A tale of two mobile ad markets

How can the strategic collection and use of data end the division emerging between both large and small publishers in mobile advertising?

I was lucky enough to participate in an industry conference on programmatic ad markets earlier this month. It was a revealing peek at an emerging bifurcation in mobile advertising, at least if my experience as a panelist and participant in the day-long show is any indication. Simply put, the big publishers can’t meet advertiser demand for their content. Programmatic isn’t even on their radar, nor does it need to be. For everyone else, it’s a very different story. In truth, this bifurcation has been building for a little while and likely will only accelerate, as the mobile ad business continues to mature.

That was the gist of the conversations by my panel, which was moderated by AdMonsters editor Gavin Dunaway and featured executives from both publishing and video technology companies. Representing the big publisher side was Chip Schenck from Meredith Corporation and Jeremy Hlavacek from The Weather Company.  My fellow panelist from the video technology side was Brian Rifkin from JW Player.

As I said, the current situation for big publishers is a case of not enough video inventory to fill demand. Programmatic on mobile is, at best, barely on their radar, especially because their own direct sales forces can “sell, sell, sell” the inventory they do have.


By contrast, many medium- to small-sized publishers use the technologies from companies like mine and Brian’s to get their content published and tracked on mobile and other online platforms. The experiences of our many clients have given us dramatically different perspectives from the big brand publishers.  For too many of these clients, the current situation is one of too much inventory chasing too few ad sales opportunities.

I’m guessing this will only expand in 2016, as more companies of all sizes put more video on more mobile platforms. The results will have plenty of implications for the business of ad-supported publishing, especially on mobile, as it plays out. This split is particularly important as we see more and more video content consumed through mobile devices. YouTube already has more than half of its views coming on smartphones and tablets. Expect the mobile side of other big video platforms to go the same way, if they’re not already there.

Big publishers are not even fully into mobile content at this point, nor have they had to be. Relatively few of them have even developed the optimization strategies needed to truly exploit mobile opportunities because they’re still doing pretty well in more established online channels, such as desktop. The things big publishers have figured out to optimize their desktop presence largely haven’t yet been figured out on the mobile side, and there’s currently not much pressure to do so.

desktop or mobile

But for medium to small-sized publishers, a lot of things need to get done to give them a shot at the advertising inventory that will increasingly come to mobile. For one thing, speed, or rather a lack of it, kills. While a desktop video ad can take typically two to eight seconds to load, that would be a disaster on mobile, where audience patience drops quickly. A load time of more than 300 milliseconds is doom on mobile. Just to emphasize the difference, that’s just one-tenth of the fastest average desktop load time. So optimizing for speed can improve viewer results that smaller publishers and their advertisers need to worry about.

Something else worth noting is the importance of getting and using deep data a nimble publisher – or on the sell side, a smart advertiser – can use to optimize their chances of success. Strategic use of data can be a difference-maker for a company that doesn’t have the luxury of a big company’s corps of salespeople.  The big brand publisher representatives spent their time talking about the lack of mobile video consumption for their companies to sell ads against. As technologists who are focused on solving problems between publisher and advertiser, Brian and I talked more about platform issues and opportunities, such as the promise of the next version of VAST 4.0. It represents a big shift from its immediate predecessors and may provide some help with some of the challenges our clients face.

Meanwhile, programmatic will make more and more sense because of the viewer churn that is so common on mobile. As 2016 comes, I expect we’re going to see a lot more use of programmatic buying in mobile. It may come to pass that the big publishers will have to worry about this too, as increasing inventories over time and the spreading power of programmatic begin to shift the mobile video business. But data will be everything in a programmatic mobile world. Therefore, the skills to collect, understand, strategize, and act with that data will be increasingly vital, and may be enough to mend this emerging rift between big and small.

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