If you have been 'around the block' as a professional in leading edge industries, you know you will inevitably reach a point when the 'new guys' start becoming the 'old guys.' For many in ad tech, the publishing and agency business models are the 'old guys' while they are the 'new guys.' So, lets put some prospective on this: Right Media was founded a decade ago, PubMatic seven years ago, AppNexus, Rubicon, and MediaMath six years ago. I know, its not the 160 years of the New York Times but in 'ad tech years' these companies are in their late 20's. In 'publisher years' they're toddlers.
Like all tech industries the evolution in tech never stops. The other truism is that most of the innovation comes from the little guys. All of the above companies have revenues north of $100 million. Are they 'new guys'? are they startups? While the advertising professional media still seems to think so. Those of us who have been through a number of technology cycles know better. These guys are big businesses. Most $100 million organizations aren't that 'hungry' anymore. Very few businesses will grow to $1 billion. Most that grow beyond use M&A for innovation acquisition. This is not a value judgment.
So, who are the new guys in ad tech trying to shake things up? Well... the title is not 'Blank' is the next big thing, it's RTB is Old School. We have our opinions. Without pointing any fingers, many of the 'new guys' have a pivot-ready business model. So making a judgment is really hard. I think that people know there will be a next wave and they created business models to stay afloat until they find 'The next RTB'. We have had a bunch of macro ad tech cycles as the web developed. Close observation shows a 5 to 7 year cyclicality. I would argue that we are at the cusp of the next cycle. The competition is lined up and we are waiting for the tipping point that will cause an inflection point in the cycles trend line. In upside trends, the pivotal point it the point at which technology really starts to pick up steam, three digit growth.
The programmatic direct folks fancy themselves as 'The next RTB'. They might be right or they might be wrong. The market will teach us. I for one am betting on the business of impressions not sold in real time. When looking at advertising spending across all media, a vast majority of ad spend is for impressions not sold in real time. If a solution enables that, it can find a home in television, radio, out-of-home, print, you name it. My conversation with the agency folks who control most of the spend in the global advertising market confirms it. "One platform to rule them all!" Is the battle cry of many in agency land. I for one agree with them. It may be a standard or it may be a platform, no one can tell, but one will rule all media. This has happened too many times before in other industries.
Major technological trends have generally revolved around automation of manual processes and/or the creation of processes that were simply too complex for manual work. Many processes are still done manually to operate the advertising infrastructure. Like others who have said it before me, I believe the vast majority of innovation in our industry will enable humans to focus on what they do best and automate the rest.
-Buckle your seat belt, it's going to be a bumpy ride...