Ushering in a programmable future for media

Programmatic advertising is dead. So says its self-proclaimed inventor, Mr. Brian O’Kelley, CEO of App Nexus. While his status as the inventor of programmatic is questionable, his perspective and influence within the industry is not. And his argument that the dominant feature of the next age is the programmability of the machines we’re using to run our digital campaigns is compelling. 

One of the implications of the ‘programmable’ age Mr. O'Kelley describes is that power will shift from those who built the machines to the folks who are paying for it (and I don’t mean VCs). The new era is all about the core ad tech buyers — the advertisers and publishers. While the programmatic age has seen the emergence of hundreds or even thousands of pieces of ad technology, many have not added value. More still have not respected the need for their purchasers to maintain control.

The winning technologies of the new age will be those that see customers as equals, that teach customers how to use the powerful tools they are buying. These tools will prosper, while those that simply promise results (and appeal to our lazy instincts) will become artifacts of a bygone age. If you're an agency, long live The Trade Desk. RIP Rocket Fuel 2012 vintage. (Rocket Fuel will likely endure, but its success will come from its newer customer-empowering reform.) 

To put it slightly differently, the companies that will have a prominent role in the next ‘programmable’ age will all recognize their customer’s desire(and right and even imperative) to maintain control of the advertising technology they’re buying. Seems like a duh, but it's important, and it spells a better future for (almost) everyone involved (low value adding middlemen excepted).

Unlike the comment with which Mr. O’Kelley led his article, the programmable era is not an entirely self-serving trend. While AppNexus is not among the more opaque ad tech vendors, it’s still an ad tech provider. And, as we move into the programmable age, brands and publishers will inevitably gain back some of the control they lost in the bygone era. Mr. O'Kelley recognizes this. RIP superfluous middlemen. RIP tier 3 DSP hawking the latest black box solution. (By the way, these terms don't apply to AppNexus, but many of AppNexus' customers fit this description to a T.)

Advertisers deserve better than to have half of their ad dollars eaten by ad tech. Publishers deserve better than to get $0.50 on the ad spend dollar. And, in the programmable age, they’ll have it. 

And pardon a bit of a digressing rant, but do you know who else deserves better? Consumers. As a consumer, I can’t wait for the next age. I never thought I would, but I regularly use an ad blocker now. Why? Because I love the internet. And the latency of the ‘modern’ advertising ecosystem leaves me no other choice. 

This is a dramatic shift from just a few years ago, when I had a slower processor in my laptop, a slower internet connection, but faster loading web pages. Before, I loved the internet too much to use an ad blocker — after all, advertising pays for our content. But now? The internet is almost unusable without an ad blocker. Ad tech’s run rampant. And it’s not a pretty sight (site?).

The promise of the ‘programmable age’ and its commensurate shift in power back to the essential industry players — advertisers and publishers — is a better consumer experience. And a better consumer experience means a bigger pie. We all benefit from more users spending more time and more money on the internet. 

So I say RIP programmatic age. You’re too slow for today’s taste. 

Long live the programmable age. Publishers, we’re all ready for you to take your pages back from the ad tech overlords. I'm waiting for the day intelligently monetized web pages load as nice and fast like streaming shows do. Is that too much to ask?

This article was originally posted on my blog at Trailhead Consulting. Visit the site to see more or to get in touch!