Inside the Media Machine: Exploring the future of programmatic media, data, and analytics

Many thanks to everyone who attended MTM’s recent forum on Thursday 29th June exploring the future of programmatic media, data, and analytics.

The rise of programmatic has redefined how advertising inventory is traded and delivered. Traditionally bought and sold manually by ad networks, ad inventory sales are now mostly automated and transacted in real-time digital market places, known as exchanges. These transactions, the core of programmatic trading, are underpinned by advanced software solutions and large volumes of data.

But concerns remain about programmatic advertising. How reliable are the exchanges? Is there a hygiene problem underpinning these transactions? How can we trust the supply chain? Which data is the right data?

To help us navigate the complex world of ad tech and programmatic advertising, we were joined at the latest MTM Forum – an event for media and technology professionals are invited to discuss the impact of latest industry trends – by four panellists:

  • Cameran Harman, Client Partner in Audience Network at Facebook
  • Sean Ramsay, Head of Buyside Exchange at Google
  • Amit Kotecha, Marketing Director for EMEA at Quantcast
  • Piers North, Group Digital Director at Trinity Mirror

Chaired by Nick Thomas, Associate Director at MTM, the panel represented different parts of the programmatic ecosystem, and provided lively and engaging debate throughout.

Planning to escape advertising’s Middle Ages

The conversation began with a discussion about the impact of programmatic. The increase in technology providers, on both the supply side and the demand side, was thought to have resulted in complexity issues. With so many platforms seemingly offering identical “end-to-end” solutions, one panellist noted, developing any form of clarity is increasingly difficult, resulting in concerns over murky and fraudulent activity. One panellist offered an enticing analogy for this hygiene problem:

“I feel like we’ve been in the Middle Ages; we haven’t really cared about hygiene – throwing food on the floor and letting the cats and dogs eat it. Then you realise that in the 20th Century, doctors came along and created vaccines for these hygiene problems. That’s what we need.”

For the panel, the doctors of programmatic were thought to be strategists and planners. It was felt human insight was needed to navigate the supply chain, to accurately gauge the value of impressions, establish bidding strategies – whether through open or private auctions – and develop a roadmap for digital advertising.

Playing the banana field

The reliance on human insight and expertise led to conversations over supply chain confidence. There were suspicions from one panellist that the supply chain in its current state, plagued by the hygiene and transparency problems outlined above, doesn’t always add value. Supply chain clarity was, one panellist noted, a large reason why advertisers are being driven to Facebook and Google, and was identified by the panel as a major concern for programmatic trading. One panellist memorably compared the trading of digital ad inventory to a certain type of fruit:

“Programmatic advertising is like the banana market in Ecuador. The ads are the bananas, and the aim is to get your bananas into Waitrose – that’s Facebook. If I can strike a relationship with a shipping company and Waitrose to manage the delivery process then I’m smiling. But there’s this guy on a moped promising to take my bananas and distribute them with real value – and he has the data and Excel sheets to prove it. But really, he takes my bananas, drives up and down the road a few times, before dropping them off to the guy next door who doesn’t need them.”

Data driven? Or data impulse?

The conversation then moved to data – how to judge data, how to harness it, and how to gain authentic data were all issues discussed by the panel. Understanding the right data points – for example which touchpoint offers a business the correct information about their audience – was unanimously agreed by the panel to hold the answer to understanding the benefits of programmatic advertising. With the right information, one panellist noted, you have a much better chance of finding the right customer:

“A lot of data is now available to buy from third parties – it is gathered, packaged and sold. This means there is not the market for whatever you are specifically looking for, resulting in lots of stale information. If you are asking for what you actually need, then it has to be provided in real time. Although, where does this data come from? Where does it originate?”

On the topic of data, the introduction of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) – a new EU law activated in May 2018 regulating the use of personal data – added uncertainty to the conversation. The panel warned the audience against a cavalier data strategy and encouraged the room to become well versed in this new regulation, as the penalties for violation can be severe – up to 4% of global turnover.

Scalability as the solution

The conversation drew to a close with questions over consolidation. Scalable end-to-end solutions were agreed by one panellist as the solution to inefficiency and fragmentation in the marketplace, where any concerns over transparency, hygiene, or dodgy moped-riding salesman could be alleviated. Infrastructure could be developed, they argued, to bring in-house various capabilities along the supply chain. Another panellist disagreed, however, stating it risked benefitting the larger incumbent players at the expense of the smaller.

One solution agreed upon by the panel was header bidding – a tool that empowers publishers to gain more from their inventory. Through simultaneously offering inventories to multiple ad exchanges, publishers increase their yield and revenue. However, a complicated set-up, and concerns over publishers’ page-load times, creates a certain level of risk. And, as summed up by one panellist, it still comes down to two companies:

“Header bidding is really important as, in theory, programmatic offers publishers the best opportunity at the highest possible price. Header bidding is the latest iteration as we are moving quicker from server to server. But who is driving the market? Facebook and Google.”  

And overall? Programmatic trading is here to stay, but the data needs a clean-up to be brought out of the Middle Ages.

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If you are interested to learn more about any of the topics discussed please do not hesitate get in touch at info@mtmlondon.com, or sign up to our weekly mailer to see what we’re thinking about each week.

About Alex Milne Turner

Alex joined us in November and has worked across both the research and strategy teams, not quite being able to make up his mind. Alex is enthusiastic about MTM, and media in general, and about most other things. He has previously worked in television production and was involved with a lot of theatre at university, constantly rebelling against his degree in Philosophy, Politics & Economics.