The Top 10 AdExchanger Stories Of 2019

Whenever Google moves, people pay attention.

Half of the 10 most-trafficked AdExchanger stories in 2019  feature Google, showing how any change Google makes ripples across the industry.

Readers were also intrigued by stories of great success and … the opposite. On the former end of the spectrum was an examination of The Trade Desk’s massive success as it looked for new sources of growth.

On the other end, accounts of Sizmek’s bankruptcy, which left millions of dollars in the lurch, were among our most-read this year.

Here’s a rundown of our most-read stories in 2019.

10. Roku To Acquire Dataxu For $150 Million, October 2019. After years of chatter about programmatic TV, vision took steps to becoming reality when Roku snapped up the DSP dataxu, which had pivoted to focus on TV. The deal felt like a passing of the baton, as an ad tech company that originated in display joined with a CTV platform. If 2020 becomes the year CTV skyrockets, this deal was the writing on the wall that CTV is armed with tech that’s ready to make programmatic happen. Of course, this acquisition had some expected consequences. Dataxu was one of the two DSPs, besides The Trade Desk, hooked into Amazon Fire TV inventory, and that deal fell apart after the acquisition.

9. Google’s Ad Business Undergoes Massive Reorganization, September 2019. The historical DoubleClick business underwent a big overhaul this fall. Brad Bender moved into a role in Google News. Executive Sissie Hsiao stepped into a leading role heading up Google’s display (AdWords) and mobile (AdMob) ad networks as well as its sell-side business. And Jerry Dischler stepped into a role handling buying portals. More than a decade after Google acquired DoubleClick, two of the most senior people overseeing Google’s ads business are non-DoubleClickers, a sign of a cultural change.

8. Oversold And Overpromised: Marketers Move Away From DMPs, December 2019. For much of the decade, the data-management platform (DMP) epitomized data-driven marketing. It enabled audience targeting, frequency management and being able to understand users across the web. But for marketers, that promise wasn’t fulfilled. Its sales teams oversold the product and marketers found them difficult and expensive to use. And the tech wasn’t up to snuff, as marketers found DMPs had poor match rates. And the trend wasn’t limited to marketers: Publishers also voiced similar complaints this year about DMPs.

7. Google Exits Managed Services, Welcome News For Its Key Agency Partners, November 2019. Google had long managed programmatic, search and analytics for clients who bought its tech but didn’t want to manage it themselves. An estimated 30% of all agencies and brands used at least some Google services. But for software companies, selling services is often a necessary evil to get customers to buy tech they otherwise wouldn’t know how to use. So perhaps as a sign of the market’s maturity, Google finally exited managed services of its products in the United States. The news marked a victory for agencies, who could scoop up those programmatic services and offer them to brands who didn’t want to be hands-on-keyboards.

6. Trade Desk Clashes With Google Over Transparency Initiative, July 2019. The Trade Desk and Google locked horns within an industry trade group this year, and the ad tech world was intrigued to see The Trade Desk’s growing power in the market. The Trade Desk wanted to give buyers more transparency, and fast, while Google pushed back on a standard that would classify its open bidding product as a financial intermediary. The Trade Desk seemed to win the first round of this fight, and ad tech took note of a new power player. 

5. Everything You Need To Know About Bid Shading, March 2019. As many exchanges (but not yet Google) switched to first-price auctions at the beginning of this year, both DSPs and exchanges rolled out tools that helped buyers bid in a first-price auction world. The practice of bid shading emerged, where ad buyers deploy algorithms to calibrate their bids so they don’t pay too much. Bid shading helped buyers save up to 20%, but it was also a factor behind slow publisher revenue in the first half of the year.

4. How The Trade Desk Has Evolved For The Next Stage Of DSP Growth, February 2019. Just how does this ad tech darling please its customers, delight Wall Street and buck the trend of tanking ad tech stocks? This company profile touched on how The Trade Desk forged close relationships with agencies and kept them close even as it started working with brands more directly. The DSP kept take rates at a level that kept Wall Street happy, in part by charging buyers low fees but making it up in fee add-ons for data offerings. The Trade Desk also spearheaded its unified ID – and in its spare time stood up to Google around an industry transparency initiative.

3. What Would Google Chrome’s Version of ITP Look Like?, March 2019. With Safari and Firefox restricting third-party cookies, everyone in ad tech wondered how Chrome would offer more privacy to users – without jeopardizing all of ad tech. The answer came two months later, when Google Chrome added some controls for users and said it would stop sending third-party cookies unless they were secure and flagged properly. To this date, questions remain about Google’s shifting cookie policy. And more change is coming in February, when Google said it will limit cross-site tracking, unless cookies are flagged via a standard called SameSite.

2. Google Switches To First-Price Auction, March 2019: Google’s decision to follow other exchanges and switch to a first-price auction reverberated across the industry. Buyers needed to fully embrace bid shading to avoid overpaying. Meanwhile, publishers grappled with coinciding changes Google made, like capping pricing rules and buyer-specific rules that had given them more control over their auction. While the change completely went into effect this fall, the full consequences remains a question mark.

1. Sizmek Files For Bankruptcy And Faces An Uncertain Fate, March 2019: The fall of Sizmek created a domino effect. Exchanges had paid publishers for millions in ads that they in turn didn’t get paid for. And many exchanges asked publishers for money back to cover the huge losses they couldn’t absorb. Sizmek’s bankruptcy showed the weakness in the ad tech space, drawing interest (and a bit of rubber-necking) as people wondered if Sizmek’s downfall could be a harbinger of something more widespread. Two other stories about Sizmek’s downfall were also popular: a scoop by James Hercher that Sizmek’s owner Vector Capital was desperately seeking a buyer; and Zeta Global buying a portion of Sizmek’s assets for $36 million.

Bonus: The Walled Gardens Are Eating Open Programmatic – Here’s How They Do It, May 2019. Buyers can use Google, Amazon and Facebook data not just to buy on YouTube, Amazon and Facebook – but across the open programmatic web. This story, just outside of AdExchanger’s 10 most popular, lays out how the biggest companies are grabbing a larger share of the open internet.

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