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CTV OTT, Programmatic

ADVERTISING WEEK: What I Learned in My 25 Years in Digital Advertising and The Inflection Point That Is Now In Front of Us

November 28 •
2 Minute Read

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: AdvertisingWeek, Tuesday, November 28, 2023

By Matt Wasserlauf, Co-Founder and CEO of Blockboard

25 years ago, I was hired by CBS.com to sell banner ads across their fledgling group of websites. “Tonight at 9:00 pm on CBS, Touched by an Angel!” It would say. Now, who wouldn’t want to buy a banner ad on that??

The digital advertising business has changed so much in the past 25 years, from its early days of banner ads and search to today’s $50 billion Connected TV (“CTV”) marketplace.

The biggest change in the digital advertising industry, though, is automation, otherwise known in the business as “programmatic advertising.” Programmatic advertising has turned the three-martini lunch into a cold and human-less business. The old days of handshakes have been replaced with “hands-on keyboards.” Presentations that used to be made in the board room are now made on Zoom to a team of face-off, muted black boxes.

We also have $20,000,000,000 of ad fraud. Annually. (Yes, that is the correct number of zeros.)

Fifteen years ago, the promise of programmatic advertising led by companies such as TradeDesk and TubeMogel (now owned by Adobe) did much to scale the business, but it also scaled the amount of ad fraud and waste. Digital advertising now ranks #2 among leading fraud rings behind illicit drugs and ahead of illicit guns. The industry and its stakeholders don’t appear to be all that alarmed at this current state of affairs. The Association of National Advertisers (“ANA”) published its study, ANA Programmatic Media Supply Chain Transparency Study and the best way I can describe the reaction to the ANA report has been a “muted response.”

What all of this has brought us to is a clear inflection point for our industry. What programmatic advertising has done to the advertising business is swing a very creative and high-touch business toward the opposite extreme. The industry’s inflection point will be a period where the business works to moderate on the spectrum and find that middle ground where digital advertising can thrive.

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