Publisher-Agency Hybrids Will One Day Take On Facebook and Google

christophecambordeData-Driven Thinking” is written by members of the media community and contains fresh ideas on the digital revolution in media.

Today’s column is written by Christophe Camborde, CEO at Ezakus.

In the wake of Publicis Groupe’s $3.7 billion acquisition of Sapient Corp., I have to give Publicis CEO Maurice Levy much credit. He dusted himself off in the aftermath of the failed Omnicom merger and reasserted his place as a mover and shaker in the agency world.

What’s even more impressive is how SapientNitro recently positioned itself as a next-generation agency that combines traditional creative and media planning and buying capabilities with technology and analytics services. It’s a direct challenge to management consulting firms like Deloitte and Accenture.

This powerful and undeniable symbol illustrates how the ongoing advances in marketing and advertising technology spark innovation in entrenched business models that recently seemed set in stone. These shifting paradigms in our industry have inspired me to make a bold prediction.

Within the next five to 10 years, I believe a steady flow of M&A activity will coalesce around three to four major digital marketing companies that will rise from the mergers of large agency and publisher organizations. These new hybrid companies will offer brands end-to-end solutions encompassing creative, media and technology consulting and services.

The impact will be profound. By merging publisher and agency groups, the digital advertising supply chain will be pruned to the extent that the current costs – highly inflated by too many suppliers and too much arbitrage-type media gaming – would drop significantly, offering brands the ROI they’ve long craved.

These newly created hybrids could become legitimate competitors for Google and Facebook, in terms of skill and scale. The domino effect of the major mergers will also have a salutary effect on the ad tech ecosystem. I predict that the infamous LUMAscape will become much less crowded as marginal ad tech companies are left behind while those with leading-edge applications remain viable. Ad tech companies won’t be able to fool people any longer with smoke and mirrors; they must become as innovative as Airbnb and Uber.

Why am I so bullish on this fantastical scenario? One word: programmatic. In an increasingly programmatic world, agencies can become publishers and publishers can become agencies. It’s already happening in my native France, where some publishers are building their own trading desks to create audience extension opportunities for brands.

As programmatic becomes more widely accepted and refined, the current distinctions between SSPs and DSPs, for example, will disappear. Already, publishers have amassed huge amounts of customer data that facilitates targeting. Publishers are quickly moving to a revenue calculus that includes 30% of qualified impressions coming via outside content platforms, in addition to 70% comprised of their own audiences. At this point, their breadth of services is not so different from Google or Facebook. Many publishers also have real-world assets like print vehicles, which their pure-play digital competitors lack.

But there’s one thing missing for publishers: the creative.

That’s why joining with agencies makes so much sense. Since agency valuations are higher than for publishers, agencies will drive these deals and, in most situations, have the upper hand. Of course, the leverage pendulum would swing to the publisher side if gigantic media groups, such as Viacom and News Corp., decided to subsume agency groups. I predict, however, that smaller publishers will drive this new agency-publisher paradigm, at least in the beginning, as they creep toward extinction and look at agencies as white knights.

The naysayers who doubt that this level of disruption is possible because of potential antitrust or conflict-of-interest obstacles should look no further than the financial services industry. Firms like JP Morgan have effectively set up Chinese walls between conflicting business units in a manner that have kept regulators at bay. It’s also what Facebook and Google have been doing in recent years.

Follow Ezakus (@ezakuslabs) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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