5 Major Themes from This Year’s Programmatic I/O Conference

Here's what's on professionals' minds

Programmatic I/O
Headshot of Kelsey Sutton

What’s on the minds of professionals in the programmatic space? If the conversations at Tuesday’s Programmatic I/O conference in New York are any indication: in-housing, AI applications and the future of acquisitions in ad tech. There was some hand-wringing about the continued challenges that the so-called walled gardens of Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple pose to the industry as they look for more ways to gobble up consumer data, too. Here’s a quick rundown of five themes that dominated the conference:

1. Dealing with data

Naturally, conversations about data—what marketers should do with it, how marketers should better collect it, and how the industry should navigate evolving regulations—dominated Tuesday’s conversations. Oliver Maletz, the head of international communications and media planning at Volkswagen AG, kicked off the morning to say that Volkswagen—and the industry at large—needs to get better at collecting and analyzing data. “We don’t know what to do with the data when we get it,” Maletz said. It wasn’t just Maletz who brought that up. Kari Marshall, the VP of media at T-Mobile, said in an afternoon session that T-Mobile also needed to get better at “making meaning out of the data that we do have.”

In the closing keynote, Martin Sorrell, who is heading up the advertising company S4 Capital after resigning from WPP following allegations of misconduct and misuse of company assets, said controlling first-party data was top of mind for his clients. A data-driven approach, though, is easier said than done. “Agencies talk about data but they don’t know what they’re talking about,” Sorrell said.

2. Skepticism on the blockchain

During the morning sessions, Gartner vice president and analyst Andrew Frank extolled the virtues of blockchain technology, saying that their use cases—from decentralized data management platforms to combating fake news videos—can help the industry take back some control from the so-called walled gardens of Facebook, Google, Apple and Amazon. Frank encouraged industry leaders to start talking about blockchain applications with partners to get a sense of its potential applications.

Other panelists, though, didn’t have such a rosy view. Kristina Goldberg, senior vice president of programmatic at the market researcher Spark Foundry, said she wasn’t “fully there” with blockchain, adding that she thought the application of the technology seemed too expensive. And Kawaja had an even blunter dismissal of blockchain, literally drawing a red line through the word blockchain in his presentation about what Luma Partners sees as growth opportunities going forward.

3. Pushing for better viewability standards

During his morning session, Maletz urged industry leaders to push for improved viewability metrics and measuring to cut down on wasteful spend. “No marketer should have to pay for an ad that a human couldn’t see, period,” Maletz said, adding that a non-viewable ad would be unacceptable in other ad formats like a billboard. “We can no longer continue to accept viewability rates the way they are,” he said.

That push for taking a different approach to viewability was underscored again by Brad Stamulis, the director of digital marketing at Dish Network. Stamulis urged DSPs to automatically offer information about viewability to marketers in DSP dashboards, and he encouraged marketers to take both a pre-bid and post-bid approach to improving viewability in the context of attribution. “We need to be pushing back, and stop paying for ads that people didn’t see,” Stamulis said.

4. Keeping a close eye on inbound regulations

Ad tech folks are keenly interested in what the continued shake-out from GDPR and any potential federal data privacy regulations will mean for the industry. At issue, several industry leaders mentioned that trust in media and businesses were at disappointing lows, which was influencing the conversations surrounding privacy and transparency. During an afternoon session, Mary Engle, the associate director at the Federal Trade Commission’s Division of Advertising Practices, took a modest stance, saying that the FTC’s only role was to help ensure free markets. Jonathan Bellack, a director of product management at Google, noted that the conversations about privacy were being driven primarily by users, and not by the industry.

“We don’t think this dialogue is over, and it would be really dangerous to assume that what’s happened so far in Europe or with tech providers is somehow the end, or that the new world is settled,” Bellack said. “We’re just in the middle of figuring out what the new standards and new relationships will be.”

5. What’s on the horizon

In the coming months, expect more conversations about connected television and other new mediums to heat up, several panelists advised. Kawaja pointed to audio-voice devices, like the Google Home and the Amazon Echo, as the next frontier for ad-tech as the devices become more ubiquitous. Convergent TV and video advertising is also a major point of interest as consumer content consumption habits change and as connected TVs offer the targeting capabilities of digital with the premium brand-safe environments of television. Bellack said he expects app advertising to also feature as a major conversation in coming months and year.

@kelseymsutton kelsey.sutton@adweek.com Kelsey Sutton is the streaming editor at Adweek, where she covers the business of streaming television.