After years of handling programmatic with a light touch, Microsoft is making up for lost time. It has recently rolled out global programmatic direct options, agreements with other portals on automated ad serving standards, and last week, the addition of Window 8.1 apps and Outlook.com email-based placements. Esco Strong, director Microsoft's of Display Marketplace, said the small in-email units will double the amount of programmatic inventory it currently offers.
Additionally, over the next few months Microsoft plans to build a larger real-time bidding business in Western Europe.
The renewed programmatic push stems from the realization that, as it retooled properties from apps to email, it could rebuild its ad system as well.
"We felt it was the right time to introduce a new wave of programmatic offerings from the Microsoft Advertising Exchange in a reimagined way," Strong said. "It all started from a product perspective for users, not advertisers. But as we reformed our products, we saw ways we could also reimagine our ad sales inventory and how it's accessed as well."
Strong discussed Microsoft's programmatic evolution during last week's AppNexus Summit in New York. The new efforts around programmatic are different from the five years ago, the starting point when Microsoft first sought to build a big machine-based response to digital advertising.
Escaping the past: Microsoft tried to go head-to-head with the then-pending $3.1 billion Google purchase of DoubleClick in mid-2007, when CEO Steve Ballmer paid $6.1 billion for interactive ad shop aQuantive. In 2012 it wrote off nearly the entire value of that deal, and earlier this year it sold Atlas to close partner Facebook.
Microsoft appears to have learned a lesson from that experience. Its new programmatic push is focused on products and features that bear its logo, Strong said.
"We've given a lot of thought to the different contexts that consumers find themselves in when using Outlook.com or the apps in Windows 8.1 or using Skype," Strong said. "Even within individual products, we've tried to consider every possible experience. For example, someone using Skype might be texting or they might be on a video call. Programmatic just makes it easier to offer ad choices more quickly and efficiently."
Last year, another part of Microsoft's varied offerings took a different stance toward programmatic ads, when the company's Internet Explorer browser its default user position to "opt-out" of behavioral targeting. That position will surely be tested by Microsoft's current efforts, as Strong insisted that "user control" over their data would remain sacrosanct.
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