DoubleClick to Power Vertical Ad Networks

DoubleClick plans to offer its DART for Publishers (DFP) clients the ability to create their own vertical ad networks, a selling model that’s been widely embraced over the past year as a means for hotshot (or not) media brands to increase saleable inventory.

The company, which is still waiting for European regulators to clear its acquisition by Google, set up a new business unit to house the ad network product along with several of its other publisher solutions. Called DoubleClick Revenue Center, the division is partly borne of a marketing decision to present DoubleClick’s publisher solutions as a holistic platform for all forms of site monetization rather than a set of unrelated products. In addition to the ad network tools, it will house the company’s nascent ad exchange, its flagship DFP product, and enhanced versions of its workflow management and forecasting tools.

Jonathan Bellack, VP publisher products at DoubleClick, said the ad network solution will support financial reporting, pay-outs, and a portal for partner sites to manage their activities. It’s expected to launch in the second half of 2008.

“We’re going to be building a lot of capabilities in time,” he said. “Media sellers want to be able to do this that works with their existing products and sales teams.”

The product will put DoubleClick into direct competition with Adify, the network infrastructure player that has supported publishers such as Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive, Warner Bros. Television Group, Shelter Media, and environmental/green lifestyles publishers Matter Network and SustainLane.

The vertical network approach has been particularly successful in the women’s publishing category, with sites like Glam, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, and NBC Universal’s iVillage all attempting to aggregate audiences by partnering with like-minded sites.

Time will tell how many vertical networks the online ad buying community will support however. In its Digital Outlook report issued last month, global agency Avenue A/Razorfish said it consolidated its ad network spending considerably during 2007. While network billings were up 34 percent, nearly all the new money went to the top five ad networks, while spending on small and vertical networks was flat.

“The window’s closing on the second tier,” said Jeff Lanctot, SVP of global media at Avenue A/Razorfish. “It’ll be increasingly tough to break into the top tier.”

Bellack said despite the rapid proliferation of ad networks in the U.S., courtesy of Adify, Glam, and independent network play, there’s plenty of room for expansion overseas. “We’re operating very much on a global basis. The network picture is developing in all parts of the world. There’s a lot of opportunity,” he said.

He also suggested the trends toward online ad liquidity and media planning automation may alleviate the fragmentation that’s torturing agencies. He drew an analogy between the current state of ad networks and the state of financial markets in the 1970s.

“The phase this business is in is sort of where financial markets were 30 or 40 years ago,” he said. “You had to work with a large bank. [Now] the tools have become so available you’re at the point where two guys can start a Bloomberg account and start a hedge fund,” he said, adding he expects the online ad marketplace will evolve “to the point where everybody is a trader of inventory.”

Keith Pieper, director of performance media for UniversalMcCann in San Francisco, said the offering sounded promising, but only if it gives birth to high-value niche networks such as that offered by Hachette Filipacchi-owned Jumpstart Automotive Media.

“We don’t need more choice, we just need more value,” he said. “I’d hazard to say the networks are growing faster than the inventory is.”

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