The demand side ad-server is at the core of most advertisers’ online media tech stacks, delivering real time data on the most important metrics, including impressions by date, hour, viewability, fraud, brand safety, reach and frequency, as well as consumer activity such as clicks and conversions.
In most regions, an advertiser who wants an independently audited and approved ad server catering to most vendors and formats (while also offering tools for handling dynamic creatives and programmatic media buying) only has three options; Google, Sizmek and Adform. There are some smaller companies around but on a global level in developed markets these companies have a purely nominal market share amongst major advertisers (in our experience).
If an advertiser also wants its platform to be truly independent of the supply side, then only Sizmek and Adform would be left on the short list, despite Google being the most dominant in the industry.
Now there are strong indications only one independent will remain on that shortlist, as Sizmek has filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy in the US. What the outcome will be is uncertain; will Sizmek be entirely closed or parts sold off, or re-invigorated? For the health of the online media industry, we sincerely hope for the latter option.
But to be practical, this is yet another blow to smaller, independent suppliers in a rapidly maturing and consolidating industry under ever-increasing pressure for efficiency and value creation from the duopoly (or monopoly, depending on your delineations) of the behemoth walled gardens of Google and Facebook. Google has undeniably had the financial muscle to take user friendliness, simplicity, consistency, reliability, packaging, and customer support to heights that Sizmek has never gotten close to. Google’s virtuous circle of intense focus on user value and growing user bases is difficult for contenders to catch up with.
Sizmek had several different versions of its ad server running simultaneously probably because transitioning clients was a complicated process – subsequently it tried and failed to charge more for the new versions which hasn’t helped its business model.
But in all of this, are we being unfair to Google? After all, no other ad server has opened up as much to, and received as many accreditations from, the MRC. Vetting by an independent and globally trusted media measurement organization has concluded that Google’s reporting is trustworthy. Still, its market dominance is troubling, not so much what led to that dominance or the abilities it affords it. Too much of the fate of the online media industry is dependent on the will of the giants.
If Sizmek really falters, where will its clients turn? Those that made a conscious choice for independence and still want to, could turn to Adform (MRC approved) or one of the new generation of growing platforms who are seeking this accreditation. For others we suspect it’ll be the easy but less inspiring way out.
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