Prog.IO Digital: Investment In A Time Of COVID, Getting Control Of Your SPO – And Does Ad Targeting Matter?

If you missed the first day of AdExchanger’s Programmatic.IO digital event, here’s a little taste of what happened.

The COVID-afflicted investment environment, and why the big platforms are immune

Group Nine CEO Ben Lerer – who’s also managing partner of early-stage VC firm Lerer Hippeau – kicked off the show by sharing his views on the current and somewhat surprising appetite for startup investment.

And he has a keen eye on the space. Lerer Hippeau’s portfolio includes a range of startups including the news publisher Axios, the subscription service BarkBox and Blade. (Fly to the Hamptons by helicopter!) It’s a portfolio that crosses verticals, which gives Lerer a wide perspective on what’s happening with investment during COVID-19.

“We were internally focused for several months – not unwilling to invest, but it was a slow time,” Lerer told AdExchanger Executive Editor Zach Rodgers. “Since then, we’ve seen things really, really pick up. We had a very busy Q3 from an investment perspective.”

Part of that volume comes from a glut of deals that stalled during the pandemic’s early days.

“We’ve seen the market get materially overheated, so valuations are out of control right now,” he cautioned. “We try not to play into the trends, but it’s definitely a good time to raise money right now.”

Lerer also addressed the impact the recent boycotts have had on Facebook. In a word: none.

“I don’t think the boycotts had any material impact,” he said. “Really, at all.” He pointed out that Facebook’s strength comes from 7 to 8 million mainly small businesses, not just the Fortune 500.

“Not that those businesses don’t matter to them,” he said. “But they don’t matter to them.”


And the death of the cookie in Chrome? Lerer sees more opportunities than challenges, since Group Nine is a premium buy.

“It’s going to hurt tonnage customers,” he said, adding that dollars will move to the platforms and to premium pubs “with context-rich environments where you’re in a legitimately premium place. We have very little revenue derived from third-party data.” 

Taking control of your SPO

Sonja Kristiansen, VP of global partnerships at TripleLift outlined how, despite the benefits of supply-path optimization (SPO), confusion still reigns: “SSPs are incentivized to make SPOs as confusing as possible,” she said.

Exchanges are still measured by their scale, she said: “What happens is they all integrate with each other and resell each other’s inventory.”

Unfortunately, everyone takes a cut of that intermediary fee, which increases the chunk taken out of media dollars. Plus, the resulting latency with all of these hops drags down efficiency.

Her advice? Advertisers need to take control by applying pressure to DSPs, and inquire about a road map for SPO decisioning features, such as SupplyChain.

They need to eliminate resellers by focusing on publisher partners or working with supply partners that have a direct relationship with their DSP.

And they need to reduce reselling by working with their preferred supply partners to build deals made of wholly direct-sourced inventory.

Programmatic trending up

Emarketer principal analyst Nicole Perrin dropped some updated programmatic stats – and there’s actually some good news. Spend is better than expected, though admittedly still well below the normal growth trend.

In terms of programmatic, in July eMarketer anticipated 6.2% growth in 2020, way down due to the pandemic. But the analyst firm is now adjusting growth to 10%. That’s still a decline, but eMarketer predicts a return to the normal growth trend in 2021.

Watch this space, though. We’ll have a deeper-dive story on this topic coming soon to adexchanger.com.

Publishers as data companies

Julia Beizer, Bloomberg Media’s chief product officer and global head of digital, shared what the company has done to build up its first-party data-powered products.

Check out Monday’s Sell-Sider interview with her here.

You don’t need to target!

Melbourne Business School Assistant Professor Nico Neumann dialed in from Australia (at 5 am local time, mind you) to chug some coffee and talk about the measurement problem that everyone has: “There are no standard viewability measures,” Neumann said.

So, what to do? At a high level, advertisers and publishers need to take control over as much as possible.

For publishers, that means removing middlemen (echoing a suggesting from TripleLift’s Kristiansen). And for advertisers, “do as much as you can yourself” means bringing media analytics in house. “You want to separate the power of the people selling [from] measurement and optimization,” Neumann said.

He also questioned the efficacy of demographic targeting: Is it actually necessary?

“Why do we care if someone has a certain characteristic?” he said. “We don’t know if that means someone is really into our product. … Generally speaking, it’s a little controversial to think that this ad is just for you if you are a man, or if you’re from a certain area, or if you meet a certain criteria. Who cares? Do you want to buy my product? That’s all I want to know.”

Can NPR expand its audience?

Finally, NPR CMO Michael Smith revealed how the broadcaster-turned-on-demand-content-company is building its brand for a new group of listeners by zeroing in on podcasts.

Right now, most listeners are in their 50s and 60s.

“We have gotten out of sync with where our next generation audience is going to come from,” he told AdExchanger Senior Editor Allison Schiff. “The exciting news is that as younger people get into our brands with podcasts and NPR.org, they like what they find. But the problem is they have misperceptions, or they’re not aware of the brand.”

Day Two of Programmatic begins Weds, Oct 7 at noon ET with networking. Content kicks off at 1:05 pm with a fireside chat featuring Petco CMO Tariq Hassan. Click here to learn more.

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