Investors Say Data Ambiguity Is Dampening Ad Tech’s Luster

Regulatory uncertainty makes for a hard sell, especially with smaller companies

An ad-tech panel at Adweek's NexTech conference featuring John Lambros, GCA; Allison Goldberg, tech investor, Marty Swant, Adweek
(L. to r.) John Lambros, GCA; Allison Goldberg, tech investor; Marty Swant, Adweek
Sean T. Smith for Adweek

As ad-tech outfits face a tighter and tighter squeeze from industry consolidation and impending regulations surrounding data privacy, investors are starting to take notice and funnel their dollars elsewhere. This was the sentiment heard across the stage at Adweek’s NexTech Conference this week, where Allison Goldberg, technology and digital media investor and former Time Warner svp; and John Lambros, president and managing director and head of digital media banking at GCA Advisors, took the stage with Adweek technology staff writer Marty Swant to discuss why the ad-tech market—a field flush with venture capital not so long ago—might be seeing a further slowdown in funding.

“I think any kind of uncertainty—especially from a regulatory standpoint—is a really hard sell, particularly for smaller companies,” Goldberg said. And right now, ad tech is flush with uncertainty.

Programmatic players the world over are still scrambling to comply with Europe’s GDPR regulations, along with CCPA, a similar, U.S. based statute set to go into affect of January of next year. Meanwhile, other states, from Vermont to Massachusetts, have been mulling their own individual privacy legislature, leaving ad-tech outfits stuck navigating an increasingly complex fractured network of state laws that might be too complex for smaller shops to handle.

“Frankly, it’s become too easy for later stage investors to put their money elsewhere,” Lambros explained. While leadership on the city and stateside level “is important,” he went on, “until we get some national policy, it’s just going to continue to dampen the sector.”

Though smaller shops have been feeling this struggle, the walled gardens certainly haven’t; investors are funneling their funds further into the hands of tech giants like Facebook, Google and Amazon—a fact underlined by their collective impressive earnings filings this week—Goldberg went on. These walled gardens will soon be snapping up more than 60% of every ad dollar by 2020, per eMarketer’s estimates, leaving smaller and smaller slivers of the multibillion-dollar digital ad market for everyone else.

“It’s hard enough to compete with these bigger companies when you know they can comply,” Goldberg went on. “They have the funds to afford what it takes to make these changes. So if your business model depends on eventually complying with regulations but you have no idea what they’re gonna look like, it’s going to be a little harder—or a lot harder—to eventually adapt.”

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