Looking Ahead to Ad Tech’s Monster Week in Europe

For one week every year the global ad tech community descends on London and Cologne to feast on product releases, ad tech rumour, and granular content.

This year, it all starts in London on Monday, 11 September, with the world’s most-respected and longest-running programmatic event, ATS London, now in its ninth year and almost sold out!

Next comes dmexco, the biggest ad tech exhibition in the world. This two-day extravaganza takes place in Cologne and is described by many as the 'Disneyland for ad tech'. With thousands of vendors parading their best people and products to the industry.  

What can we expect from this year’s ad tech monster week?
1. People will immerse themselves in the details at ATS London

I am a massive advocate of dmexco, but its content cannot compete with the uber-granularity of ATS London.

ATS London is the world’s pre-eminent conference on all things programmatic (ad tech fact). This year’s agenda is vast; some of the highlights include:

  - Transparency and supply path optimisation (SPO)
  - How to leverage machine learning in digital advertising
  - Surviving the GDPR apocalypse
  - The great service layer realignment
  - Is header bidding now the go-to technology for publisher monetisation?
  - How we make ad tech even greater

2. Is ad tech life worth living post-GDPR?

GDPR gives me a sense of déjà vu. It feels very like the millennium bug right now. Nobody knows quite what is going on, or how the legislation will affect the industry, and just like the run up to Y2K, there are a lot of people making money off the panic – in this case, lawyers and consultants.  

Expect conversations to be dominated by uninformed chat about GDPR. Is it the end of third-party targeting? Maybe. But fear not, this industry is exceptionally good at evolving and it will come up with solutions to tackle any privacy issues arising from implementation of the GDPR.

3. Why we should be talking machine learning (ML) and not artificial intelligence (AI)

AI is becoming the latest tech term to be completely bastardised by ad tech and martech vendors. To non-tech-literate types, it seems like the future. To those with a cursory understanding, it is simply more vapourware for tech vendors to sell to ill-informed and naive planner buyers.  

The concept of AI is about machines becoming self-aware. If that is really the case, we don’t need humans to create a media plan (or go on skiing jollies). And we certainly don’t need convoluted trading deals with friendly AI-powered tech vendors because machines will have taken over Skynet by then and destroyed ad tech with a bunch of carefully targeted ICBMs.

It is a shame that most of the industry cannot get past the lazy catch-all terms like AI and actually realise the value of areas like machine learning.

Building sophisticated software to crunch huge data sets, recognise patterns, and increase efficiencies has huge potential for this industry. It might mean automation in areas that are resource-heavy. But where jobs are lost, new skills will be required. Advertising is an input-output game and we will still need talented people to make it work.

My sage advice for the week: if a conversation starts with 'machines that learn' – walk very quickly in the opposite direction.

4. The ad tech rumour mill

My favourite parts of this week are when the ad tech M&A rumours dominate the bar chat. Most turn out to be pure fiction. But each year a few rumours become real...

Terry Kawaja is flying a jumbo jet to Cologne; I expect he will announce a few M&A deals!

But before Terry can cash another big cheque, let’s crank up the rumour mill. Here are my top-five M&A predictions and the probability of each one occurring during the week of ATS (measured in steins):

i) Integral Ad Science will be bought by a martech player

Oracle taking out Moat was a huge validation of the verification sector. It obviously sees huge value (USD$800m and change) in offering a verification solution to clients. Will Salesforce, Adobe, or IBM snap up Integral Ad Science? Absolutely.  

Probability of completing before 11 September: 3/5 STEINS

ii) AppNexus gets acquired by AT&T

AppNexus is the most talked about company in terms of M&A at the moment, with rumours doing the rounds on a daily basis. Here is an interesting rumour, based on no fact at all, just very some loose logic.  

I believe that AppNexus has been sold to AT&T for north of USD$2bn, and that the recent move by Brian Lesser to AT&T was an integral part of that. Furthermore, I believe WPP, still a massive shareholder in AppNexus, has sanctioned that deal on the proviso that it can become the ‘data activation’ partner for AT&T in the US. As part of the deal, WPP gets paid out upon completion.

Now, why would AT&T buy AppNexus? Because it doesn’t have an ad tech spine and, if the Time Warner deal happens, it is going to need one. AppNexus is the perfect fit. Brian O’Kelley and team will be retained to build that stack to compete with all the other walled gardens populating the ad tech landscape.

Probability of completing before 11 September: 2/5 STEINS

iii) AppNexus Announce Impending IPO

If my outlandish prediction about AppNexus and AT&T proves to be unfounded, the most likely eventuality for AppNexus is an IPO in October. According to internal sources, its numbers appear to be strong, and its sell-side story is very impressive. What’s not so clear is the buy-side piece. Only last week, AdExchanger ran a story claiming AppNexus was abandoning some buy-side business in favour of preferential supply agreements. Let’s be clear here, AppNexus has always been a trader-first solution. It has built tech with sophisticated buyers in mind. Most of the industry understands that; time will tell if Wall Street does. An IPO is imminent – or not.

Probability of completing before 11 September: 3/5 STEINS

iv) Criteo and Index Exchange likely targets for Amazon and Facebook

A lot of people have been telling me that Amazon and Facebook are kicking the proverbial tyres of a lot of ad tech vendors right now. The most obvious company in the crossfire is Criteo.  

Criteo is a money-making machine, and is approaching USD$1bn net revenue. It also holds the key to a lot of intent data – this will interest Amazon. Its future post-GDPR in Europe is unknown, but I am sure it is well-prepared. At a 30% premium on current market cap, Criteo would be the biggest ad tech deal of all time at over USD$4bn.

The other company that is likely to get snapped up is Index Exchange. The Casale-built company has blazed a trail in the header bidding space for the past 24 months, creating a slipstream for both Amazon and Facebook to attack Google’s core DFP business.   

Probability of completing before 11 September: 2/5 STEINS

v) Snapchat acquires Rubicon

It would be remiss of me not to mention the great ad tech rainmaker, Michael Barrett, in this list within a list. There were rumours that Barrett was in line for the CSO job before Spiegel inexplicably appointed a banker, Imran Khan, to run strategy. What he needed was an ad tech brain, someone who could sew Snap a platform to rival Facebook et al. Flash forward two years and Snap is still a monetisation mess.  

More than ever, what Snap needs is an injection of revenue to buy some time with Wall Street. By buying Rubicon it could monetise its Stories on an open exchange and, at the same time, acquire ad tech talent that could take Snap to the next level.

This rumour is as flakey as the rest, but there is one fun data point that could make it all very plausible: Snap’s office is visible from the top floor of Rubicon’s. If there ever were a reason to buy a company, it’s that one right there.

Probability of completing before 11 September: 3.5/5 STEINS

Back to the original list...

5. You need to pace yourself

Europe’s monster ad tech week is a marathon, not a sprint. Pacing yourself between ATS London and dmexco is essential. Peaking at the after-drinks at ATS London is not an ideal start, but no matter how hard you try, it's likely you will fail!

Wherever I bump into you during the week of 11 September – at ATS London, or on the BidSwitch Express, or randomly in Halle 5, I look forward to sharing the madness and excitement of our big week.   

Remember, ad tech has been keeping the internet free since 1993. Long may it continue.