Podcast: The Singular BOK

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The godfather of programmatic has retired from advertising. Or has he?

In his first interview since selling AppNexus to AT&T for an estimated $1.6 billion (and stepping down), former CEO Brian O’Kelley comes on the AdExchanger podcast for a nice long talk.

O’Kelley, known to friends and colleagues as BOK, was the tech brains behind primordial ad exchange Right Media before founding AppNexus as an open, independent RTB platform. He has earned his status as a poster child for programmatic not only through his engineering accomplishments and business acumen, but also for his outspoken views and 6’5” stature.

BOK, sporting a gray beard, holds forth on a bunch of topics: the sale of AppNexus, what he’s doing now and whether he’s really retired from ad tech. He also talks about legacy, both his own and programmatic’s as a whole.

And perhaps befitting his “poster child” status, O’Kelley voices misgivings about what the industry has wrought.

“If you’re a high-quality content publisher, do you want to sell your inventory programmatically to maximize yield?” he says. “It’s unclear if it actually is better from a yield perspective than the old way … We’ve made audiences so much more important than context and content, that I think we undervalue premium inventory.”

O’Kelley says the fetish for buying audiences created problems that didn’t exist before the rise of programmatic, from obvious abuses like fraud to less obvious ones like attribution gaming and buying cheap traffic in ways that destroy brand value and publisher revenue.

“If I were starting a company today, I’m not sure I would do banner advertising. And for someone who spent 15 years trying to build a banner company, that makes me want to vomit,” he says. “I would love to see some publishers really have a hard conversation for themselves about how to turn advertising as a medium into something that really delivers value for marketers.”

But he adds, “But that’s not how you get paid in the space.”

Also in this episode: The return of BOK? A potshot at AdExchanger. A personal policy against ad tech investing.

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