Programmatic: More Than RTB

During an interview focused on digital video advertising, the WSJ’s head of global ad sales made the declaration that the company did not participate in programmatic and they were “fortunate” for being able to stay clear of it. This gave me pause -- even though the comment was likely in reference to real-time bidding (RTB), it was also an indication that the full definition of programmatic still may not be understood, embraced, etc. (slightly troubling if you consider the IAB outlined what constitutes programmatic from a publisher standpoint last September).

While the interview contained several great takeaways on pre-roll best practices, going so far as to include user experience in the development of video programs (admirable considering antics some publishers resort to collect to coveted video ad dollars). It still left me wondering how a digital exec for one of the most distinguished publications in the world didn’t appear to be 100% up to speed on an area receiving a tremendous amount of attention and investment.

For programmatic neophytes, RTB is just one component of what continues to be a white hot and ubiquitous industry term which can carry both positive and negative connotations. Some folks associate RTB with remnant or “non-premium” inventory (precisely what the WSJ does not want to be associated with, hence the initial statement). Of course inventory type/quality is changing daily and is a topic for another discussion.

However, programmatic can also refer to automation of digital ad campaigns -- an attempt to tackle the highly manual process of insertion order and trafficking -- regardless of whether it’s display or video inventory. This can be huge as agencies seek ways to more seamlessly execute digital programs (including video) with preferred media partners.

The digital industry is known for being innovative and dynamic -- almost the point of making one’s head spin -- but this could be yet another instance of a publisher being a step behind technology which the buy-side is embracing. Sitting on the sidelines is perhaps OK in the short-term (particularly if you are calling the shots as a niche or tier-1 publisher) but lagging behind is not wise long-term. Matt Prohaska touched on this in his “programmatic integration” piece recently.

Hopefully publishers see the value of making investments in technologies that automate manual processes that ultimately benefit all parties (even if it isn’t RTB-style). At a minimum, they should understand/embrace the full definition of concepts driving significant industry growth -- or risk missing the next digital wave.



6 comments about "Programmatic: More Than RTB".
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  1. Anni Paul from BoscoSystems, June 4, 2014 at 12:54 a.m.

    Superb argument. And just wait for mobile RTB. It's already growing like wildfire...

  2. Seth Ulinski from, June 4, 2014 at 11:29 a.m.

    Thanks for the note, Anni. I think a lot of "mobile first" companies (particularly those focused on apps) like Airpush are in an excellent position for the programmatic long-haul.

  3. Trevor Fellows from Wall Street Journal , June 4, 2014 at 1:43 p.m.

    Seth, this is an interesting post but I do want to correct you on one important point. In my interview with e-marketeer, I was referring specifically to the fact that we aren't selling video programmatically yet. We're enthusiastically selling traditional display via programmatic because, as you say, the advantages of eliminating time consuming manual practices are obvious.

  4. Seth Ulinski from, June 4, 2014 at 4:34 p.m.

    Trevor, here's a quick recap of the interview in case you don't recall:
    Fellows: "there's no programmatic because we're fortunate."
    eMarketer: would you look to these (programmatic video) models in the future?
    Fellows: No.
    I don't believe "yet" appears anywhere. Correct me if I'm wrong on this important point.

  5. Trevor Fellows from Wall Street Journal , June 4, 2014 at 4:38 p.m.

    Seth, I'm happy to continue this conversation off line at

  6. Scott Schmidt from Pivmo, June 6, 2014 at 2 p.m.

    Nice read Seth

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