I participated in a panel at OMMA Publish today that discussed the ongoing debate of whether ad networks are good or bad for branded media. I shared the consensus on the great debate, or at least my last words, on Media Post’s Raw and also wanted to include some thoughts here.
Turner and ESPN are 100% correct for not using ad networks and are in a unique position to not need ad networks as they drive sales and traffic from multiple sources. Many brands in their respective parent companies utilize networks and do so effectively. When several top brands announced they would “fire” networks, the networks’ space did not contract, it blossomed. For the most part, these brands are sold, resourced and did not rely heavily on networks to begin with.
There is agency-side demand for networks because networks do deliver value that individual publishers don’t (not a bad thing -not everyone can do everything). Or simply put, direct publisher relationships are incredibly important but they do not satisfy all of the needs of the brand. There is a very good strategic argument for using networks.
Networks fairly distribute revenue to sites less well positioned or resourced than Turner or ESPN. That plan supports the democratic Web and that’s a very good thing. Networks are good for most, not all publishers.
Networks are not created equal (neither are media brands). There is a range from exchange-dependent networks to direct-to-publisher networks. A meaningful debate needs to recognize that fact. Publishers should develop a business relationship with the networks they choose to work with and understand in the round, the network’s business model and policies.
Traditional media markets have always had multiple sales tiers – think TV which has a primary upfront, a scatter market, tiered programming and a remnant/DRTV market. Online publishers should incorporate those same strategies into most effectively driving revenue.
Finally, the big debate we all need to have is whose data is it anyway? Is it the publisher? The brand? The holding company? The user? And assuming we all end up agreeing, how can that data be used to build great brands, successful business models and a terrific user experience?