RTB: It's not about a Race To the Bottom

RTB: It's not about a Race To the Bottom
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RTB has been at the centre of many digital and programmatic conversations over the past 12-18 months.

Fundamentally, most people in media, when thinking or speaking about RTB, focus on the ‘B’, the ‘bid’ or the ‘buy’. This reduces the concept to simply being about the price that advertiser pays for each impression.

In this scenario, we are presented with an auction, where the buyer simply tries to pay as little as possible per impression. The practice of buying media in an auction has become defined by the transaction.

The net result is that the goals of everyone that participates – buyer, seller, content owner – have become secondary in importance to the pricing of the impression. In this environment you can empathise with the premium publisher perspective who, in the main, see programmatic buying as simply a Race To the Bottom. .

My view of RTB is that the buying bit is the least important part of the equation. Yes, every impression needs a price, (that’s media folks) but the really powerful element in programmatic buying is the real time element.

It’s the ability to layer data, and hence insight and value, onto each and every impression before determining which is the most appropriate ad to be served. This is transformational for not only RTB, but how we can assess, decision and execute in all media.

By adding ‘understanding’ to the equation, we turn the answer from one of price, into a question of value because  not only are we able to better decision which consumer is served which ad (based on their interests), but also that the publisher gets the maximum value (based on the quality of their audience) and the advertiser gets the best possible return (by reaching the right type of person).

By layering data and insight, at both an impression and publisher level, we also have a powerful argument against the accusations that RTB is all algorithm and no emotion. Effective deployment of RTB should include data that helps us to determine not only characteristics pertaining to the viewer, but also editorial context and content semantics, thereby ensuring that the correct ads will appear in the correct editorial environments for the most effective outcome.

The key to delivering this effectively is to be able to manage all of this insight and data to real time decision.

Additionally, and specifically addressing a point that was raised in a conversation I was involved in last week,  RTB is not a ‘dumb’ function that blindly pursues impressions in isolation. It is very simple to establish campaign rules in RTB, ensuring that campaign flight weights are delivered, that daily weights are managed, that day-part requirements are fulfilled.

In many respects RTB is the pinnacle of campaign control, assuming of course that human inputs that establish the campaign parameters are error free in the first instance.

If we continue simply to focus on the ‘B’, then we will understandably fail to encourage premium publishers to participate, and as such, market growth will be inhibited, largely restricted to remnant and the preserve of those few publishers with an abundance of supply.

The damage that this misconception creates applies to video, display and rich media but is particularly pronounced in the video space due to restraint on good quality supply. Programmatic buying has the potential to allow us to add understanding at scale for the first time to the way we reach consumers.

The “decisioning” bit is the crucial bit, because that’s what adds value for consumers, publishers and advertisers.

By focusing purely on the B in RTB we are failing to correctly articulate the benefits for everyone in the system that programmatic can enable.  

Sarah Hassanin is commercial director at Videology, and formerly director of The Video Network. She and her team will be speaking exclusively at MAD Week from July 15-19.

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