The way display ads are bought and sold is changing - but is this a good thing?
The Rubicon Project is a supply-side platform (SSP), which works with publishers to help them sell more online ads to media buyers and agencies. It counts Guardian.co.uk. News international, Hearst, IPC Media and many other big league publishers (as we as many non-traditional ones) as its clients, connecting them with 70,000 advertisers, demand-side platforms and ad exchanges.
I went to see Rubicon's international VP and general manager Jay Stevens to find out what's going on right now in the UK and Europe. He also told me about hope of going public, why he's sticking up for the publisher (and Google isn't) and lots more after the camera stopped rolling, so scroll dowhn for that.
There are two reasons the revolution taking place in online display ads hasn't made that many waves in some media circles yet.
One is that a lot of people don't understand what's going on - including journalists tasked with writing about it - and the other is that the sheer scale of the real-time, programmatic ad economy has grown so much in such a short space of time.
The pace of change in this market is scary. Today 59 percent of the inventory running through Rubicion's REVV platform in the UK is real-time enabled, compared to 5 percent 18 months ago. The conversation rate is running at about two percent per month, says Stevens.
Here are some more big numbers. According to ComScore, ads served through Rubicon's flagship REVV system reached 200 million American internet users in May, or 90.6 percent of the total (release). Only Google reached more people, with 204 million.
Meanwhile, globally, Rubicon claims a total audience reach for its ads of 650 million people. As Douglas Adams might have put it, that's really quite big.
But what about the marketplace?
That's surely impressive. But agencies and publishers keep coming back to the problem that direct sold inventory, just as in print, makes more money than so-called "performance-based" buying through SSPs and ad networks, doesn't it?
Stevens points out that if you want Netflix to advertise with you in the UK right now, you have no choice but to do it through performance-based trading. The entirely of its online display budget is being run through Infectious media and publishers have no choice but to talk to SSPs or agency trading desks.
Keeping it private
One of the key elements of Rubicon's proposition is the ability to very quickly set up private marketplaces. That's when a publisher wants to invite in agencies to advertise around a specific product or vertical - setting a floor price that bids can't go below.
Stevens chuckles at the mention of Pubmatic's private marketplace in partnership with Hearst, announced last week. "If I sent out a press release every time I got a new one, I'd look stupid," he says, adding that some publisher clients have more than 10 private marketplaces run by Rubicon.
Going public any time soon?
The big question mark for leaders of the adtech industry is one of equity. As Pubmatic showed with its $45 million round of funding, the flow of money to these companies can't get that much higher before stock market flotations become the more effective option.
Rubicon has itself received more than $40 million $60 million in VC funding over the years and Stevens is clear a flotation is the right option. "I would love to go public. I don't want to be bought. I think the media world needs a strong SSP. Is Google doing anything that's in publishers' interests?
"If you look at the experiences and the prediction timelines for print's decline, it is fast approaching. There seems to be a solution for the market... but the only way is for there to be a company who can combat the Microsofts and Googles of the world."
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