnant, non-guaranteed inventory, they'll say it's premium because it's on a premium Website.

Private exchanges and RTB are not programmatic direct. We have a buyer and a seller, it's not an auction, and it replaces the RFP and IO stages.

This announcement doesn't change where RTB and private exchanges are in the world, it just underlines it and puts a final nail in it. They have a great place in the world, it's just apples and oranges.

RTMD: Some publishers have been coming together recently to form consortiums, pooling their inventory together. PubMatic did it recently, and it's happening in overseas markets with Rubicon. How is this different than that?

Ramey: Microsoft, AOL, and Yahoo had a consortium two years ago. They pooled remnant inventory together. [Today's news] is a very clear distinction.

The kind of consortium [you asked about] is different because those publishers aren't thinking of it as tech digitizing their digital sales processes. They are thinking of it as making their remnant better.

RTMD: What exactly is isocket's partnership with Microsoft in this? Do the others (AOL and Yahoo) have programmatic direct partners yet?

Ramey: The announcement today was that Microsoft, AOL, and Yahoo are collectively putting their stamp on programmatic direct and saying, "We believe in this ideology." Microsoft was just far enough ahead in their efforts to have already signed a contract with isocket. Yahoo and AOL have not yet gotten to that point, but today's news announced their intent.

RTMD: Microsoft isn't the only publisher you partnered with today. In your blog post, you named Conde Nast, IDG, Forbes, Thomson Reuters, and Spin Media as other new partners of yours. Did you announce all of that just today?

Ramey: We've been with Forbes for a while, and Conde Nast.

Conde Nast is a big one; a super premium publisher. [They] have been very forward thinking.

RTMD: So you've been working with those five publishers in the recent past, but just announced those partnerships today?

Ramey: Yeah.

RTMD: What can advertisers expect to see change on the publisher's end now that these big premium publishers are on board? And when can they expect to see that change?

Ramey: There are still demand-side tools [that are required]. So, basically, Microsoft has put our fancy fax machines in their office. So buyers can get in touch with them and do business with them, but the buyers still have to be able to get in touch with them.

Those three publishers will work hand in hand with their agencies and clients the doors to the store to access that inventory.

RTMD: So you are connected to Microsoft on one end, and demand-side platforms (DSPs) or trading desks on the other end?

Ramey: Yeah.

RTMD: Thank you for your time.

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