Grazing In ‘Preferred’ Pastures – Why Google Expanded ‘Partner Select’

GoogleSellGoogle’s big video reveal this week included a significant update to its premium video exchange, Google Partner Select.

At the time of its launch last June, it was unclear how many participants initially were involved in Google’s effort to “bring together the best of brand advertising with the best of programmatic,” Neal Mohan, Google’s VP of video and display advertising, wrote in the DoubleClick Advertiser blog.

But Mohan’s outline onstage Tuesday at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas added some additional clarity.

Google identified 30 premium publishers and broadcasters, including CBS Interactive, Fox News, Discovery, Hearst Television, Scripps Networks, PGA Tour and Wenner Media mainstays Rolling Stone and Men’s Fitness, each of whom are participating in Google Partner Select to varying degrees with formats ranging from full-episodic and short-form content to live sports and news.

One question is what volume inventory will these publishers allocate toward Google’s marketplace and what will Google yield in return?

“If I had to guess the percent [of inventory], I would say it’s probably less than 5% to begin with because they’ll want to observe uptake, volume and margin,” said Vik Kathuria, global chief media officer for Publicis Groupe agency Razorfish.

In the case of Fox News, a Google Partner Select publisher, one of the key benefits of partner status has been access to more premium brands in a well-lit environment, said Zach Friedman, VP of digital ad sales at Fox News Channel and Fox Business Network.

Google, to that end, has cited more than 20 brands that have bitten with advertiser commitments, such as Allstate, BMW and Netflix, and have subsequently seen video ad completion rates of 74%.

Although Fox News’ programmatic history with display dates back more than three years, it is upping the ante in programmatic video of late. FOX Television Stations, for instance, partnered recently with Facebook’s video platform LiveRail to package local TV station inventory programmatically. It partnered also in September with the DoubleClick Ad Exchange and Vindico for display and video, although it no longer has a direct relationship with Vindico.

“We thought [Partner Select] would open up new clients to run on our properties, and that it would give buyers and sellers alike comfort when working together and without shooting in the black box we’ve heard so much about with the exchanges,” Friedman said. “We wanted to be a part of a premium marketplace.”

FuBu (For Us, Buy Us?)

So what does Google stand to gain from a program like Partner Select?

“Google’s foundation in display inventory is based on their publisher relationships through DFP – their exchange,” said Adam Heimlich, managing director of Horizon Media’s programmatic division, HX.

Despite this role, they’re also known “for delivering low prices for advertisers, but that’s a neat trick to be able to pull off,” Heimlich added. “People don’t talk as much about how they’re able to do that and it’s because they have so much volume and so much data that they can do a lot of complex modeling for buyers and sellers and keep both sides happy.”

In that vein, Google’s throwing a bone to publishers and marketers, promising viewability reporting across DoubleClick Ad Exchange – as AdExchanger reported, Google recently united YouTube advertising with its greater Google search and display ad group – and all reserved inventory on YouTube and Google Preferred, its upper crust of “top-performing” videos on YouTube.

Preferred is “their real moneymaker and they’re positioning it like TV – scarce and premium,” said one source. “Partner Select is a tech offering, so it’s in Google’s best interest to show this side by side with their Google Preferred inventory. A lot of people want to buy outside of Google’s walled garden, so I think that’s why they introduced Partner Select – to access more programmatic video. But it’s still within Google’s stack and in many ways, they’re playing catch-up because Facebook already has LiveRail and AOL has”

Although a host of other demand-side platforms (DSPs) like TubeMogul can, of course, access YouTube inventory, as Digiday reported earlier this week, Google may use a “fractional credits” system as leverage for its own ad tech stack, DBM specifically.

“I always say that Google, arguably, has the best ad tech in the world and if someone else came to us and talked about a similar offering, we’d of course listen,” said Friedman. “We evaluate any partnership we have and if things are working, we like to continue growing the partnership.”

As Razorfish’s Kathuria sees it, Google Partner Select is a step in the right direction for publishers, but to what extent will sellers reserve the “pick of the litter” for private auctions?

“Partner Select is offering advertisers access to quality and brand safe environments using data for targeting, but … I still think the ‘choicest’ inventory associated with higher margins will stay with the publishers,” he said. “If I’m a premium publisher, I would much rather have direct access to the blue-chip brands and focus on big, comprehensive programs (experiential, event-driven) and take advantage of my own proprietary data and insights.”

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