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Digital publishing trends for 2020 - 5. Programmatic advertising and other technology nightmares

  • 26 December 2019 by
  • Krishna Kumar
Digital publishing trends for 2020 - 5. Programmatic advertising and other technology nightmares

If there is one thing that has evolved continuously and furiously in the publishing world, then it has to be programmatic advertising. estimates that the US markets alone placed USD 54.9 billions worth of digital ads over programmatic in 2019. This works out to a whopping 84.9% of the US digital display ad market! They further estimate that by 2012, 88% of all digital display ads will be placed programmatically. That is one huge market for programmatic advertising, and it is not going to go anywhere in a hurry. It also means that programmatic advertising is going to touch almost everyone in the market.

But are you happy with it?

Ask publishers to list their top ten gripes and you can be sure to find programmatic in everyone's list. The reasons for this angst are wide and varied across the publishing fraternity. While agencies complain about ad fraud, inventory quality and the like, publishers are not happy about everything from a surfeit of demand side platforms to restrictive policies to lack of trust.

For B2B publishers, there is no way programmatic will work out given their smaller inventories. Their quest for tenancy of ads will lead them directly to the marketing managers, to the leftover 15% of the advertising pie and into conflict with the advertising agencies!

Another technology roadblock that advertisers face is with web browsers. Safari and Firefox have taken steps to limit third party cookies. This limits advertising agencies' ability to collect information and track readers across websites. Google has announced plans to limit referral traffic to websites that have too many intrusive ads. Google, having a huge stake in advertising revenues is also playing the other side of the table! It has launched two services - Funding choices and Contributor, to help publishers overcome ad blockers. Contributor is a wallet service paid for by the individual reader. Each participating page that is visited is paid a sum (plus Google charges) from the reader's wallet for ad free reading.

Ad blockers have for long been a technology nightmare for publishers. reports that as much as 47% of the online population uses ad blockers. 2019 has seen aggressive fight back from publishers, with many, including leading publishers aggressively blocking access to their content if they detect ad blockers. How successful these attempts have been remains to be seen.

Then there is the legal layering on top all these with GDPR and its variants like the CCPA and the European cookie law adding to the technology challenges that publishers face.

Technology aided fraud is an area that requires special treatment and I address that separately.

So, while technology is today seen as an enabler and there is no going back from adapting technology, it continues to throw challenges that the publisher has to surmount at each step.


This article is part of a series on Digital Publishing trends for 2020. You can read the others in this series below

1. It is the reader, not the content
2. Long tail content comes into play to increase pageviews
3. The lure of the walled gardens
4. Is custom content the new king?
6. The bot brigade and more such frauds
7. What is happening to affiliate revenues?
8. The second digital transformation is well on its way
9. Are paywalls really the next big opportunity?