Curation puts key players back at the heart of programmatic

Three of the most important players in making online advertising work are the agencies, the publishers and the data providers. But the rise of programmatic has pushed them apart and made it more difficult for them to capitalize on their unique assets and experience.

A key selling point for agencies used to be their expertise in buying the right media for their clients at the best price. Now that function has been largely commoditized through programmatic trading, it’s no longer an exclusive differentiator.

At the same time, publishers are constantly trying to balance the need to monetize their audience with maintaining a high-enough quality experience to keep them coming back.

Meanwhile data providers find themselves deprioritized within the demand side platforms (DSPs) – or even shut out entirely – in favor of the platforms’ own data sources and partners. They also have no way of monitoring use of their data in real-time, making forecasting and planning impossible.

And although programmatic has given advertisers increased scale, improved targeting and streamlined access to inventory, it’s left them struggling with an all-but-impenetrable online advertising ecosystem. According to an ISBA study last year: ‘publishers received half of advertiser spend. 15% of advertiser spend, representing around one-third of supply chain costs, could not be attributed.’

Taking back control

Saul Stetson, Head of Product, Curation for The MediaGrid, an IPONWEB company, believes it’s time for agencies, publishers and data providers to take back control. The MediaGrid aims to address the challenges facing all three groups, while making the whole process more transparent for advertisers.

“In some ways The MediaGrid acts as a typical sell side platform (SSP), with direct header integrations with thousands of different publishers,” Stetson explains. “But it also hosts what we call a curation layer where somebody can go in, select inventory directly from the publishers we have integrated, and then do all sorts of interesting things with that inventory based on whatever their use-case or application might be.”

Three problems, one solution

According to Stetson, curation means different things to each group.

“If you’re an agency, you can curate your own supply marketplace. You hand-pick the publishers you want, create direct relationships with them, and secure preferential access or rates with them. Then you can enrich that supply with your own or third-party data. You can build a deals marketplace, and then start to manage those deals in the centralized curation hub. This allows you to manage supply in a much more hands-on way, while still creating a mechanism that will execute any sort of buying via a deal ID through the DSP of your choice.”

Similarly, he explains, data providers can use curation to inject their data into the programmatic supply bidstream, enrich inventory on the supply side with data, package it up as deals, and then send it to any DSP for execution.

“Then they can see when that deal ID gets activated, and if it gets turned off, they can reach out to the buyer and help troubleshoot in real time. So it gives data providers more visibility and control of usage. Plus, because the data is layered into the supply side, data providers can access far more buyers than before without necessarily having to rely on the DSP.”

Finally, The MediaGrid enables publishers to continue to build revenue through audience extension programs – using their first-party audience data to identify their users on third-party sites, increasing reach and scale for advertisers while reducing cost per thousand (CPM) – but in a way that matches how agencies want to work.

“The challenge is that audience extension programs have always been a managed service, because the publisher isn’t going to give that first-party data to the agency,” Stetson explains.

“Curation gives publishers the ability to offer that audience extension program, but in a way where the buyers are not forced to break the workflows they want to use. Agencies can be more proactive testing the strategy, because they can activate through their chosen DSP and manage it holistically along with all their other campaign activities and media buys.”

Going with the workflow

This question of retaining existing workflows is key, Stetson believes. He feels they’re too entrenched to try and replace, just as the dominant DSPs are too established to make it realistic for agencies to consider building platforms of their own.

“The DSPs have done a really good job of building products that meet the brands’ needs, so agencies have built strong capabilities around executing buys through their DSPs of choice,” he concludes. “What we’re saying to them is there’s a better way to do what you want to do, without breaking the existing entrenched workflows. And that way is curation.”