Programmatic spend soars again despite privacy fears

digital_disciplines2Programmatic advertising may still be wrestling with privacy concerns, especially around realtime bidding, but brands continue to plough in their cash, with revenues growing by 23% last year to thunder past €23bn (£21bn), with 77% of display and over 50% of video now traded through the technology.

The 2020 IAB Europe Attitudes to Programmatic study, now in its sixth year, quizzed 350 advertisers, publishers, agencies and ad-tech vendors from 31 markets, with both pan-European and global remits.

It reveals that, among advertisers, the better use of data was the number one driver for programmatic investment, increasing from 69% of companies in 2019 to 80% in 2020. For the majority of agencies, meanwhile, it has been increased targeting efficiencies that have driven their take-up.

With the rise in advertiser investment in programmatic, “ads.txt” inventory purchasing is increasing, as is awareness, with 52% of publishers reporting they were selling more than four-fifths (81%) of their ads.txt inventory.

However, one discipline is going in the opposite direction, with a sharp fall in the number of companies running their programmatic advertising inhouse, down by nearly half from 38% (2019) to 20% (2020).

Looking at the barriers to programmatic adoption, supply chain transparency ranks as the primary concern for advertisers. With brand owners reporting the need for greater control of inventory and at a lower cost, they are demanding transparency and clarity around technology fees from their partners. To alleviate cost concerns, nearly two thirds of ad tech vendors report making investments to offer a fully transparent business model.

Meanwhile, advertisers and publishers cited brand safety was significantly less of a ‘barrier’ to programmatic investment in 2020. It dropped from 34% in 2019 to 10% in 2020 for advertisers and 27% in 2019 to just 9% in 2020 for publishers.

The report claims this could indicate industry advancements in these areas but also the acknowledgement that fraud protection and brand safe environment are not unique, but rather industry standards for programmatic partners to deliver and guarantee.

As for future growth areas, connected TV (CTV) is emerging as the biggest potential winner. While current investment in the discipline remains low; 60% of agencies and advertisers say they are investing less than 20% of their overall programmatic budgets, the medium looks likely to take off next year, according to 70% of advertisers and 61% of agencies. Just yesterday, ITV finally launched its programmatic TV service, Planet V.

Publishers are divided between audio (46%) and CTV (46%) while 40% of advertisers also believe audio will drive growth. Almost a third of agencies also believe digital outdoor will surge.

IAB Europe chief economist Daniel Knapp said: “Programmatic is on the path to become the default infrastructure for digital advertising. This growth is visible in all markets – from established programmatic pioneers like the UK and France to Central and Eastern European markets which benefit from a second mover advantage to ramp up programmatic spend particularly quickly.

“This growth is underpinned by continuing efforts to streamline the programmatic supply chain and the expansion of programmatic into premium environments such as video.”

However, this growth comes amid increasing concerns over adtech’s data privacy record and criticism of data regulators’ failure to act.

The Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) recently published a fresh dossier of evidence which claims that, two years since the first realtime bidding (RTB) complaints were lodged against Google and IAB Europe, the breach is not only continuing, it is growing exponentially.

Among the allegations in the report are that Google’s RTB system sends data to 968 companies, while just three ad exchanges (OpenX, IndexExchange and PubMatic) have made around 113.9 trillion RTB broadcasts in the past year alone.

Meanwhile, the ICCL claims to have unearthed serious breaches of consumers’ data rights, with firms flogging so-called “special category personal data” willy nilly.

The report stated: “RTB operates behind the scenes on websites and apps. It constantly broadcasts the private things we do and watch online, and where we are in the real-world, to countless companies. As a result, we are all an open book to data broker companies, and others, who can build intimate dossiers about each of us.”

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