At OnMedia 2012, Disagreement Over The Significance of RTB


ADOTAS – Among the offerings at this week’s OnMedia 2012 conference (presented by the AlwaysOn Network) here in New York City was a panel discussion around the merits and detriments of real-time bidding that actually heated up in the way a lot of us always kind of hope it one of these discussions will. Yesterday afternoon, RadiumOne CEO Gurbaksh Chahal spoke on the topic “The Ad Network Is Dead.” That’s perhaps a misleading title, considering RadiumOne basically is an ad network, and considering experts have been proclaiming the death of the ad network for years, but Chahal’s gist was that programmatic buying was intrinsically changing what we think of as an ad network. His talk segued neatly into a panel discussion among other CEOs of ad networks, or at least ad network-ish companies — AdKeeper‘s Scott Kurnit, CPX Interactive‘s Mike Seiman, mediaFORGE‘s Tony Zito, MediaMath‘s Joe Zawadski and Collective‘s Joe Apprendi — on the topic “The Rise of the Real-Time Media Platform.”

And, guess what — the six CEOs disagreed about the merits of the undeniably rising real-time media platform of the nature Chahal had just spent a half hour championing. Efficient as real-time bidding may be at sending messages to an advertiser’s desired audience, “just about all messages are at the wrong time,” Kurnit asserted. His point was that the wrong time to present an ad to a web user was anytime when that user is seeking out some other, non-branded content — which is most of the time. Unless a person willingly goes to “a banner or Craigslist,” they’re looking for something other than an ad, he said. And Kurnit questioned the worthiness of the increasingly hot niche of RTB for mobile. “To interrupt me on my mobile device — really?” he said, a note of incredulity in his voice. For an advertiser to send an unsolicited ad message via mobile, he said, constitutes “suicide.”

Chahal quickly disagreed that advertising was innately interruptive. “That’s something I would buy in 1999,” he said. The challenge these days, he said, to change perceptions about interruptive ad messages is to “make advertising closer to information.”

As the conversation continued toward how to make ads more inherently useful, Seiman broke in. “Where are we getting all this media from?” he asked. The discussion around making ads engaging in and of themselves exposes what he referred to as “an inherent brokenness in the system” by essentially ignoring publishers and focusing so much on advertisers.

The idea that advertisers and publishers should take a more holistic content/ad approach went over well, but there was some disagreement over where that placed the relevance of RTB. “For publishers that have perfect content, it can’t be real time,” Kurnit said. “Algorithms and robots are not particularly creative.” But to Zawadski, because of the scope of an online ad campaign, advertisers are often left with a “big mass of input/output” that automation can only help. “Use one to inform the other,” he said of the balance between human and automated efforts in the whole process.

As the discussion progressed, Kurnit questioned whether social advertising — a core element of Chahal’s company’s raison d’etre, as RadiumOne comes from the position that the whole web is social, made up of people constantly sharing experiences and ideas with people they know — is even possible yet. “You’ve gotta separate the social graph from the social activity in the graph,” Chahal stated. “We have not started social advertising in this medium. We have not.”

Toward the end of the discussion, Kurnit made the assertion that the online ad industry in general isn’t as advanced as it wants to be. “Don’t you cry yourself to sleep at night?” he asked his fellow panelists, jokingly. But as the discussion wrapped up, the panelists concurred this industry has advanced much farther in the past few years than a lot of fields have, which is nothing to sneeze at.

Later in the day, AlwaysOn also recognized this year’s OnMedia 100, the year’s “top emerging companies creating new business opportunities in the world of media, advertising, marketing, branding, and public relations.” Click here for a list of those companies.



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