Industry Insights on the Ever Evolving Ad Network Landscape


Greg Brown



AdNetworkDirectory was one of the early pioneers in making sense of the digital advertising landscape, helping both buyers and publishers find the right Ad Network partners for them. Can you tell us a little more about the genesis of the site, and inspiration for it?

Years ago, I was a digital media planner/buyer for an agency and found it very frustrating to buy digital media. I worked with a few of the larger networks I had heard of through the agency grapevine and continually tested new networks that would call on me. It was pretty much all trial and error. I have since moved to the publisher side and manage a medium sized Web site (about 45MM ad impressions per month). Just as frustrating is trying to find publisher partners to monetize our site. So, in 2010, we started —  to help both buyers and sellers find digital media partners that best fit their particular needs. It’s grown organically through search optimization and word of mouth. We currently have about 10,000 unique visitors per month.


Especially with the advent of mobile, the Ad Network landscape has absolutely exploded, with now being thousands of ad networks available for buyers to use, or publishers to integrate with. Do you think this is sustainable, for these amount of players to exist in a (growing) sector?

We have close to 600 networks (I use that word  loosely because many don’t fit the exact ad network definition) that have self-published a profile on the site. And I’m sure there are hundreds more that don’t know about the directory. My gut tells me that a majority of them are very small and probably won’t be around in a few years.


It was stated a few years back that the DSP and exchange spelled the “Death of the Ad Network“. Obviously over the years this proved to not be true. Why do you think that was the case?

I think many networks have evolved into DSP or SSPs depending on their expertise — so the number of traditional ad networks has likely decreased. With that said, the market is still very fragmented — made up of lots of small budget advertisers and agencies and millions of “long tail” publishers. Most of these buyers and sellers are really unsophisticated when it comes to ad operations, and have small budgets (advertisers) or not enough inventory (publishers) to even work with a decent sized DSP or SSP. Alternatively, it’s pretty simple to pick a small network to work with, or sign up for AdSense or Adwords. The nice thing about digital is that the smallest advertiser and the smallest publisher can run a campaign or monetize their pageviews. Can’t really do that in traditional media. So, I don’t see networks going away anytime soon.


What are some of the ways that monetizes?

At any one time, we have 10 networks that sponsor the site. We limit the number to 10 to maximize exposure for each of our sponsors. Most have been long term sponsors because they get quality leads from the exposure.


Do you have any tips for publishers looking for relevant and high yield/fill Ad Networks to work with? How does a publisher first get started monetizing their inventory, or finding the right monetization partners to work with?

It really depends on how much ad impression inventory they have available, what their vertical might be, if they want to monetize on a CPM basis (versus a CPA basis — typically an affiliate model) and their geographic location. We have a filter on that let’s visitors narrow down the networks that might fit their needs.

Assuming they are just getting started and have a small amount of inventory, I will often recommend starting out with Google AdSense. It’s really easy to get started, they don’t need an ad server (like DFP), and can get their feet wet without too much confusion.

If they have a lot of pageviews (and inherent ad inventory), I would strongly recommend working with a network that will provide a dedicated account manager. Most of the larger networks — including the sponsors on our directory — provide that service.


On the buyer front, how do you think Ad Networks can best position themselves to differentiate from the pack? How should buyers be evaluating potential networks to work with?

Many of the larger networks require minimum buys. That’s fine, but if I’m a new advertiser/agency I may want to test your network with a small test budget before I commit to a larger buy. So low minimums for a test and also a dedicated account manager would be the two things I would look for.


Are there any innovations happening right now in adtech that excite you the most?

I think Header Bidding is probably the one that excites me most from a publisher standpoint. In theory, its going to help publishers improve site monetization. It’s very new, and many of the networks (again that term used loosely) are just starting to offer it — so the jury is still out.


Do you think there will be a consolidation of Ad Networks or Adtech companies over the coming years? How many companies in the future do you think can co-exist, selling advertising directly to the buyer? (including publishers)

I’m sure there will be some consolidation, but with the market so fragmented — as mentioned above — I’m not sure M&A people understand the landscape enough to make an informed decision. I think everyone wants to automate everything which is fine, but there’s still going to be a need for customer service and account management. So the companies that provide both great adtech and great service will rise to the top.


Any interesting stories about the ad network landscape and how it has evolved over the last few years?

I don’t know of any. Again, most likely a result of the fragmented and confusing marketplace. And lack of good data.


What is your take on recent trends like programmatic buying, native formats, and ad blocking?

To me programmatic buying is nothing new — it’s just that someone came up with a name for it. There is a buzz about Native ads — but I’m not close enough to it to know if it’s successful for folks. Ad blocking is a huge issue for sure and everyone should be concerned about it.


Lastly, what is your take on the future of the independent ad network landscape?

I think the independent ad network will need to evolve according to market demand and not get too comfortable where they are. That could mean growing organically, merging with like-minded networks, and/or developing new adtech or unique positioning to differentiate themselves. Because they do have lots of competition!

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