Programmatic's 'Race To The Bottom' -- Publishers' Fight Back Begins

Programmatic has often been characterised as a "race to the bottom" where brands can pick up bargains as eyeballs become available in real-time. In a world far removed from the premium assurances of direct buys, programmatic can mechanise the process, but as it does so, CPMs appear to be going only in one direction.,

That is what makes today's launch of the Premium Publisher Alliance by the Association of Online Publishers (AOP) so interesting. The platform will see the likes of Dennis, Time and Telegraph Media Group, among others, coming together to provide a programmatic space where brands know their names are going to be in safe hands and that the copy they are advertising against is genuinely high quality. It makes perfect sense for decent publishers to separate themselves from the endless lists of sites that are out there, all vying for clicks on ad exchanges that are no stranger to con men operating click fraud operations.

In essence, that is the beauty of this new platform, which will be powered by AppNexus. Quality publishers have been alarmed at what the march to programmatic could potentially do to their rates per thousand impressions, or CPMs. At the same time, though, brands have been horrorstruck at where technology might take them. Not only could they end up paying for media that ends up on a site that no human will ever see -- they might end up on the type of site where they hope there will be no human around to see where they have ended up.

That is the beauty of this launch. There is a common need for a quality platform for desktop and mobile -- a strong case for why AppNexus was chosen, you would assume -- that offers the opportunities of programmatic while losing a couple of its greatest fears. With their own quality publisher platform, high quality editorial can be used to assure brands they are in a safe environment with a targeted, engaged audience that is worth paying for to reach. 

There is an elephant in the room here, of course, and it is data. By keeping their own platform, one can imagine that publishers will be able to hang on to data. It's not clear from the announcement which data will change hands, and the subject has been a big bone of contention between advertisers and publishers. Brands want as much data from their campaigns but publishers realise part of their premium offering is to have their own pool of information. Give that away, and what do they have left?

So make no mistake -- I believe the part of the announcement that will not be made is that publishers will keep their own data, and perhaps pool it among themselves for the platform, but almost certainly not give in to outside pressure to give advertisers unfettered access to their crown jewels.

Now that brands have been able to take a peak at what driving CPMs through the floor can look like, it's great timing to have a platform which offers a wide choice of quality, safe destinations. For publishers, data hasn't had to be fully shared and, one can imagine, CPMs will be protected from a downward spiral.

So today's decision makes good sense all round.

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