From The AppNexus Summit – The Super Panel!… Yahoo!, Microsoft, Aol Talk Partnership

Good times were had by all at the AppNexus Summit in NYC today, as AppNexus gathered Yahoo!, Microsoft and Aol together for a little chat about their, potentially, big deal that will allow each of the three, huge publishers to sell each other’s “premium,” non-guaranteed, display inventory. (Tuesday’s press release here.)

Participants for the panel – dubbed the “Super Panel” – included AOL Advertising’s Dave Jacobs, Jim Heckman from Yahoo and Microsoft Advertising COO Dave O’Hara with the able moderation of the IAB’s CEO Randall Rothenberg.

One thing seems clear – there’s still a lot to be figured out before this deal goes “live” in Q1 2012 – not the least of which is uncertainties around who owns what data, and, what client relationships and so on.   Big questions.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see this deal taking a couple quarters before it goes full throttle – assuming there are answers to the big questions.

And, lurking among those questions are the agency trading desks who are looking for big buys on an upfront basis with “brand-safe” inventory.  The big three are there with open arms as one of the many Holy Grails – the Digital Upfront – has been long rumored but never before seen with any scale.

From here, what’s happening between these three publishers is a seminal moment for publishers and how they grapple with selling audience to advertisers on several levels (upfront, context vs. audience, arb vs. transparency, guaranteed vs. unsold, scarcity.. likely more.). By constraining access to their inventory, Aol, Yahoo! and Microsoft are saying context matters, again, but ante-ing up. Context is an increasingly important trend for audience buying buy-siders who discover high-performing inventory on certain sites. Yahoo!, for example, has consistently had a reputation for high-performing inventory with its non-guaranteed, Class II display.

It was never more apparent that there’s still a-ways to go with the rules around buying and selling for this deal as when moderator Rothenberg, who asked tough questions of his own, opened the microphone to the audience’s “grilling.” Among the questioners, Forrester analyst Joanna O’Connell stepped to the microphone to discuss the use cases for buying:

Joanna O’Connell:  What can be accessed through programmatic channels through this partnership versus what must be accessed through direct salesforces?

Dave O’Hara: “Must” is a strong word. We will give our own salesforces, respectively, the first chance to go out to and sell our inventory on a reserved basis. Anything they don’t sell on a reserved basis will be accessible through the exchanges.

Joanna O’Connell: So, if you’re a trading desk, you could go via your DSP and access these unsold Microsoft segments on Yahoo inventory through your DSP?

Dave Jacobs: I think the clarifying statement I would make is that all of us individually are going to make the decisions about whether they want to allow that trading desk on each others respective inventory. It’s not that it’s not allowed, it’s just that we’re going to need to make those individual decisions in a transparent fashion.

Joanna O’Connell: That should be really interesting.

[audience applause]

Jim Heckman: I don’t think it’s actually that complicated. 4 hours a day with each other for 6 months and just to give the answers…. #1, each buying group is a direct contextual, transparent, brand site – that’s Class 1.  #2 our combined inventory is very easily available in terms of the interoperability plan that we’ve got so that our salesforce can sell reserved audience buys. So, “I want 24-36 women (…),” we can execute that, we call up each other on the phone, we’re interoperating. Pretty simple.  Third – programmatic buying. We see it as three distinct methods of buying.

Fascinating times. No joke!

 By John Ebbert

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  1. Chris Karl

    Context needs a better definition here… what “context” is Yahoo, MSN, AOL offering that is any different than the context offered by thousands of publishers across the web? There is an inference here that the context of the big three is a cut above that of everyone else; that Yahoo, MSN, AOL have “better” and more “premium” inventory to sell in an upfront. It ain’t 2004 anymore and SIZE of UU’s does not equate to quality context. The beautiful thing about marketplaces is that a media buyer can define what context means at the impression level (not portal or domain level) on every buy they make. I think QUALITY INVENTORY is the story here and there are many ways to define quality in an open marketplace (contextual, interest level, page depth, ad location, brand safe, engagement with content, engagement with ad, and on and on). The big three cannot rely on the power of their brands and their comscore numbers any longer. Time for product innovation to kick in… tablet friendly and TV enabled products and content will allow them to grow from the head as opposed to trying to reclaim their tail, which was bitten off five years ago.

  2. Ben Trenda (@btrenda)

    What are “reserved audience buys”? Or did Jim mean “non-reserved audience buys”? Reserved audience buys running across multiple portals seems difficult if not impossible to actually execute.