Horizon Media, the largest standalone media agency in the US with some $4.5 billion in ad spend across 100 clients, has not been a major participant in the programmatic trend. But that may be changing.
Horizon is rolling out a programmatic division, dubbed HX, to handle its machine-driven ad buys for clients. The initiative, supported through relationships with four demand-side platforms (DSPs), expands on a two-year foray into programmatic that initially supported Adap.tv. However that effort failed to produce the desired scale, as clients resisted trafficking ads on unknown sites.
"We were contending with the same challenges that certain pockets of the marketplace have today. There's still network buying and perhaps limited visibility. You don't necessarily understand where impressions are," said Donnie Williams, chief digital officer. "It felt like we were another network, talking about the value all these tools brought to properties that in and of themselves were not valuable. It was a tough hole to climb out of."
But climb Horizon did. Partly because of the challenges Williams describes, transparency is the rule at HX. The unit charges a flat markup on working media and discloses that margin to clients.
"There is no arbitrage or resold media," according to Adam Heimlich, SVP Programmatic at HX.
HX has formal agreements with Turn, The Trade Desk, Adap.tv for video inventory and Adelphic for mobile and cross-device. Heimlich and Williams say the agency will integrate additional technologies as required by clients.
Despite Horizon's scale, its version of the trading desk has more in common with a small agency solution than it does with the large centralized hubs popularized (or not, as the case may be) by holding companies such as Omnicom Group and Publicis Groupe. HX employs just eight employees, with plans to increase that number to 20 this year. It has recruited from the likes of Maxus, Accordant and Publicis-operated VivaKi Audience On Demand. That's tiny by comparison to the hundreds working for WPP Group's Xaxis and AOD, for instance – and a drop in the bucket of Horizon's nearly 1,000 employees.