Are Ad Networks Your Savior or More Nails in Your Coffin?
When I suggested a session about ad networks for the recent Publishing Business Conference, the event coordinators were all ears and excited to include it in the program.
I helped put together a panel of speakers for the session, which unfortunately got stuck in a time slot at the end of the day. The 20 or so attendees that skipped happy hour and stayed (I was one of them) were treated to an informative hour-long discussion between Ben Barokas, president and co-founder of AdMeld; Derek Reisfield, chairman, BBN Networks; and Rob Beeler, vice president of content and media at AdMonsters.
Ad networks have come a long way since publishers first started putting Google AdSense tags on their Web pages. In fact, Google recently launched a "build-your-own" ad network service as a result of its DoubleClick acquistion.
There are a lot of questions about ad networks including whether or not they have long-term potential as part of publishers' e-media plans, or if they are just a quick fix to get some extra revenue during tough times.
Another question that comes up a lot centers around what inventory publishers should allocate to ad networks, or if they should use them at all. You could choose to run ad network inventory solely as remnant, or you could simply abandon the thought of teaching technically-challenged sales reps the definition of "looping restrictions" or "clickTAGs" and run ad network inventory throughout your Web site.
The premise of any ad network is to offer advertisers greater reach across multiple sites and to automate the sales process, while smaller publishers gain access to advertisers they might not be able to get on their own.
Time Inc. says its ad network offers advertisers access to 27 million users, while Platform A from AOL touts a reach of 90 percent of online consumers. The sandbox has become so crowded that ComScore now measures ad networks' potential and actual reach.
An interesting point from this year's Publishing Business Conference session came when Reisfield floated the idea that the CPM (cost per thousand) impression-level from your direct sales efforts may not be as high as what ultimately a good ad network could get, especially when you consider the discounts, added value and packages sales reps put together for their best clients. Everyone agreed that publishers should look at monetizing each ad impression, whether it's from direct sales, an ad network or house inventory.
Barokas, whose company helps publishers find the networks that are a good fit while aiming to minimize the risks and complexities of using them, stressed that you shouldn't create a dependency on ad networks. "When looking for an ad network, ask who their best advertisers are and why they advertise on that network," he said. "No one network will satisfy your needs."
Reisfield, whose BBN Networks consist of the largest trade publishers, stressed that his product is different than the more than 300 ad networks, a number that Beeler quickly admitted seems to change every day. Reisfield urged publishers to make sure their sites are configured for an ad network, that inventory is available and that an in-house skillset exists to manage the entire process. Ironically, that's where AdMonsters, which claims to be the only professional association dedicated exclusively to online advertising operations and technology, can help with training and support.
Not unlike BBN, there are other examples of traditional media companies not only working with ad networks, but getting into the business of running them. There's QuadrantOne, the online ad sales network launched by Gannett, Hearst, The New York Times Co. and Tribune Co., and vertical ad network company Adify, which Cox Enterprises purchased a year ago. There, of course, are two sides to every story as seen around the same time last year when the Disney-owned ESPN franchise ended all ad network relationships.
The recession will likely weed out weaker ad networks, while others will try to innovate and separate themselves from the pack. Targeting is an obvious unique selling proposition for any ad network, whether it's serving ads based on the consumers' location, or based on their browsing or buying behavior.
I personally like the idea of the Sportgenic ad network and its new Torque service that lets its advertisers run placements not only on the Web, but across different media, including that cross-browser, mobile-friendly product known as a print magazine.