It’s a trap! Publishers crave an alternative to Google’s adtech “Death Star”

Written on:May 25, 2013
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“We’d like an end-to-end solution that isn’t Google.” That’s one of the more candid lines I’ve heard in the past several months since I’ve been on the front lines in adtech. The plea came from someone at a major European video publisher after being asked about their adtech vision and requirements. It put into stark relief the dilemma that publishers now face.

The world of adtech has become increasingly complex and hard to navigate. The parts of the value chain rendered by the (in)famous Lumascape have been increasingly atomized: There’s ad serving, data/DMP, SSPs, exchanges and then a host of ancillary technologies such as ad formats and viewability. And that’s just for display! Add in media types such as mobile and video and it’s enough to have publishers crying out for help in the form of integrated adtech stacks – one-stop shops that they can do business with. The good news is that such a convenient system exists. The bad, in the eyes of many publishers I’ve dealt with at least, is that there’s only one player in town. And that player, Google, also happens to be a competitor.

Adtech finally merits high-level attention

One development that has been a pleasant surprise is that the topic of adtech strategy has begun to merit board-level discussion at major media companies. While it was often dealt with at the operational, ad ops and revenue ops levels in the past, it has been elevated in importance to the point where major adtech players are invited now to present to boards and discuss partnerships at that level.

But it shouldn’t have surprised me: Digital revenues are now material for most traditional media companies.

The prospect of streamlined adtech stack

Google has systematically assembled an integrated tech stack in digital advertising on both the buy and sell sides, offering publishers the tantalizing prospect of working with just one partner. Google’s army of account managers will then try to cross-sell and up-sell all kinds of solutions as well as bundle in content distribution and monetization on YouTube and their other properties. Yet, perhaps ironically, Google’s early success in building out an integrated stack is driving the industry’s transition.

Agencies and publishers alike rightfully view Google with trepidation thanks to the suspicion that they’re being strategically exposed by having the lifeblood of their media business (and all of the associated data) flow through Google – which also happens to compete with them. After all, imagine the power Google would have over one’s business: from driving traffic via Google Search, news, Android and YouTube to knowing one’s data via Analytics and advertising information via the various DoubeClick and AdX products. (I know, I know: They do no evil. Right.)

One major European publisher told me, in a moment of hyberbole: “We see [Google] as a Death Star and want to have our own weapons against them.” Alas, while there are a plethora of weapons, there aren’t the end-to-end ones that this publisher would like to see to counter the Big G.


The good news for publishers is the market will go their way in terms of having greater convergence of tech stacks and more consolidation, ultimately offering more choice when it comes to adtech solutions. While Microsoft tried this but has pulled back of late, there are others that have been active developing solutions of their own.

For instance, WPP has been very active in putting its own digital marketing stack together via acquisitions that are focused more on the buy side for marketers and publishers. Adobe has also been active in a converged approach, but admittedly with seemingly limited success thus far. There are independent companies waiting in the wings as well, but their current lack of liquidity has been preventing them from doing all but acqi-hire–scale consolidation in recent years.

This will change as some of them go public in the next 12-18 months and get the currency with which they can make their own acquisitions (or grow organically to round out their offering). At that point there will be a frenzied game of  musical chairs, where companies compete for the most prized assets – the prospect of which is already setting the hearts of tech bankers racing.

Back to the person that worried about Google’s Deathstar-like capabilities: He went on to say that they actually have two Deathstars that they need to arm up against – the second one being the Agencies (but we’ll save that for another post).

Rags Gupta is chief commercial officer at Videoplaza, a sell-side video ad management platform based in London; he is also on the board of Rollup Media. Prior to that, he was an early executive at Brightcove and started his career in digital media at Live365.

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