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Private vs Open Marketplaces: the programmatic future according to publishers

Published: 12 Oct 2021

Private marketplaces (PMPs) are rapidly becoming the preferred programmatic trading model. According to a report by eMarketer, programmatic ad spending on PMPs surpassed that of the open exchange for the first time in 2020, with predictions suggesting that this flip in power dynamic is here to stay. To understand how publishers can best manage an optimum mix of trading models, we partnered with Unruly’s Reza Amiri-Garroussi for a collaborative roundtable discussion during the AOP Publishing Tech Talk.

First – a disclaimer. By nature, the roundtable discussion was kept Chatham House in order to promote open and honest conversation between participants. But we will say that we had a broad spectrum of perspectives, from news to specialist interest, from a wide array of titles to those with a strong vertical focus. Below, we have summarised the highlights from the discussion to help you as you re-evaluate your own strategies as the demise of the cookie looms nearer.


The balance of private vs open marketplace revenue varied amongst the publishers in the discussion. Those with a vast array of inventory still focussed heavily on OMP to achieve scale, whereas for a publisher with a strong presence within consumer interest topics were able to place far more emphasis on direct sales over programmatic in any form. However, there was a definitive understanding across the group that open exchange marketplaces will have to change rapidly in order to continue delivering any value to publishers. While there will always be an appetite for direct deals, and private marketplaces offer new ways to guarantee value for buyers, open exchange can’t exist if it is unable to provide privacy and data within a legal framework.

With the future of open exchange marketplaces doubtful, the consensus was that private marketplaces – or ideally direct deals – would deliver more in the long-run for publishers. The notion of contextual as king also rang clear, providing huge potential and offering brand safety without the requirement of investing in a platform. One representative highlighted that the holy grail is to shift buyers through the funnel towards a programmatic guarantee; private marketplaces are a necessary step within that journey to build trust and demonstrate the value.

We need to educate advertisers and agencies

The challenge of better educating readers about the value exchange they receive in return for their data is one we’ve spoken about before, but today’s conversation also turned to educating agencies and advertisers. It was broadly agreed that while publishers and supplier partners have been tackling the identity challenge we’re facing for many years, agencies and advertisers are just waking up to the potential roadblocks it could cause for their campaigns. And what’s more, with Google’s stay of execution, it seems many agencies and advertisers are putting off addressing the challenge once more.

Better transparency is needed from all partners within the industry to understand what new solutions can offer and to guarantee the best value for buyers and publishers alike. This will be critical as well to ensure a smooth and easy partnership between all sides.

The value of publisher first party data

The agencies and advertisers are beginning to understand the value of quality first-party data and user relationships that publishers have access to, and partnering with publishers will be key to leveraging those to reach target markets. This quality data also opens up doors for collaboration, with one of our publishers speaking about their ambition to collaborate with other publishers by sharing their first-party data in order to enhance their buys.

However, with the cookie on its way out the door, the major focus now is on which identity solution will continue to meet the requirements of publishers and buyers alike. With so many solutions springing up, the panel was in agreement that it was difficult to identify which – if any – would have any longevity. On the whole, the publishers were trialling different solutions in order to be ready when they needed to act. One shared that they were plugged into multiple solutions which they could activate at any time if needed, while another shared that they were in the process of testing a few of their preferred options to understand the various pros and cons.

We need industry-wide collaboration to succeed

Given the rapidly growing awareness of the quality data at publisher’s fingertips, publishers have an invaluable opportunity to reinsert a layer of control within the advertising process. While there is no clean-cut solution or holy grail, we should take our time testing different solutions and sharing information across publishers on which tests worked and what value they delivered. This information-sharing will allow each of us to more easily identify which solution is best suited to your organisation and to help you understand whether your approach runs contrary or in line with the industry mainstream.

We have a huge opportunity to re-take control of the narrative, but it’s imperative that we work together to tackle this challenge in order to succeed.