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Tuesday, April 17, 2007

ContextWeb: The Would-Be Online Ad Market-Maker

A few weeks before the recent announcement that Google is buying DoubleClick, DoubleClick announced it'll be developing a "NASDAQ-like exchange" for the buying and selling of online advertising. Proof positive that the online ad space continues to heat up, rather than diving into an irrational "bust" as in 2000-2003.

Wait a minute, though, you may be saying. Aren't ad networks and the way ads are bought and sold today somewhat "market-like"?

Not as much as you might think. Check out Google's current contextual offerings, for example. As a publisher, do you think you can signal to the advertiser using an "ask" price? Do you have much control at all if you join one of the various ad networks and let their system allocate inventory, as opposed to using your own inside sales force? Nope. And what about the ability to stand out as a quality publisher amidst the crowd of remnant type inventory? Again, tough to do. So, tough to monetize to your fullest potential. Because the current market maker is not facilitating a true market. In that sense, DoubleClick's new promised offering, and Google's acquisition of DoubleClick, could constitute a significant step forward in online advertising efficiency.

DoubleClick won't be the only one working on a great way of putting online ad buyers and sellers together. ContextWeb, quietly licensing its matching technology since 2000, and more recently, acting as a media middleman in its own right, is working on a new "name your price" functionality in a new, highly automated ad marketplace system. I had the chance to walk through a demo yesterday with CEO Anand Subramanian and VP of Business Development Jay Sears. While the release isn't slated for a couple of months, publishers are already being targeted for a beta signup. The hook, "Ready to Make More Money than AdSense?," is not new to publishers, admits Subramanian. "Typically a publisher will become dissatisfied with their AdSense earnings, will install code from a competing network, but that will be even worse, so it's right back to AdSense," he says. But that's because these competing networks don't present a credible alternative. They represent the old school of what ContextWeb calls "Yet Another Ad Network," with fewer features, not a true marketplace, and no critical mass of buyers and sellers.

The company won't yet disclose the full range of features of its new system. To me, it seems to address the combined needs of advertisers and publishers very well, leaving neither the "prime inventory" nor the "long tail" unaddressed. ContextWeb's quiet long-term presence in the space seems to have given the company a wealth of ideas. A decent revenue stream from its current agency relationships, plus venture funding from, among others, Draper Fisher Jurvetson, has given them the long view needed to build a better platform.

If you're a publisher of quality content, here's hoping the days of "Yet Another Ad Network" will soon be a thing of a past in your balance sheet.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




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