Adblocking – I am going to make you an offer you cant refuse

Italian organised crime started with men ‘offering’ to protect the olive groves of Sicily from the roving gangs of people who ‘might’ burn them down at any point. It was a slightly one sided offer in that they had little choice as to whether accept that or not. As I have been reading and listening to publishers I have started to see some parallels with the Adblocking industry, especially as you delve into the commercial relations behind the scene.

As a publisher, under so many different pressures, probably the last thing you were planning for was a slick salesman roll up and make you an offer you could not refuse. Pay us some money and we can make this ‘adblocking thing’ go away or if you don’t give us a cut, we are going to let the adblock software loose on your site. Of course the publishers are not the only ones being shafted. The customer who signed up to the software may be surprised to find that he or she is seeing Ads again because the publisher paid the protection racket.What you need is a saviour of course and so enter stage left the guys that come and offer the publisher an option to block the blockers. Now of course they are not quite out of the Superman annuals as you have to pay them as well but I guess its better than not getting any ad revenues and they are working to some extent in their interests.


Overall the whole landscape is very messy, very challenging and right now seems to be a little too much like the Sicilian olive groves of yesteryear.

Annual interview with in Cannes – entering good times in programmatic

Every year at Cannes before the Rubicon Panel we discuss with Andy at where things stand in the programmatic industry and this year we discussed a brighter future. 2014 was the lost year to the topic of transparency but I sense we are over that now and have moved on to programmatic strategy and all the possibilities.

This year also marks a big step for us as we see the completion of the move of campaign planners and buyers into the agencies out of VivaKi and I hope will be the start of a new age in the agencies.

Programmatic in Cannes

Will media owners and tech vendors be scrutinised by procurement?

25-30 Billion dollars of spend up for pitch. The whole industry is alive with comment on it. What does it mean for the agencies, who is up to lose the most and so on. The reason for it has been unclear, could it be digital capabilities, transparency, a stagnant commercial marketplace meaning advertisers have to extract more from their business, there have been many suggestions. Perhaps it is a simple as no one wanting to miss out.

All that said, the blog is not about that topic per se, more what impact all of this is having on the whole industry. There has not been too much of a knock on effect to the world of technology, technology that is now powering so much of the agency media landscape. Across the whole landscape deals have been done, tech fees agreed and contracts signed. The tech companies and tech/media companies are sitting back and watching this all play out with little impact to them, at least for now. But how long can that continue?

As all these pitches play out one thing is for sure, media fees will have reduced across the board, one way or another. Not to say that with increased billings they can’t find other offerings and models to make it up but at a media level, they will be squeezed. So those fees are reduced but the tech fees remain the same. The managed services and RTB networks and even one could argue Facebook and Google margins remain solid and published. So at what point does the advertiser start to turn their attention to those parties?

If the squeeze continues then how can an advertiser be happy that Criteo and Rocketfuel are taking 50+ of their IO and turning it into revenue for themselves (published numbers). Is the only answer to that ‘they are not an agency of record?’ If you can squeeze a percentage point out of an agency, how about 10 from the people your dollars eventually end up with? The topics of taking it house and aggressive sales tactics direct to advertisers such as Tubemogul and others also means that they are trying to take the role of the agency and so would surely have to make sure that their every transaction, their every margin on data and tech be revealed.

I think we are entering interesting times and auditors and procurement are going to run out of room on the agency approach, something has to give. In my eyes their valuable media dollars being passed to tech and inventory players will have to come under scrutiny a lot more than today, and if you want to be the partner that dis-intermediates the agency then you will have to answer to the same scrutiny an agency does, not just commercial but standards of protection, payment terms and all the other lovely stuff that goes with it. But first lets start with the 50% of the advertisers dollars that don’t make it into media.

Ryder Cup of programmatic – my review of US vs Europe programmatic

First published in The Drum – click here

Back in 2010 when I started the European arm of VivaKi’s Audience On Demand, I had to turn to the US for everything. Half the companies I dealt with at the time had to turn to their data centres in the US just to make a bid, something that today would be impossible to imagine.

The US led the programmatic revolution, my own colleagues kicking things off in 2008. I was certainly wowed by the work going on in the US and the sophistication with which they approached this new and complex advertising technique.

Europeans often complain that Americans just don’t understand us. Having spent five months in the US last year, I realise that the reverse is also true. We just don’t understand the sheer scale and complexity of the US market either and because of that it creates more challenges for a single country than for Europe as a whole.

People would say without hesitation or doubt: ‘Oh so how is the UK, what are you, about two years’ behind us?’ Frustrating. So often the opinion was based on scale, not sophistication, and the two are fundamentally different in a market like the US. As I consider my time there and compare it with the UK, I would say there are three primary differences:

Scale vs campaign sophistication

There are advertisers in the US who at times spend more individually than two major European markets combined. Daunting as it is, this type of scale drives innovation and startups. It powers research and learnings because budgets are so large that testing new technology and funding research is that much easier than in smaller markets. But take a narrower view of the work, the strategy, and this is where Europe starts to come into its own.

While scale equates to innovation on a macro level, smaller budgets often lead to more rigorous optimisation on a campaign level.

Let’s take something like centralising retargeting. In the space of about a year the UK revolutionised the marketplace. It was a marketplace where an advertiser routinely had 10+ ad networks and publishers each with a pixel on the advertiser’s site. They would happily retarget their first-party data, creating incredible internal competition and price inflation on their audiences as well as data leakage. This is like letting multiple companies bid on brand search terms. It would never be allowed in search so why in display?

UK advertisers realised relatively quickly the problem needed fixing – and it was fixed. The US is still pondering the complexity.

Vendor management

Vast agency networks across multiple cities creates an opportunity for publishers and media sellers to find money in any number of cracks. Policing spend and agency-preferred partners in the US is incredibly difficult. Say no to a tech company in one city, and they will pitch to your counterpart in another.

Europe appears to have a much better grasp on that process. With relatively smaller teams, overarching strategies can be put into play and monitored effectively. This may not be to the liking of some media companies, but it needs to be done to ensure best-in-class partnerships.

Invented in the US, adopted in Europe, private marketplaces (PMPs) are another of Europe’s success stories. The speed with which the UK alone created PMPs surprised my US colleagues and competitors. Building bespoke PMPs is now the norm in Europe to drive programmatic business. In the US there are still DSP providers without PMP functionality, which I find incredible.

At a dinner I attended in New York, publishers were bemoaning the lack of buyer demand. In Europe we see the opposite – publishers and agencies are driving an ever higher proportion of spend via PMPs and there is massive innovation as well.

La Place Media in France is a prime example, and another more recent is theglobal launch of Pangaea, the publishing alliance led by The Guardian but including FT, CNN, The Economist and others. This is not happening in the US, as most players consider themselves too large to need that kind of collaboration. I think this is a mistake as Google, Facebook and others are only getting bigger and stronger.

Agility and innovation

Things just seem to move faster in European markets. Ideas are put into action very quickly. Geography helps. When AOD launched in the UK, I would walk down Charlotte Street in London, dealing with just a handful of leaders. The same approach in the US spans as many as six cities, 10 agencies and an army of people.

This is not a criticism, it is a fact.  Even when you have a well-developed idea, beta-testing is much quicker in a European market as you work with smaller teams who work next to each other.

Innovation is a hot topic and one that I think we lament when we look at the hotbed of Silicon Valley and the burgeoning New York scene.  However huge strides are being made in EMEA with hot new companies emerging from Israel to Amsterdam and Moscow.

One continent awe-inspiring in scale and opportunity. One continent agile and swift.  Operating in parallel? Formidable.

The BIG 6 learnings from 2014 Adtech

First published in Campaignlive US – click here for article.

In a year dominated by headlines of transparency, fraud, agency trading desks and advertisers “taking it in house,” we should not lose sight of the incredible pace of acquisitions, IPOs and investments. In all these seemingly endless and haphazard investments, we have seen a few patterns form — some just starting out while others completing the circle.

Completion of the ad stack

Probably the largest amount of ground was covered here. After the first big move last year by AOL buying, we saw a flurry of activity. Yahoo bought BrightRoll and Flurry; Facebook bought LiveRail and relaunched Atlas. AOL, Yahoo and Facebook are all live or creating their DSPs so if you want to buy their inventory you need to use their DSP. All these moves are designed to allow the big players to compete with Google and offer a full stack to the market place. More importance is being attached to being able to demonstrate targeting abilities across channel and platform, and this is where the battlegrounds will form.

One view to rule them all

As well as the platform and infrastructure play, we have seen massive moves afoot to deliver user identification both in terms of interests and where they are consuming media. The cookie is dying, slowly, everyone can see that and the realization that owned, logged in, registered data is the new cookie. Much hand-wringing occurred when Facebook bought WhatsApp. No revenue, no ad model, what are they doing? Well one, they needed to buy up the competition as they did with Instagram, but two, it massively expands Facebook’s pool of registered, logged-in user data. Everyone now wants to create a unique set of data insights around consumers, and I am afraid that is setting us back a little: Advertisers have a right to get a single view of their customer and not be forced to work with multiple siloes.

2014 — year of video

I know, it was meant to be the year of mobile (maybe it was really), but it turned out that video stole the show. A strong IPO from TubeMogul, Videology partnering with Mediaocean and Turn launching a TV offering, BrightRoll being bought by Yahoo, LiveRail by Facebook showed just how important video has become to advertisers and media-owners alike.

If it is not the media side of it, it is the structural side: Comcast bought up Freewheel in a move sure to take it toward programmatic, and the U.K.’s Channel 4 opened up VOD to selected video DSPs. Whether it is connected, on demand or in stream, video has well and truly taken center stage. Next year is the year of mobile. Definitely. Really.

Enterprise marketing solutions look to ad tech

The likes of Oracle, IBM, Salesforce and Adobe have for years looked in the other direction when it came to media and ad tech, but 2013 and 14 have seen that change considerably. There have been some major plays this year: most notably Oracle buying BlueKai, but Adobe and Oracle have also signed major agency deals and continue to feature heavily in the discussion of merging marketing tech with ad tech.

The ups and downs of IPOs

What a year for IPOs! I think everyone was taken aback by the volume and pace of the IPOs this year. Rubicon began strongly and gave the market some confidence. TubeMogul followed, and there was talk from DataXu as well, although that has not materialized. RocketFuel and Millennial IPO’d but to less success, and they followed Tremor and others in falling dramatically from their first-day float. Some of the business models are being questioned on the basis of market position, their real added value or even whether their businesses are built on the hard and never-ending work of the bots.

Internet of things as bought by Google

From left field comes a raft of purchases that prove the tech giants are looking well beyond the banner. (That’s dead, right?) Facebook bought Oculus Rift; slow on the social-gaming ride, Facebook simply jumped one step ahead. Google has bought into Nest, the household wireless heating/ home control system. Samsung bought Smart Things, another platform for controlling the home, and finally Google bought a drone company. There were more, but you get the idea. I recommend you read the book The Circle by Dave Eggers about a social-media company that becomes part of everything in our lives and slowly erodes privacy … Then look at some of these purchases.

Marco Bertozzi is President of AOD, EMEA and North American Client Services with VivaKi.

12 Months of Adtech reviewed

In 12 months the Ad tech market place has gone totally crazy, impossible to keep track of it all and the money invested is off the scale, but below I highlighted a few stories and events in the last 11 months that I noted. I will have missed others for sure!

There has been some negativity around the space with transparency being a hot topic and whether advertisers want to take this all in house, but those headlines have distracted from some incredible market changing investments, purchases and alignments. Enjoy the reminisce!


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The Partridge in a Pear tree for Yahoo was Enrique Decastro, bringing him in on a huge salary and being presented as a saviour for the organisation, driving sales and value for the business. Unfortunately January saw that particular partridge being shot. Quick acting by Marissa to be fair to her, but an unlikely choice in the first place according to many. More recent news has seen Lisa Utzschneider fill that space, coming in from Amazon.

In other news Turn receive their belated Christmas present raising $80m as they march on as a leading DSP in the market and looking to expand beyond that descriptor and moving more towards a wider DMP, services model, some might call agency model.

Holy F*** February

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February was IPO crazy month with Pubmatic rumours, Rubicon filing, Rocketfuel all taking the plunge – some big valuations were banded around and it was the month everyone realised that the good times were back and the VCs were starting to spend all that cash they had been hoarding through the bad times – the bubble is inflating. Google buys another company, on the back of Deepmind in January, a London based machine learning company, called Vungle. We have seen the signs but Oracle buying Bluekai was a big flag being waved to show that the digital media business was being taken seriously by the cloud and consultancy companies. We also saw round one of TV disruption being won by the old school with Comcast getting Netflix to pay them for streaming services, the upstart being slapped into place.

But all the IPO business paled into insignificance when the world collectively went ‘what the f*** app’ as Facebook put down a multi billion dollar offer for the social messaging app. Cue the hand wringing about lack of revenue, too high a price from the digerati turned incredible commercial strategists. Facebook are clear on this, show us something growing fast and taking share and I will show you my cheque book (or should it be Visa Debit Card). Scale is everything in a world where data and the identification of people and what they are doing and where they are doing it becomes the most valuable asset. Or perhaps Mark is hoping to achieve the same status as Steve Jobs who was approved to appear on a US stamp that very same month.

Modernisation March


March saw a number of moves for the future by different companies. Comcast bought Freewheel, a clear indication they are gearing up for a programmatic, data led future and could not resist the tide any longer. At the same time AOL One launched to much fanfare – the Game of Stacks now well underway with AOL taking a big step forward, We are but pawns in this incredible battle of supremacy between AOL, Facebook, Amazon, Twitter and Google and there is much more to go as we see this play out. The single view of the customer across screens is a vital offering and these teams are throwing everything at it, whilst Microsoft seems to be frozen to the spot at the moment. Perhaps they need to remove their whole sales team and start again? Oh..

Finally in modernisation March we saw Conde Nast take the stage and announce proudly, albeit a few years late that they had decided that yes programmatic was something to pay attention to and they would be getting involved. Thanks for that.

April Fools?

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The first signs of trouble for the IPOs of the previous months – the city falling out of love with a number of them, seeing prices fall significantly and some below opening day. There was some scepticism at IPO but recent press questioning whether these companies were right to value themselves on the hard work of bot traffic came into play. As the curtain lifts on the methods of many RTB companies this may be a theme for the future, perhaps even hitting the FT one day…oh it did.

RadiumOne saw some ‘Rocky’ waters as their CEO was eventually prosecuted for beating his wife up. It took some time and a fair amount of industry Twitter rejection to get him ousted but it happened and then everyone moved on as he set up Gravity8 three minutes later.

As if to demonstrate two different strategies Facebook and Google both made a play for the future with Facebook launching an…. Ad Network..meanwhile in other news Google bought a drone company – was it an April Fool? well after Nest in January and now a drone maker it appears not – Internet of Everything anyone?

Merger May, Maybe not

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Publicis and Omnicom call off merger. Must be something else they can buy sooner or later surely?

Millenial and Rocketfuel taking an absolute beating on the stock market as increased speculation on their businesses and whether or not they are complimentary or in conflict with agencies rage. Google and AOL keep buying companies to further enhance their operations, Google getting into attribution and AOL into cross channel allocation, interesting that both are now toe to toe on making the stack work. It was a month where everyone appeared to be tooling up with Axium buying and Liveramp to help with data onboarding.

Qriously June

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What is the worst brand name in Adtech? Qriously of course. Apparently that was not all bad and brought some pre Cannes exposure coupled with their expensive tablet card asking for a meeting. Memorable but expensive I would say, some might say a qrious decision.

June was the month GroupM announced a withdrawl from open exchanges and that it would be done by Christmas, big claim for sure. Could someone check for me? pretty sure they are still there but there is still time.  As with every year Cannes came around and the Adtech world took it by storm – the rose looked and tasted the same, the beaches were packed with hard working media folk but the names were different, everyone had upgraded this year and the place now resembled an Exchangewire event at scale. It was a good time to be in Cannes as the money continued to flow and pay for those expensive tents and lunches. Mediamath picked up a massive 170m dollars, Twitter bought Tap commerce for 100m, Facebook bought slingshot and WPP ploughed 25m into a DMP strategy.

Buy buy July

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Enough said, the boom continued and at pace. Facebook buys Liverail as its next move in Stack Wars, Yahoo buys Flurry to continue its successful push into mobile revenues, a battle it appears to be winning as we are seeing now as it overtakes Twitter in mobile revenues. Linkedin bought Bizo, a natural fit for both and makes us wonder if the sleeping giant is starting to wake up and join the fight.

Rocketfuel bought the very transparent X+1 as it starts the long road away from the darkness and into the incredibly difficult world of running a business transparently. In the spirit of transparency Turn took a turn in July and went on the offensive, taking aim at Tubemogul amongst others, it felt like an email you send late at night when slightly under the influence  – stand away from the send button. Oh no, you did August.


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Everyone went to the beach. Google bought some more companies.

Facebook me September!

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Millenial fights back and buys Nexage to grow out its programmatic credentials and build credibility in the data and RTB space. At the same time WPP drop their adserving business and buy into the DSP business, out with the old in with the new.

The Alibaba IPO put Yahoo into a very interesting position, as perhaps a buyer or maybe a seller? There is a strong belief that Yahoo and AOL are on a collision course and so having their P&L filled to the rafters with the Alibaba IPO cash will put them in a great position either way.

But really all everyone wanted to talk about was Atlas and the launch of their new adserving platform and soon to be launched DSP. Facebook had now made its biggest move in the Stack wars. Combining improved adserving tech with their data and soon to be launched DSP. With this move we see ever more clearly that there are likely to be some large islands of tech and everyone of those is ring fencing owned and operated inventory and how you access it. We have moved a long way from the utopia of one access point to the web and are now focused on how can we join these islands up with DMP and other technology.


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Publicis buys RUN and invests in Matomy – something to expect as we progress and competition comes not just from other agency groups but also the very aggressive managed service offerings and RTB networks. Agency groups will need to tool up more and more and so I think we can expect more down the road. Mediamath go to prove the point and buy Upcast showing how they need to tool up as well and keep delivering new products and services cross channel and cross device. Meanwhile Videology launch a programmatic TV offering to follow Turn but go a step further in teaming up with major US TV partner.

Stack Wars is back in October with Yahoo buying Brightroll, a sensible move as you consider the purchase of Adapt by AOL and Facebook of Liverail a couple of months earlier. We now see them all with video offerings, display offerings, adserving and performance products and suites of data.  I think we are about at the right time to see them kick off. Atlas has hired a key guy in Damian Burns to lead their offering, once he has his feet under the table I think we will see some real movement.


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Headlines were:

Publics buys Sapient a huge acquisition and another one under the radar taking the advertising world by storm. An incredible team of people joining the Publicis.Sapient platform.

Channel 4 after years of resistance to programmatic have announced they are getting into the market place and will no doubt leave ITV where to go next. Either way it is clear the TV marketplace is hotting up and now we are seeing a hockey stick of activity and partnerships. Exciting times all around.

Rubicon buys two companies to help build out its direct deal automation tech..yawn. Yes you got it, we are going to take all those buys you used to do over the phone and now do it on a platform without any cherry picking or data insights. Just back to buying impressions. Back to the future.

I am sure I missed a number of big deals – list them below so we get the full picture of the comings and goings of Adtech and its sheer scale. Thanks