Financial Times programmatic chief on header bidding and a lack of transparency

Jessica Barrett talks about header bidding and a lack of transparency

Programmatic is expanding and growing to become more and more complex each year. For The Financial Time's (FT) global head of programmatic, Jessica Barrett, it is important that the technology does not do anything to add latency to its pages as it cannot effect the user experience.

In October 2016, the FT launched its new website, which claims to be the fastest loading news website in the world and saw increases in reader engagement hit as high as 30%.

Last year The Drum Digital Trading Awards US was launched and it is back for 2017, with Barrett being one of the many experienced professionals to judge the entries. Ahead of the awards, The Drum spoke to Barrett about adtech, fraud and domain-spoofing and what she expects to see from this year’s award entries.

The FT has been something of an exception among publishers when it comes to ad tech developments like header bidding, can you tell me your thoughts on how you engage it, or not?

I’m not against header bidding generally speaking, but I don’t think it makes sense for the FT. Our sell-through rates and CPMs are quite high, so header bidding doesn't result in any uplift in yield or revenue. FT.com is currently the fastest loading news website in the world and we want to keep it that way.

It’s important that we don’t do anything to add latency to our pages as we cannot effect the user experience. The FT’s loyal readers have always been our top priority. I don’t care about monetizing a few ad impressions if it means losing one of our subscribers.

What have been the biggest challenges the programmatic sector has had to contend with over the past year?

Things like fraud and domain-spoofing continue to plague the programmatic space. One of the biggest challenges for publishers is educating buyers on how to properly purchase their quality inventory.

Some buyers that are shifting their direct budgets into programmatic think that the impressions they were buying at $50+ CPMs are now $1 in the open marketplace. Besides fraud, there are also a lot of hidden costs in the programmatic supply chain, so buyers end up paying a lot more than if they were to buy via direct campaign.

Which of the above challenges are currently being addressed most effectively in your opinion, and which ones are likely to be ongoing issues?

TrustX aims to solve both of those challenges. Buyers can operate in the TrustX open marketplace without fear of buying fraud. It is an “invite-only” SSP that only bills buyers on impressions deemed human and viewable.

What has been the most innovative thing you have seen from programmatic this year and why?

Although in its early stages, I think the IAB’s Ads.txt initiative is quite innovative. Lack of transparency remains a huge issue in the supply chain, and ads.txt aims to solve that. It’s still early days but a lot of the major platforms have already adapted it, hopefully it succeeds.

Where do you see the industry going in the next 12 months?

Programmatic is certainly not perfect and many marketers are starting to recognize just how complex it is. We’re already seeing brands demand full transparency when it comes to the media supply chain in an effort to understand where each dollar is spent, with whom, and the exact function these intermediaries serve.

As a result, technologies and agencies will need to adapt to a more transparent model. The open marketplace is still rife with fraud and domain spoofing, so it’s important for publishers to educate agencies and brands on how to best purchase their inventory. Customer service is still and will continue to be important in this space.

As a judge at The Drum Digital Trading Awards US, what would you expect to see from the entries this year?

I want to see examples of how programmatic eliminates manual inefficiencies and produces great results for marketers. Programmatic is often associated with fraud, arbitrage, etc so it would be great to see how it can be used in more positive ways.

How do you see being awarded an advantage for those in the industry?

There is so much going on in programmatic this year (especially in the US), so awards are an excellent way to recognize leaders in the space. There is so much negativity associated with the word “programmatic,” and with good reason. Recognizing and rewarding the people who use programmatic properly proves that programmatic can be great.

Barrett is a judge for The Drum Digital Trading Awards US and the shortlist will be announced on Tuesday August 1. Tickets are on sale for the ceremony on Thursday 21 September.

Sponsors for the awards include: Media IQ, Intermarkets, Unacast, Bid Switch, Digital Remedy and Open X.

Danielle Gibson

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