Hating On Programmatic Stops The Progress of Channel Convergence

Blog   |   Lorne Brown   |   July 29, 2015

Recently, hot digital media companies like Vox and Mic have gotten press by “shunning the digital advertising ecosystem,” particularly programmatic. I can understand why. When a publisher makes a show of avoiding programmatic, it’s short hand for shunning what many people consider to be a low quality, shady part of digital advertising. When you’re young and still growing, saying no to programmatic advertising is a smart move to elevate the perceived quality of your property (“Hey advertisers, I’m safe!”). It’s also pretty cool to be digitally savvy enough to build your own stuff.

But life is never as simple as it seems. In fact, many big media companies are acquiring these very technologies for themselves. And a good start to encouraging progress is if for all of us to start using the right words to tell our story.

First of all, the way many people are using the word “programmatic” is bogus. As I outlined recently, the term means a lot of things, but mostly it means “automated” and can include everything from opaque unbranded RTB traded inventory on OpenX to spot TV bought directly with a broadcaster. The idea that a new digital property would never embrace any technology that enables automated buying is shortsighted. Of course companies like Vox will buy and sell “programmatic” inventory. They may never participate in an open RTB exchange, but they’re smart enough to find efficiencies through automation and no advertiser would hold that against them.

Presence Inc

Advertisers want to buy audiences, not just good content. If a publisher has both, they should plan to offer both, which means that one way or another, life will be a lot easier if they use some kind of programmatic media buying technology. Several major media companies have publicly embraced “premium programmatic.” That might mean that they use automated guaranteed buying, programmatic direct or, one day, even programmatic TV. And these publishers will start investing in these technologies because premium advertisers are will demand that they do.

eMarketer believes that most of the growth in “programmatic” in the next few years will come from premium media buys, where advertisers and publishers are transparent with one another. This makes sense. Consumers are watching more video on more screens than ever before, and they like premium content. Big media companies will have no choice but to aggregate eyeballs across addressable, OTT, streaming video and more if they want to win the big advertising contracts. (There is a method to Verizon’s acquisitive madness.) This means that they’ll need to empower their ad sellers to package much more complex, sometimes audience-driven deals. This works best when at least part of the process is automated.