Does Ad Tech Give Publishers Protection?

While the purpose of ad tech is primarily to automate the workflow of buying and selling publisher inventory, a recent event involving Gawker, GamerGate and Reddit has revealed some unintended consequences of publishers’ adoption of technology. The TL;dr is that ad tech may protect publishers from angry readers who attack them through their advertisers, although it may also expose them to accusations of violating an ad tech vendor’s Terms of Service.

Here’s what happened:

First, GamerGate: GamerGate is a vitriolic response of the online gaming community to game reviewers the gamers think are too conflicted (too close to their sources) to be proper journalists. We’re not judging whether the journalists or the gamers wear the white hats. Probably all the hats are gray. All you need to know is that the debate rages on, with gamers attacking especially women journalists over their writings on the video game industry. The publishers who hire those journalists or run their reviews are also open to fierce criticism. Gawker seems to be drawing the brunt of the criticism right now, but this is a larger issue that applies to all publishers, either with respect to GamerGate or in the future with anything else a publisher runs that an activist audience disagrees with.

Second, Reddit: Reddit is where the gamers gather to express their point of view. One of the activities suggested by gamers on the GamerGate subreddit was going after Gawker’s advertisers. However, Gawker has some pretty loyal advertisers, because it is a site where engagement is high.

Third: After going after the advertisers proved relatively futile, these angry gamers decided that the next best avenue of offense would be to go after the ad tech companies Gawker uses to make its transactions. Because digital advertising is trackable, a redditor who says he used to work for Rubicon posted the names of all the ad tech companies Gawker uses, and tried to explain where Gawker violated their TOS.

Digiday’s John McDermott opined that the new development ” is also a sign that ad tech is now playing an outsized role for publishers, possibly exposing them to these kind of novel activism campaigns.”

But we don’t think that’s the correct conclusion. We think that the inclusion of ad tech in the media ecosystem does many beneficial things, and as a side benefit it protects the entire ecosystem of advertisers, ad tech companies and publishers from the repercussions of  small groups of angry activists.

More important, it helps publishers raise their revenues and lower their cost structures in the digital environment.