I don't know how we'd mark the beginning of the programmatic age in our business - I'm sure someone must have a record of the first time the word was uttered. But whenever it was - six, seven, eight years ago? - it marked the beginning of us all watching the story play out episodically; in weekly installments over many seasons. We saw story lines rise and fall; characters come and go. And if any of us went back and watched season one today we'd barely recognize the cast and would be a little jarred by the production design.
Let's imagine for a moment that the whole programmatic saga - multiple seasons - were available for download on Hulu Plus or Netflix and we got to pull up the covers and binge-watch the whole thing over a long weekend. I wonder how differently we'd see the story.
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A loosely connected and lightly organized network of quants emerges from the backrooms of the soon-to-be-doomed ad networks with a radical plan for stripping away the romance and illusion from advertising and selling in a purely mathematical, algorithm-driven approach to buying, selling, informing, distributing and attributing value to ads on the web. A fever-dream of wild financial speculation follows in which venture capital flows in to irrigate a world driven by real time bidding. Agencies organize experimental business units that draw a lot of interest and attention. Incremental programmatic companies spring out of the ground like mushrooms after a soaking rain.
Then we wait as not that much really happens for a few episodes.
Real time bidding on open exchanges suddenly loses all the steam it ever seemed to have. Everyone who's ever run a trading desk ends up walking away from the model, and the big agency holding companies explain that it never really was about having a trading desk anyway. We decide we never really liked that whole relationship with big open exchanges anyway - it gave us all sorts of icky infections like non-human traffic and non-viewable impressions that we still can't shake. Private exchanges (or was it private marketplaces? Oh who remembers?) Now that's what we've really been talking about all this time. We'll just buy and sell the good shit and use lots of data to help us make it even better!
Then we wait a little more over a few episodes that seem to lag and get a little confusing.
We get a little nostalgic about the early episodes and so we start to re-introduce some old story lines. If you liked the early days of programmatic display, wait till you get a load of programmatic video....programmatic mobile....programmatic native (really.) And you know, while we're grooving on the oldies, let's go way, way back: Turns out that content is really pretty cool after all. No, no...not the garden variety come-to-my-website and see what I wrote kind. Custom content and branded content and viral content and socially-optimizable content... can you give me a scoop of programmatic with that?
All caught up now. We can't wait for next season, but we just know we're going to hate watching just one episode a week!