ce n’est pas un ‘ad-server’

When we take publisher tools into a multi-platform world we’re taking them further and further away from having responsibly for ‘serving’. In the IPTV world, in the online video world and, to a large extent, in the mobile world publisher tools are making a decision and letting something else do the technical side of the delivery. This is not to play down the important of solid, reliable and timely delivery but it’s just not how publisher ‘ad-servers’ have evolved. In the cable television space we’re already talking about a legacy web ‘ad-server’ as being a ad-decision service and that, more accurately, reflects what we’re doing.

Je viens de rentrer d’une visite à Paris. If that doesn’t read as, “I’ve just got back from a visit to Paris” then you’ll know O-levels weren’t as good as the rose-tinted view of the dumming down brigade suggests. That, or I’ve just forgotten everything Mrs Taylor taught me about cats sitting on tables or buying one-way tickets to La Rochelle.

A Paris, j’ai rencontré des gens très sympathiques. But, I wasn’t there just to be friendly, I was there for the second part of the pan-European tour for Microsoft Advertising’s regular outreach sessions, MSA Today. And, in case you’re imagining musician-on-a-bus type touring, it was date two of two (the first being last week in the UK) and so a ‘tour’ is perhaps a little “licence artistique” on my part.

I was part of a group of people showcasing Microsoft Advertising’s offerings to publishers: a set of tools that help media owner’s understand advertising inventory; delivery premium advertising content and monetise remnant/discretionary inventory. It’s a neat set of tools that you can find more about here.

To give a bit more background to what I noted last week, while working on the presentation (which has been made available over at Microsoft), I became increasingly convinced that one particular piece of terminology was incorrect: the industry refers to some of that technology as an ad-server and, for most publishers, that name isn’t accurate. And before I’m accused of being pedantic, I think we (those of us work in the business of helping publishers manage advertising inventory) are doing ourselves a disservice by not properly describing what we’re doing and what value we are bringing.

I appreciate that my distinction – certainly in technical terms – is overly specific. But for most publishers and ad-server can be said to do around about six things and in the vast majority of cases the publisher system never actually serves an advertisement (my definition here requires the ad-sever to hold the advertising creative and provide the asset or the URL of the asset back to the user’s browser). And I am talking about publisher ad-servers here; the equivalents for buy-side, optimisation or network players in this space might ‘serve’ the ad more often than not.

And now you’re asking “Pourquoi est-ce important?” (or something similar). I believe the serving aspect diminishes the value because it’s seen as a technical not a business process. Not that it should, the development and innovation behind serving digital advertisements is often overlooked but nonetheless we’re dealing with realities in this small space of the industry.

A publisher needs a system that provides order management; that provides inventory analysis (both pre and post-sale); provides workflow tracking for the ad operations team; provides reporting and insight on delivery, sales and finance and, finally, makes the decision on which advertisement should be shown through fast analysis of targeting rules and the browser’s request. In the world in which we operate today, at the point of selection the publisher’s system hands-off responsibility for delivery to the advertiser (buy-side) or network’s delivery system which takes responsibility for telling the browser where to load the ad from.

When we take publisher tools into a multi-platform world (which, to some extent was the point of my pitch for Microsoft) we’re taking them further and further away from having responsibly for ‘serving’. In the IPTV world, in the online video world and, to a large extent, in the mobile world publisher tools are making a decision and letting something else do the technical side of the delivery. This is not to play down the important of solid, reliable and timely delivery but it’s just not how publisher ‘ad-servers’ have evolved. In the cable television space we’re already talking about a legacy web ‘ad-server’ as being a ad-decision service and that, more accurately, reflects what we’re doing.

Again, I am trying not to be pedantic about this but selection, targeting, analysis, prediction and workflow management are sophisticated tools that power publisher’s businesses. The serving is really the last item, admittedly vital, in the chain but often it is not done by the publisher’s system as we know it today. Why is it not a referred to as a delivery analytics platform or a decisioning system?

I really do wonder if we are doing ourselves a disservice in underplaying the business systems we’re providing. Back when we were just rotating ads every few seconds, and I once worked on a system which selected the ad based on the numerical value of the second you requested it, our tools were primarily a mechanism to deliver. Now they are a mechanism to mange, process, refine, analyse and invoice. Systems have been – rightly – integrated into CRM and billing systems as well as into content management and analytics platforms. The value a publisher ‘ad-server’ brings is infinitely better than those systems of old yet our terminology hasn’t changed.

As an industry we need to be better at highlighting our real value. I don’t believe ‘ad-server’ serves is well any longer. It’s time to change.

Part One of this piece was written after the UK version of the presentations and can be read in That’s Not An Ad-Server.

Disclaimer: the views here are my own and are not necessarily the opinions of my employer (who sent me) nor customers (who I spoke to while there). You have read the full disclosure, haven’t you?

Author: jon

Jon Curnow writes on curnow.org about things that interest him. The site has been around for many years in various forms and he always wants to write much more here than he does.

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