GoogleClick Implications: Big Ad Network Consolidation Around the Corner?

The fur is flying on blogs and news sites about the implications of GoogleClick, DoubleGoo or whatever you want to call it. Here are a few of the big picture questions I’m trying to sort out and get answered:

Will the move trigger a consolidation spree in the ad network space? Microsoft lost a big opportunity when it lost DoubleClick. Buying it would’ve meant overnight legitimacy in the eyes of the marketing community, myriad established relationships with advertisers and publishers and a budding ad exchange — in short, the chance to instantly grow an ad network, at Jack-and-the-beanstalk speed, on the scale of Advertising.com, AdSense and Yahoo! Publisher Network. Instead, the ad community woke up this morning with even greater doubts about Redmond’s dedication to online advertising in general.

What would make up for it? How about a series of acquisitions of the biggest independent ad networks? If Microsoft bought AdBrite, Tribal Fusion, Specific Media and a few others, it could gain a much-needed boost not only in its saleable inventory but also its credibility. Not only that, but media buyers who feel inundated by ad network options would be grateful.

Everyone’s expecting the company, and perhaps AOL and Yahoo as well, to go after the remaining titans of ad management and media sales — primarily ValueClick, 24/7 Real Media or aQuantive. But there’s a ton of traffic passing through the slightly smaller guys’ networks. They could be good, and more affordable, acquisition targets.

Yes, the dashboard has arrived. Now the backlash? This is obviously a big moment for the convergence of search and display, which have always been locked at the elbows in terms of their impact on conversions (though their synergy has only lately been proven). But will GoogleClick mean a big step forward for integrated online/offline media management as well? DoubleClick’s very recently embraced ad management on digital signage, and Google’s broadcast and print initiatives are no secret. How long before marketers can use the same interface to manage ads and read reports on their campaigns in every channel?

On the flip side, how long before marketers and media companies start to feel uncomfortable to have so much of their buy concentrated with one player?

Will Web sites bail on Google? Google, having already conquered search, wants now to be the largest ad network in the world. It’s clear that all of DoubleClick’s publisher customers are about to be offered the chance to sell ads through AdSense using the DART interface.

The actions of CBS, Viacom, News Corp and NBC and two separate newspaper consortiums have shown the big media ecosystem is profoundly nervous about Google’s covetous angling for their online inventory, and is so far showing itself unwilling to play along. But those companies are all relative newcomers to the online media business. What of the pure play online guys? Are they willing to let Google represent new, unprecedented amounts of their inventory? My gut tells me they’ll do it if it monetizes better, but I expect some are going to start casting around for a new management partner.

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