Originally, this post was entitled, “Constraint.” But I failed at achieving it. So now it’s called Visiblity. But it will end up talking about constraint. The reason for the title was Thursday’s launch of Alex Bogusky’s new self-serve programmatic video advertising platform, Visibl, which was a cool name to riff off of, especially since I think visibility might be the single most important thing for the programmatic media marketplace.

And I’m using the word in its financial marketplace sense of its meaning, which is to quote Investopedia: “The extent to which future projections are probable.”



Wall Street traders usually use the word to discuss the future financial visibility of a company they are investing in to generate earnings. Sometimes they use it as a way of benchmarking the future performance of entire markets.

I think it’s a term of art that should be used in programmatic markets too, and it is the main reason why I think Madison Avenue’s traders -- advertisers, agencies and trading desks -- should participate in as many programmatic markets as possible, both open and private ones. Because without it, they won’t really know what “the market” actually is.

Markets can be many things. And the truth is many marketplaces have multiple concurrent markets going on all the time. But to me, “the market” is the sum total of all market activity in a given marketplace. The programmatic marketplace has its own language and ways of thinking about this. Probably the closest thing to Wall Street’s meaning of “visibility” is the way programmatic traders use the term “waterfall.”

Personally, I think it’s a bad word, because the word waterfall implies market values flow only one way -- in the direction of gravity -- you know, downhill. The truth is that the greatest yields -- for both the supply or the demand side -- can occur anywhere along the waterfall. But to recognize it, you have to have visibility. You literally have to be able to see the potential future outcome for the value of a piece of media inventory as it flows along its tributaries. Sometimes the best yield for a buyer might be at the top of the waterfall in a direct relationship with a publisher. Sometimes, it’s down in the deep pool of spillover impressions that have cascaded down. Same thing for suppliers, and I think the SSP (supply-side platform) marketplace has been doing an incredible job of helping publishers understand and optimize their value across it.

Contrary to popular wisdom, I do not think going private -- and operating in “dark pools” -- is the best way to gain visibility. I think it not only limits your potential marketplace intelligence, but it actually limits the potential inventory you might trade with.

So here’s where the constraint part comes in -- and to some extent, this is just a continuation of yesterday’s “Least Objectionable Programmatic” post. Much of the effort to make the programmatic marketplace private is simply intended to constrain it. Its chief advocates have admitted as much, acknowledging that private deals are a way of narrowing the number of marketplace options to a few, preferred, premium, and most importantly, trusted players.

That makes sense from a workflow -- and aggravation -- management point-of-view, because it makes an increasingly complex marketplace simpler and easy to use. It does not, however, increase its visibility. It actually makes it less visible -- or what people in the digital media universe frequently like to call “dark.”

So here’s the real problem as I see it -- or at least how I see the parts that are visible to me: simply ignoring that a part of the universe doesn’t exist, doesn’t mean it doesn’t actually exist. It just doesn’t exist for you. That’s okay if you can somehow survive and thrive in your own walled garden. I just don’t believe that will happen. And Visibl is a good example of it.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have enough visibility to know if Alex Bogusky’s new platform will take off and become a meaningful player -- though if anyone has the brand name and reputation to do it, he can. But even if he doesn’t someone else will, because it’s a necessary solution to a problem. It fulfills an unmet need. It is not an unmet need for the big brands and agencies that like to participate in private marketplaces. It’s one for the rest of the universe -- what Chris Anderson famously coined the long tail. And believe me, there are plenty of those long-tailers out there. Just ask Google. In fact, I did a couple of years ago when they had one of their backgrounder breakfasts with the New York press corps.

So I asked them, how many brands do you have advertising on Google? At first the seemed perplexed, they hemmed and hawed, but I persisted and then they said, “about 3 million.” That’s a problem for big brands, because in the long tail of the digital marketing universe, there is nothing differentiating a “Fortune 500” from a brand No. 2,999,999, except, of course, it’s product, its message, and its ability to connect with a consumer. Ignoring their existence doesn’t mean that 2,999,500 competitors will go away. It just means you’re not aware of that they are doing. Or as Wall Street traders might say, you simply lack visibility.

Personally, I think Bogusky’s venture will take off. I liked the idea when Spot Runner’s Nick Grouf told me about it nearly a decade ago. I like it even better today. Back when Spot Runner introduced a self-serve platform for small advertisers to compete with the biggest and best TV advertisers, the marketplace was less developed -- and how shall I put it, more constrained -- than it is today. Spot Runner was ahead of its time because there just wasn’t the kind of liquidity to scale that model in the TV advertising business ten years ago. Today, there is a virtually infinite amount of “video” advertising opportunities, and what is needed is a simple organizing principle -- a state-of-the-art, self-serve creative platform -- to tap into and exploit it.

So at least we know Alex Bogusky has some visibility. How about you?

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