IAB Confab: Future of Branded Sites Unclear


So are Web publishers totally screwed or aren’t they?

That’s not the official theme at the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s Annual Meeting (it’s actually Revenue: the Next Wave), but it appears to be the reigning question at the event, which is being held this week in Carlsbad, California.

Based on the topics being focused on by various speakers thus far, the future of ad supported traditional branded sites is very much up in the air, and the ongoing commidization threat from ad networks, exchanges and demand-side buying platforms has many asking some scary questions---while others are expressing steadfast defiance.

During a session focused on mergers & acquisitions in the digital space, Tolman Geffs, co-president of the Jordan Edmiston Group, posed the question, “Is brand advertising in decline?—while pointing to dropping stock prices at companies like the New York Times and Yahoo. He showed an ominous chart for publishers who earn a living selling traditional, context-driven brand opportunities: it showed that in 2009 more money was spend on direct marketing and promotional advertising than was spent on branding.

For digital, he predicted that branding and direct response tactics were starting to blend “We think this is not just the economic cycle,” he said.

And according to Geffs, that means that advertisers are going to purchase audiences, rather than buying on a site by site basis. He estimated that today 80 percent of display inventory is sold directly, but by next year that will dip to 70 percent.

“Ton of players getting into the audience selling market,” he said. “Premium publishers are losing a key advantage.” That is, historically publishers have sold brands on premium content and premium audiences. “That second one is starting to fade,” said Geffs.

Of course, that’s not a trend that many traditional Web publishers are crazy about, but it’s inevitable, according to David Moore, chairman and founder of 24/7 Real Media. During a keynote address on Sunday night, Moore said that agency-led demand-side platforms are here to say, and publishers need to get used to them.

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