Commentary

Dear RTB - Publishers Are Waking Up To The Value Of Their Data

There is an inconvenient truth around RTB and programmatic, and it was exposed earlier this week at MediaPost's OMMA RTB event by Ilicco Elia, Head of Mobile at Digitas LBi. 

Everybody knows it's there but as the technology has been focussed on the demand side, it can be very easy to forget the supply element, or rather, the publisher side of the equation.

Marketers cannot have it every way. It's perfectly reasonable to back up programmatic strategies being implemented through real-time buying (RTB) as giving advertisers access to audiences that are refined through good data and insightful segmentation. That's fine. Where the difficult comes, certainly in the long run, is the supply of high-quality inventory. 

Media agencies have long since banged on about the need for publishers to share their data so the overall pot of what is known about their audience can be tailored to advertisers needs. 

Trouble is, the publishers smell a rat. And they're quite right to do so.

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Programmatic is all about finding niche audiences that exhibit the behaviour characteristics a brand is seeking to reach. Publishers are wondering why they should pass on data that will be used elsewhere. 

It's a very good point. If you've built an audience, why would you want to pass the crown jewels -- your data -- to an advertising network or a demand-side platform run for advertisers? There really is nothing to gain and everything to lose as the data follows people around in to places on the Web where they can be reached at a lower price.

As Ilicco so adeptly put it: "Only the Facebook and Googles of the world can survive this race to the bottom, the race to penny inventory." That's for the very simple reason that they don't have to pay journalists, bloggers, editors, photographers, videographers and sub editors to produce quality content, they simply have the means to advertise against it for the lowest price possible because -- with such huge traffic volumes -- those pennies soon add up.

So if you're a media agency hoping to get more data from a publisher, the likelihood is that you will find it increasingly difficult.

Quality content is best protected by a supply-side platform. Sure, most publishers will pass on campaign data, but don't expect to be allowed to go trawling through a publisher's treasured data vaults.

As this realisation takes hold, it looks likely we'll see a rise in prominence of supply-side platforms which advertisers seeking quality, brand-safe inventory will have to go through. 

If this becomes the case, and I firmly believe it will, there are some interesting questions. Not just related to what this will do for CPMs, but whether it will add another layer of complexity. Will advertisers who are accustomed to dialing into exchanges via a demand-side platform have to reevaluate. Will this route to market only pick up distressed inventory, will the quality they seek be only available on the supply side -- and if so, will enough agencies hook up direct to these? If they do, what will happen to the suppliers of demand-side platforms?

The truth is, in chasing the numbers, publishers gave away far too much data. They know that now.

If you want my prediction -- and it won't be completely clear-cut -- brand-safe quality inventory will be increasingly traded on the supply side and the rest will happen on demand, advertiser-led side.

The burger will be relatively the same, albeit it at possibly a higher price.

There just won't be a free "side" of data next to it.

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