Over the past week, I've been asked at least a dozen times about Federated Media's much ballyhooed decision to "shutter" its direct ad sales business in favor or "programmatic buying and native advertising" businesses. In Adweek, Tim Peterson described it as a move that "...could presage a foundational shift in the online advertising landscape."
To which I would say, "Settle down Tim."
Because of Super-Storm Sandy, The Upstream Seller Forum Dinner was rescheduled for Wednesday night November 28th and The Seller Forum to Thursday November 29th at the Thomson Reuters Building. Because of the change, a handful of seats have become available for qualified CROs, EVPs, SVPs and VPs of sales. If your company would like to be represented at this important event, please reach out to us right away.
Let's look at the facts. While the business press loves a good paradigm shift story -- and Federated would very much like to run in front of the parade that's already forming -- individual publishers are making these kinds of decisions every day. Just without the grandstanding. In the Upstream Seller Forum events we host, there's been a thoughtful running debate for close to four years around the role of ad exchanges and programmatic channels in the publisher's world. To these thoughtful publishers, the revenue world looks like a series of dials and switches to be carefully turned and calibrated.
So why the big announcement and all the breathless press coverage and Twitter chatter about Federated? In one of her press interviews, CEO Deanna gave a pretty good indication when she pointed out "...when you've got an independent company like ours that's venture-funded, we need to make bets that we know will [see] return." I would suggest that the "return" in this case is actually ROIE: Return of Investor Enthusiasm. Federated and its bombastic founder John Battelle have always had a bigger profile on conference stages and inside the boardrooms of Sand Hill Road and Silicon Alley than they have in the daily give and take of the media and advertising world. Tying the company's future to a press release that includes both programmatic and native makes all the sense in the world.
In the past five years, the venture community has been over-funding the ad technology space with the subtle precision of drug dealers handing out stacks of Benjamins. Some kind of "validating event" -- like, say, a high-profile publisher firing her high priced sales team and betting everything on technology and self-service -- is the hopeful narrative that keeps the house of cards standing a while longer. But the quiet, careful recalibration and streamlining of the media and marketing worlds has been going on for years, and will continue for years more. It's not as sexy and dramatic a story, but it's the truth. The revolution will not be televised.
Will the programmatic, data-enabled buying and selling of ads be a bigger part of our business? Absolutely. Is "native advertising" also a meaningful growth area? The jury is still out: if it is, it's influence will be unevenly distributed to a handful of players. Is it time to start firing direct sellers? That's laughable.
Will we continue to over-react to showy press releases and other forms of corporate misdirection? That's up to us.