The Crazy World of Ad Tech

Its a busy world in ad tech right now.  The Lumascape is littered with companies that have vanished, been acquired, had an IPO or pivoted. Some have even gone out of business. Many companies that started on the advertising side now have an offer for publishers, while many sell-side companies, including ourselves, have moved to include demand-side offerings.

We were a publishers’ ad server for the first few years of our existence. But you can’t be in the business for very long without realizing that serving one side of the ecosystem alone doesn’t offer customers a single solution that simplifies their lives. All the companies that began their lives as tools rather than complete products have been forced to develop more complete solutions to compete. That’s why we have spent the last two years focusing on ZINC.

But in the mean time, the vaporware situation hasn’t changed. Some companies still don’t have technology that works, while others have products no one knows they have, because they’re known for something else. Both the advertisers and the publishers know how fast the pace of change in this business occurs, and are trying desperately to find something that really works as promised, or truly solves a problem for more than six months. Meanwhile, stellar newsrooms like the Newark Star-Ledger and are laying off staff in an effort to survive. Ad tech companies might be doing well, but publishers and agencies are still struggling to find their sustainable places in the relatively new world of digital.

As for the data platforms that support advertisers and publishers? Even more complex. There’s a lot of disagreement about just what data is actually helpful. Time has shown that more is not necessarily better.  Is it viewability? And if so, is it comScore‘s metric or Nielsen’s,  or perhaps even Moat’s? Does mere viewability convert to sales?

Is it mobile targeting? Last year,  four online ad companies — retargeting firm Criteo, ad targeter Media6Degrees, ad buying company X+1 and Yahoo — each acquired a mobile ad tech startup over the course of three days. This year, Rubicon’s successful IPO has prepared the Street for potential public offerings from Pubmatic, AppNexus, Turn and MediaMath. It’s only rumor right now, but those rumors have all four of them, and perhaps a few more waiting in the wings.

For the companies, this is great, if distracting, news. For the customers, it may not be so great as the choices narrow and the innovation slows as newly public companies focus on revenue rather than on new product lines.