News Corp. Exits Rubicon Project Investment

rubicon-news-corpNews Corp. is shifting allegiance from Rubicon Project to AppNexus.

News Corp. offloaded its entire 8% investment in Rubicon Project, or 3.9 million shares, according to an SEC filing on Friday.

Last September, News Corp. invested $10 million in AppNexus. It also signed a master services agreement, enabling its publications to switch over to AppNexus products like Yieldex or its ad server as needed. Some in the industry viewed News Corp.’s investment as a sign it found a new preferred tech partner.

AppNexus, which gained a strong foothold in header bidding through its creation of the open-source prebid.js wrapper, may be better positioned to weather the post-header-bidding shift among supply-side platforms.

“Rubicon and AppNexus are on different tracks,” said Rob Rasko, CEO of digital media consultancy The 614 Group.

In the coming battle over server-side header bidding, a publisher like News Corp. may want to have a stake in a company like AppNexus in order to influence product decisions.

“Given that server-side header bidding is so unformed right now, and the technology and business arrangements could be constructed in so many ways, News Corp. may be thinking, ‘We need to be in the room when those decisions get made,’” offered Chris Kane, founder of consultancy Jounce Media.

News Corp. also may have exited its investment in Rubicon Project because it lost faith in the company, which is reinventing itself as its competitors embrace header bidding. News Corp.’s annual report shows losses from companies where it holds non-controlling interests (a category that would include both Rubicon Project and AppNexus). When a company like Rubicon becomes unprofitable, investors may pressure their firm to exit that investment.

News Corp. isn’t a stranger to ad tech. It bought in-stream video advertising company Unruly for $90 million in 2015, a much bigger bet than it made in AppNexus. And it originally invested in Rubicon in 2010, when the company received shares in exchange for Fox Audience Network.

Publishers that own ad tech tend to come out on top in the digital advertising space. Kane pointed out that both Facebook and Google are also publishers, and that ad tech in and of itself becomes a commodity when it doesn’t have exclusive data or inventory.

Rubicon Project confirmed that News Corp. ended its investment in Rubicon. The company didn’t have a board seat or special voting shares after the company went public, said a spokesperson.

“For nearly a decade News Corp. has been, and continues to this day to be, a valued partner and customer of Rubicon Project,” the spokesperson said.

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