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Why independent ad tech matters now more than ever

Four people walk along a path into a smartphone as translucent bricks fall away around them.

Illustration by Dave Cole / Getty / The Current

Today’s publishers face no shortage of headwinds -- from macroeconomic constrictions and diminished ad budgets to monumental shifts in data privacy regulation. The cumulative effect of all of these changes leads to a familiar conclusion: Publishers need to pivot their businesses in order to thrive, not just survive.

Having operated in survival mode for more than a decade now, many publishers have become accustomed to implementing and relying on whichever platforms and solutions have promised an immediate path to monetization, no matter the long-term implications. Now, many of those once-monetizable paths are headed toward potential brick walls. As publishers alter course once again, independent ad tech offers a privacy-conscious, more sustainable road into the future.

Getting closer to buyers

Just as many of today’s advertisers turn their attention to supply path optimization to reduce middlemen between them and their ad placements, publishers have a vested interest in getting closer to their advertisers. This is all in an effort to serve advertisers better by understanding their needs and behaviors. While this isn’t possible within the black boxes of walled gardens, it is with independent ad tech—particularly when publishers tap into solutions that can allow them to customize components based on need, versus an inflexible boilerplate setup.

Gaining transparency

Publishers — much like ad buyers — want to understand exactly what’s happening with ad placements on their properties. An independent ad tech player can provide insights into brand safety on their sites, as well as how inventory is being monetized. This equips publishers to have candid conversations with their advertisers around their goals and concerns, and how the publishers’ inventory can address both.

Maintaining control and customization

Beyond transparency, the need for greater control and customization when it comes to ad tech at the publisher level is yet another major force propelling our industry toward independent solutions. Publishers need tech partners who are aligned with their interests, not ones that are simply trying to onboard as many publishers as possible onto their rigid, predefined platforms. These days, the ad tech landscape has become so cluttered with acronyms for platform types that we can scarcely understand the differences between the myriad pieces anymore. So, forget categories. Publishers need to focus on capabilities. And specifically, they need to work with independent partners that will take the time to understand their specific use cases and be able to deliver the tech components — no more, no less — needed to achieve their goals.

Aligning incentives

Along the same lines, publishers need to be sure that their platform partners’ core objective is to optimize outcomes for them. When working with partners that operate on both sides of the equation and own media themselves, loyalties become muddy — and eventually that muddiness can attract the attention of regulators. The actions of such entities might soon force an uncomfortable recalibration in how publishers and others leverage certain ad tech walled gardens. Such a shift is well overdue, and ultimately could liberate publishers. In this regard, independent ad tech is poised to catapult publishers along the path to sustainability by helping them avoid dependence on industry titans whose interests don’t necessarily align with their own.

Respecting the user

Ad tech partners should have clear loyalty to their customers, but they should also maintain the utmost respect for the end users. Only in doing so can they truly serve the best interests of their publishers. That means prioritizing user privacy and user experience (in the form of lighter ad loads, faster ad delivery and more relevant ads,) which are also areas where independent ad tech aims to deliver.

Freeing up resources

And finally, let us not forget this one truth: Publishers are experts when it comes to their content, their audiences and their data. They should not have to be experts in technology development. Building the infrastructure needed to attract brand dollars can be cost-prohibitive for even the largest publishing companies, and — more importantly — it is often unsustainable when you consider the rapid pace of change in our industry. Publishers need independent ad tech solutions that can invest in the future capabilities they’ll require while the publishers do what they do best: connect audiences with their valuable content.

Publishers fuel today’s open internet, and that open internet is more important than ever when it comes to education and fostering healthy societal dialog. Now more than ever, independent ad tech are the partners needed to fuel the supply chain and media landscape of the future.

This op-ed represents the views and opinions of the author and not of The Current, a division of The Trade Desk, or The Trade Desk. The appearance of the op-ed on The Current does not constitute an endorsement by The Current or The Trade Desk.