Ad tech firms are set to play a more prominent role on the agenda of some of the digital media and advertising industries' largest trade organisations, as questions over transparency and programmatic technologies are set to dominate the agenda in 2015.
With Ad Week, New York taking place last week, an Ad Age article revealed the Interactive Advertising Bureau's (IAB) US chapter was to finally grant ad tech firms full membership amid a series of moves that spell out the growing importance of such companies.
Shift in focus from publishing to ad tech
The IAB's US chapter, widely perceived as a trade body whose historic constituency has been online publishers, is to let ad tech firms take up full general membership, after years of being limited to "associate" membership, effectively a tier-two status.
A press release announcing updates to the IAB's membership criteria reads: "IAB will widen its criteria for full voting, or 'General' membership from 'sellers of interactive advertising inventory' to 'companies that sell, distribute, or optimize [sic]' digital advertising or marketing programs [sic].
"Accordingly, a number of current nonvoting, or 'Associate', member companies will now be eligible to vote, serve on the IAB Board of Directors, and chair IAB Committees and Councils."
Observers have noted that this signifies a major shift in the priorities of the trade body, which is also taking additional measures to encourage a more widespread understanding of ad tech.
Patrick Dolan, IAB, US, executive VP and COO, told ExchangeWire the trade body altered its membership criteria (after a general vote among its members) to better reflect the evolution of the industry.
He added: "Ad tech is now an imperative part of the sell-side equation. As a 'general', or voting, member of the IAB, qualified companies can participate in the governance of the organisation.
"This would include voting on bylaw changes and board members. It will also permit these companies to put forth their executives as co-chairs (leaders) of IAB Committees and Councils."
More cynical industry observers have noted to ExchangeWire the switch in membership status means ad tech firms (whose revenues are increasing in general, compared to the historic decline in publisher revenues) will inevitably pay more than other members.
Ad tech firms have been historically awash with venture capital funding due to sharply swelling revenue streams and lofty forecasts over spending increases (a recent Magna Global report claimed programmatic media buying will jump 52% to hit $21bn this year alone).
However, luminaries in the space have bemoaned the lack of representation they receive, with some even calling for an entirely separate ad tech trade body altogether.
Dolan did not deny the switch in status will result in elevated membership fees required from ad tech firms, adding that "general", or "voting", IAB US members are charged fees based on a percentage of their total revenue.
However, he denied the switch in membership criteria was a response to disenchanted members of the ad tech community, or fearing any schism in the market.
"The idea of increasing the role of ad tech members has been under discussion for a long time, and is not a response to the idea of a separate trade body for the ad tech sector," said Dolan.
Dolan later added that the enhanced representation ad tech firms would receive represented great value.
"Given the overwhelming support of the membership change, it is clear that existing IAB members feel that newly qualifying companies are important to the continued success and growth of our industry," added Dolan.
"Given the overwhelming support of the membership change, it is clear that existing IAB members feel that newly qualifying companies are important to the continued success and growth of our industry.
The IAB Ad Tech Council and Advisory Board were created in 2012 to give the ad tech sector a larger voice at the IAB. The change to membership is a continuation of this process. The IAB members saw the need evolve with the industry and vote to change accordingly."
Further changes in IAB US' priorities
Last week the IAB also announced a series of updates to its priorities in the year ahead, with the trade body announcing it will create a non-profit research and development consortium, dubbed IAB Technical Laboratories, that will be charged with implementing industry-wide technical standards (at no cost beyond their IAB dues), issues that have historically plagued the ad tech sector.
Dolan told ExchangeWire, ad tech firms will automatically receive membership of the new Tech Lab, with the dues generated
This new entity will also create a code library to assist in rapid, cost-effective implementation of IAB standards, and establish a test platform for companies to evaluate the compatibility of their technology solutions with IAB standards.
Ad tech to play central role in cross-industry initiatives
Meanwhile, the IAB US also used last week's proceedings to announce a tie-up with the American Association of Advertising Agencies (4A’s), Association of National Advertisers (ANA) in-part to help bolster transparency given the increasing prevalence of programmatic ad serving.
Similar to the JICWEBs initiative in the UK, the new outfit will will build upon the initial work laid out by the IABTrustworthy Digital Supply Chain Initiative on issues including click fraud, malware attacks, and intellectual property piracy.
Randall Rothenberg, IAB, president and CEO, said: “Criminal activity threatens to erode trust in the digital ecosystem.
"It is time that publishers, marketers and agencies stand together to combat these dangerous forces as a unified entity.”
ExchangeWire prepares ATS New York debut
The moves come just under a month ahead of the debut of ExchangeWire's ATS New York event on 4 November, where speakers from Facebook, IPONWEB, Affectv, Ebay, Xaxis, Vivaki, AppNexus, Conde Nast among others, are scheduled to debate the upcoming issues facing the North American market.