Google and ABC Build a Programmatic Ad Exchange That Only Buys Mastheads

Rising Star requires top billing

Google's private programmatic exchanges can now book premium ad space like mastheads for brands. It is working with ABC to promote the new show Rising Star using an exchange that only places ads in prominent positions, ones that are not typically associated with automated buying.

"This exchange is unique in that it specifically accesses only masthead inventory across several hand-selected premium publishers, including Wenner Media," a person familiar with the arrangement said.

For Google, this is an evolution of its recent programmatic strategy that attracted brands to automated buying methods by carefully selecting the publishers that could participate. Still, one of the drawbacks had been this lack of high-profile ad inventory, which is necessary for entertainment brands like ABC.

"When you introduce a new TV show, you need a lot of space to get the message across," said Ben Blatt, executive director of digital strategy at ABC Television.

For Rising Star, ABC took over the masthead at sites like Rolling Stone, Us Weekly and Men's Journal. The network was able to automate the process of buying these homepage-dominating ads across the Web without approaching every individual publisher.

"We were able to run large mastheads in places we were never able to do before and spread out who's seeing our message," Blatt said.

The private exchange not only automates the way ads are placed and when, but it also uses data to better target the messages to consumers.

The interest in programmatic buying continues to grow as more brands invest in the technology. Still, one of the fears has been that automation could devalue inventory, and online publishers had been reluctant in the past to sell certain space this way.

With so many options to buy ads on mobile and video, homepage takeovers are desktop's best draw for a brand, Blatt said.

"With mobile such a huge part of the ad world, digital advertisers have to make desktop stand out in a bigger way," Blatt said.