Microsoft Forms Coalition of Web Publishers

Microsoft has formed a coalition of prominent online publishers to consult on the development of PubCenter, its still-in-beta ad management tool.

The new Publisher Leadership Council includes Viacom, The New York Times, Dow Jones Online, Time Inc. and IAC. According to officials, the group’s members—most of whom typically compete with Microsoft for online ad dollars—will be provided with an opportunity to help shape the functionality and design of the PubCenter platform.

PubCenter ultimately promises to streamline the many laborious processes inherent to selling online advertising, including inventory management, forecasting, pricing and reporting. “It’s for anything a publisher has to worry about beyond creating content and sales,” said Scott Howe, corporate vp of Microsoft’s advertiser & publisher solutions group. “What we’re really focused on is the nuts and bolts of a publisher’s daily grind.”

According to Howe, most Web sites employ multiple vendors at one time to assist with these various processes—ranging from companies like to Adify to Microsoft’s own Rapt—which hinders their ability to sell ads in a timely fashion and often leads to executional errors.

“It’s still too hard for publishers,” he said. “Stuff slips through the cracks. Many publishers can’t even manage inventory in real time.”

The hope is that the council can provide actionable suggestions that will help publishers across the interactive spectrum, and that Microsoft can become an industry leader on this issue, even if they help boost some competitors’ business. “We’ve invited them into the laboratory,” Howe said. “If some of our blueprints sort of leak out to the market, than so be it.”

Of course, Microsoft is not the only major industry player out to tackle the growing complexity of online advertising, though the Publisher Leadership Council focuses primarily on publisher issues. Yahoo last year introduced APT, an ambitious platform that aimed at curing many of the industry’s processing ills by bringing more efficiency to buying and selling.

In addition, Publicis Groupe’s VivaKi was established last year with the goal of creating tools and solutions that address similar issues that plague the agency side of the business.