Google Under Fire For “Sweetheart Deals”; Vungle Buys GameRefinery

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Sweetheart Deals?

Ah Google, if it’s not one thing it’s another. Now, it seems that the Big G has also sparked the ire of small ad tech firms who say the company has entered into a number of revenue-share arrangements with select ad tech vendors — little-known deals which some executives at companies operating in the space have described as unfair to smaller firms. Per Business Insider, ad tech firms like Marin Software and Kenshoo receive multi-million dollar rebates from Google each year. Such deals promise ad tech vendors big payouts from Google depending on how much their clients spend on search engine ads — including on other search platforms beyond Google. Some selected companies earn millions of dollars in these rebates from Google each year. But smaller firms like UK-based startup Bidnamic say these little-known rev share agreements with Google – already facing mounting regulator pressure over claims of anticompetitive practices – are “a kick in the teeth” for smaller ad tech companies struggling to survive the current turbulent economic conditions. Read on. [Related from AdExchanger: Inside Google’s US Media Rebate Program]

The Mobile Jungle

With Apple’s IDFA changes on iOS 14 just around the corner, Blackstone-backed video-focused mobile ad network Vungle is acquiring gaming analytics startup GameRefinery. Terms of the deal, announced on Tuesday, were not disclosed, but the purchase is evidence that disruption can often lead to consolidation. LUMA Partners advised on the deal. Finland-based GameRefinery, whose clients include Zynga, King, Rovio and Ubisoft, offers contextual data sets and brings image recognition and creative tagging capabilities that Vungle can use to support its Creative Labs offering. Reporting on visual elements, including style and genre fit, will help Vungle provide better performance recommendations. Creative analysis is set to get a lot more important as Apple and Google make changes to their ecosystems that impact an advertiser’s ability to target. Creative tech platform VidMob recently closed a $50 million Series C with that point in mind. GameRefinery is Vungle’s second acquisition in less than six months. Vungle bought marketing intelligence platform Algolift in October. VentureBeat has more.


Sen. Amy Klobuchar has quickly become the face of antitrust reform as chair of the Senate antitrust subcommittee (she’s looking at you, Google, Facebook, et al.). After all, the governing body has introduced and co-sponsored legislation that could alter liability protections for digital firms, put guardrails on health data use, require online political ad transparency and give publishers leverage in negotiations with tech platforms. And when Klobuchar discusses her signature issue — antitrust reform — the Minnesota Democrat often links it to other concepts like data privacy, media industry fairness and even the first amendment. But Digiday reports it helps to consider Klobuchar’s background to understand why reining in the big platforms seems so personal. She makes a point of reminding people that her father was a journalist – a Minnesota Vikings beat writer for the Minneapolis Star and later a columnist for what would become the Star Tribune. To Klobuchar, anti-competitive behavior by the giants of tech has been fueled by a voracious appetite for personal data, which she argues helps fund disinformation and disadvantages the sorts of publishers her dad once worked for. Read on

Bar talk

Shiv Gupta, Richy Glassberg and Rich LeFurgy walk into a bar… Or at least a socially-distanced Zoom meeting. Gupta, founder of U of Digital, posted his second episode of Drunk Advertising History where he and his guests reminisce about the old days of ad tech. In this episode, Gupta chats about the start of the IAB, with original founders LaFurgy (swilling from a literal jug of IPA) and Glassberg (drinking a California cabernet). Fun facts: In the initial days of the IAB, back in the mid-90s, it was all volunteer work (not anymore) and the IAB did a lot to drive dollars online. At the time, it cost as much to size the ads to the make the creatives as it did to pay for the actual advertising. So Glassberg had to convince companies to use the IAB’s eight sizes – which allowed online advertising to double in a year. “Why? Because they stopped having to spend money to resize their ads.” If you want to hear more, pull up a chair and grab a beer for a ten minute walk through digital advertising history. 

But Wait, There’s More!

Eric Seufert’s tweet: “If you thought Google’s iOS 14 guidance was meager, behold … Twitter’s. [blog post]

Facebook’s hardball move in Australia comes with risks. [WSJ]

Brands are betting big on marketing ahead of what’s being described as the roaring ’20s of consumerism as Americans move from ‘hesitancy to hope.’ [Ad Age]

Instagram boosts interaction with Live Rooms as the Facebook-owned network follows Twitter’s launch of Spaces. [CampaignUS]

Twitter rolls out vaccine misinformation warning labels and a strike-based system for violations. [TechCrunch]

Tremor Video expands its full-service digital creative studio for brands and agencies. [release]

MiQ and BVA have announced a strategic partnership to aid ecommerce brands in their programmatic advertising journeys. [release]

Independent ad-tech duo MediaMath and LiveIntent are teaming up for an email-based “nonID” to power programmatic media buys after the decline of the third-party cookie. [Adweek]

Crackle Plus adds SpotX to monetize OTT inventory across new distribution channels. [release]

Shaquille O’Neal co-founds new ad agency focused on diversity. [WSJ]

Music video network Vevo will use iSpot to measure its CTV audience. [release]

Instacart has raised $265 million at a $39 billion valuation. [CNBC]

You’re Hired!

Stationhead, a streaming platform reinventing live radio, has announced that former Soundcloud executive Joe Amenia will join the company as director of creator partnerships. [release]

Consumer Acquisition hires Executive Producer Evan Astrowsky as general manager of Creative Studio. [Martech Series]

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