Specific Media Deals Into The Programmatic Game, But Can It Play?

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Specific Media’s announced launch Wednesday of a programmatic buying channel – dubbed “Programmatic from Specific Media” – comes at a time when some in the ad-tech industry feel that such tools have become a commodity.

Bill Schild, SVP of global marketing at Specific Media, is acutely aware of the perception that everyone and their mother have developed some sort of programmatic product.

“Our goal has been to work with agencies to find out what the challenges are and build something around that, instead of launching a ‘me too’ product in the marketplace,” he said. One of the biggest problems, he noted, is the lack of efficiency around the media buying process, one that often entails using different platforms to place advertising in different formats – mobile, display, video, etc.

Toward that end, Programmatic from Specific Media – which has the traits of a demand-side platform (DSP) – is designed to enable the purchase of multiscreen and multiformat programmatic offerings at scale. “That’s not in the marketplace today,” Schild claimed.

Companies that have built their business off a DSP -- like Turn, MediaMath and [x+1] – dispute this, though Schild said Specific Media’s solution also offers audio inventory as well.

Another point of differentiation, Schild said, is around the viewability solution Adtricity from Specific Media’s Vindico subsidiary. Schild said Adtricity can measure impressions served in inline frames (iframes) and can account for whether a browser is minimized or hidden behind another tab. Schild also said that Specific Media will offer a viewability guarantee.

While what constitutes ad viewability, especially in video, remains controversial in the ad industry, it remains to be seen whether Schild’s points of differentiation will entice advertisers and media agencies away from long-standing relationships with their existing programmatic solutions providers. In this, Specific Media might find itself tussling uphill.

“It seems like every network has at least one DSP function or another, or they’re coming out with them,” said Alex Andreyev, director of omnichannel marketing at media agency Neo@Ogilvy. These developments are interesting from a diversification standpoint, he added, especially since Neo@Ogilvy evaluates partners in terms of pricing and technology development.

Yet companies that have built entire businesses off of DSPs and programmatic tools (and are now building out data-management platforms – DMPs – to add value to those original offerings) have entrenched themselves among clients. For Andreyev, the only way new players can enter the space and take market share away from legacy ad-tech providers is by providing a unique audience play (one that’s transparently defined, unique and valuable) or offer a solution so technologically out of this world that it blows away advertisers and agencies.

On that latter point however, Andreyev is hard pressed to think of examples. Viewability for instance is something that’s nice to have, but since Neo@Ogilvy works with verification partners, he didn’t think of it as “a game changer.”

“Right now, I can’t think of something that would radically change things for us from a technology standpoint,” Andreyev said. “It’d be fixing things we’re unhappy with and right now, it’s not much.” DSPs have been around long enough such that bigger providers have already ironed out early deficiencies: simplifying workflow, or developing better reporting and audience analysis through a DMP.

And Specific Media faces competition not just from ad technology companies, but also from other traditional ad networks building out technological proficiencies. On Monday, for instance, ValueClick rebranded as Conversant and began positioning itself as a personalization and decisioning platform.

But although there are already major players offering programmatic solutions, these tools still exist in an immature market – and this immaturity could potentially provide an "in" for players like Specific Media who are just now coming out with programmatic solutions. Many advertisers and agencies, for instance, run multiple programmatic solutions and DSPs, so Specific Media’s solution could potentially coexist with other vendor stacks. And once it establishes its working relationship with clients, it has the opportunity to prove value and build its reputation.

Schild remains optimistic that Specific Media’s programmatic solution, which is already running through “five or six clients right now,” is well-positioned.

“We’ve had the technology in-house for a while, where we were buying internally through DSPs and trading desks,” he said. “It’s not like this is our first time at the rodeo. But we know that most agencies out there have a buying arm for programmatic and if we don’t have a solution for that, we don’t play in that game. We need to provide that solution because, look, the solutions out there aren’t the best solutions.”

AdExchanger's Director of Research Joanna O'Connell contributed.

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