Programmatic ads pose challenge for Web publishers

|By:, SA News Editor

"Many [online] advertisers now care more about who sees their ads than where they appear," writes the Columbia Journalism Review's Steven Waldman in a column about the threat posed to Web publishers by programmatic (automated) ad buying.

Whereas a drug developer might have previously bought ads on popular health sites to reach potential customers, it can now use programmatic campaigns to reach them across the Web, aided by cookies that track when a user has shown an interest in particular drugs (or something related to them).

The upshot? Advertisers are less likely to pay a big premium for inventory on high-profile sites. Waldman: "A marketer can now reach 'New York Times readers' without ever actually advertising in The New York Times, and for less money."

Publishers are responding in part by embracing native ad formats such as sponsored content. But as Waldman observes, a site's image can get hurt when users conflate sponsored and organic material. "Publishers have ended up trading the one thing they had left—their credibility with readers—for a few scraps of CPM."

Yahoo (NASDAQ:YHOO), increasingly using native ads to complement traditional display ads, saw a 24% Y/Y drop in display ad prices in Q2 to go with a 24% increase in ads sold. AOL, both a publisher and a programmatic ad tech provider, fared a little better in Q2.

eMarketer expects U.S. real-time bidding ad spend (a key part of the programmatic market) to rise to $9B in 2017 from $3.4B in 2013. At the same time, it observes many advertisers are treading cautiously for now.

Other Web publishers: IACI, DMD, TTGT, GKNT, WBMD

Ad tech firms with programmatic exposure: CRTO, FUEL, RUBI, MRIN, TRMR, YUME, TUBE