Firms Forming to Help Publishers Get Grip on Avails

If the Web publishing industry needs a rallying cry for 2010, it might be “Take Back the Inventory!” After seeing pricing for display advertising plummet during the recession, with ad networks continuing to profit from oodles of their remnant avails, many sites are now looking to exert more control over their ad operations.

As a result, a slew of companies have emerged to offer a broad range of publisher services, promising to help sites better manage their data and achieve higher pricing and sell-through rates. Analysts predict that as the economy improves, publishers will start pulling back their inventory from ad networks and begin relying on these third-party vendors for help.

“For publishers, it used to be just, ‘Give me some traffic,’” said John Doyle II, managing director Peachtree Media Advisors, an investment firm that tracked a big uptick in mergers and acquisitions in this arena in 2009. Now, as many publishers have more traffic than they can sell, “it’s about layered-on intelligence.”

Indeed, in better economic times, inventory management was mostly a concern for Web giants like the portals and social nets. But as the market for midtail sites deteriorated in 2009, more publishers started seeking help in this arena, according to Todd Teresi, chief revenue officer at Quantcast. “What you are seeing now is the next wave of this,” he said.

One firm that rode that wave last year was IAC, which tapped vendor TrackSimple to manage its user and ad-delivery data. Per Ali Mirian, IAC’s vp, product and technology, ad solutions, the company was able to triple its CPMs for remnant inventory in ’09 compared to the prices it was getting via ad nets. “It’s pretty clear that publishers have to act and think like a data company,” said Mirian.

Another startup in the space is Yieldex, which helps companies such as Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia pump up the value of its inventory using data.

Yieldex CEO Tom Shields said publishers are simply looking to protect themselves against the growing influence of networks, exchanges and, now, agency-run demand-side buying platforms. “I think people have come to the realization that a lot more technology and energy is being spent on making the buy side more efficient,” said Shields.

However, not everyone is enamored with these new players and their services.

One seller from a top media company warned that this trend was being driven by “a lot of noise…A lot of what these companies offer are the same ideas we’ve seen in the industry for years.”