Between Digital Juggles SSP And DSP In Russia

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Mikhail QA imageThis is part of a series on companies advancing programmatic buying in Russia. Read our recent Q&As with YandexADFOXAiData and HubRus.

Between Digital covers both the buy and sell side in the programmatic space in Russia. Its Between sell-side platform launched in 2012 and its Intensity demand-side platform in 2013, and the company employs approximately 20 people with a headquarters in Russia.

Mikhail Getmanov, CEO, told AdExchanger it wasn't the company's intention to launch a DSP, "but we needed to drive the demand for our publishers. And that meant going into the buy side of programmatic. We wanted our publishers to earn more from the RTB ecosystem, which is still in the early years of development."

The company now works with more than 30 Russian DSPs and several global DSPs, and on the buy side, offers mobile and desktop display inventory. Russian-based Impulse VC has been an investor with Between Digital since its inception and the company is "actively talking with different funds and partners because we are considering different opportunities for future growth," Getmanov said.

AdExchanger recently spoke to Getmanov about the Russian market from both the buy and sell side, the growth of programmatic premium and how mobile RTB is growing in Russia.

AdExchanger: What is the RTB space like in Russia right now? Are advertisers and clients asking for programmatic and RTB options?

MIKHAIL GETMANOV: I saw the recent interview with HubRus and he said that market size for RTB is about 1.2 billion rubles, which is about $35 million. This is the estimation that most of us agree with. This year, we expect that RTB will take about 10% of the display market. Our market is in the very early stage, but I think it is moving very rapidly.

Advertisers are asking for RTB, but at this point, the majority of the budgets going into RTB are performance budgets. They often consider RTB an extension of search advertising, which is very effective with Yandex and Google in Russia. Sometimes, when they need more traffic, they turn to RTB because of the hype of this new technology. But then they just don't understand the specifics of RTB and they often think of RTB as some sort of search or contextual advertising. Then, when they don't get the same results, they don't think it's working and they stop or halt some campaigns.

That's what we hear from agencies and clients. That's not the failure of RTB, but it's more the lack of knowledge and lack of efforts or budgets.

Who do you consider your competitors and how does Between Digital distinguish itself?

We have several incumbents in the Russian market as far as ad platforms for our publishers. We have AdRiver, which is about 10 or 12 years old, and AdFox. Both of them offer ad-serving tools and have made some moves into the RTB area. AdFox is actively suggesting RTB monetization and AdRiver is working more on the buy side.

For our SSP, we think about us as a company that builds integrated programmatic functionality, which combines the basic tools for ad serving and RTB monetization in such a way to optimize revenue for our partners.

On the buy side, we position ourselves as an RTB platform for agencies, with some agency-specific features. We also offer some white-label functionality and some straightforward API integration. We have a lot of DSPs in Russia as competitors. Our DSP works on both web and mobile and that also distinguishes us from the rest of the pack.

Are there a lot of companies starting in Russia or moving into Russia, in this space?

One trend we see is players starting to work on both the buy and sell side. This trend makes a lot of sense in Russia and the incumbent players in Russia that have started to build RTB technology on one side, they are now trying to build the other side of the RTB stack.

When we were thinking about launching our DSP platform, we were trying to decide if this strategy was right or wrong, but now we think it's the right decision. We want to integrate as many technology parts within our platform or within our investment fund, which owns a lot of ad tech companies, to be more effective in this market and to offer a better price conditions for our customers. 

And coming from the SSP side, are publishers willing to open up their inventory for programmatic in Russia?

There are several types of publishers and they behave differently toward RTB. If you consider some broad audience entertainment sites, they were pioneers for RTB and met it with great joy. It allowed them to monetize a lot of remnant traffic, which is not specific for audience or topical subjects that would make contextual advertising effective.

These broad audience publishers, they actively started working with RTB platforms and our platforms, but as for the premium websites, publishers or sites devoted to specific topics, they are used to higher CPMs than what they receive initially with RTB, so they were a little reluctant to adopt RTB technology.

What is the next area of growth for the Russian RTB and programmatic space?

In the coming months, programmatic premium is the biggest form of growth. With the coming of programmatic premium, everyone is thinking this may be a good way out for those premium publishers, as it would allow brand advertisers to use same programmatic tools that allow audience targeting and other sophisticated stuff, but still work in the same way with agencies and brands as they are used to doing in the past. Our company's first goal is to become a leader in programmatic premium in Russia.

Video is also coming up. We are going to see more budgets going to programmatic video because some of the RTB players are starting to specialize in video RTB and are developing more video functionality within their platforms. Another goal for Between Digital is to support video advertising for publishers

Mobile RTB advertising has existed for about a year and results here are mixed. We have two types of advertisers, again, for mobile in Russia. We have some interesting and well-known game advertisers, which are ready to buy a lot of mobile traffic, both Russian and global.

The other type is brand advertisers and typical online display advertisers like ecommerce. For them, the reality is that, when you're talking about performance advertisers in mobile, we see that the costs of clicks or app installs is very high for the Russia audience, so the lifetime value of a user that can be acquired through RTB channels just doesn't cover the cost of acquiring these users. This may not be the case with other countries, but in Russia, it is the case.

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