(Update: A few hours after I wrote the following, Microsoft buys aQuantive, one of the last banner servers not owned by the big ones. See more at Techcrunch. I’ll keep the article as it is for now ;) It seems that all the big ones now have their Banner Server. )
There was a time when banner server companies were something special. You needed a DoubleClick (bought by Google) because if you used somebody else, the counting differences between the publisher banner server (DFP) and the agency banner server (DFA) would be too big and result in friction. I never really understood that part because it can be reasoned away, no longer being a problem, but it seems that it is too much of a pain to use a sometimes better banner server.
But I am loosing focus. More Banner Server Providers came along like Falk eSolutions (bought by DoubleClick) whom I met ages ago in a pitch at the place I worked at back then. I have to say that they were technologically superior … oh but the counting differences. :) Then you have Ad Tech (now bought by AOL) and just yesterday WPP acquires 24/7 Real Media. With all the “bought by” behind the names it becomes clear that Banner Serving is a hot topic at the moment and that it will likely move to become even more of a commodity. After the last bubble (no we don’t have a bubble at the moment) prices have dropped considerably for what you pay in CPM for delivering your ads. The problem of course is that the potential companies to work with are thinning slowly bug surely (unless you want WPP, Google or AOL be your Banner Server Providers ;)) so these prices might increase again. A few are left though like Adition here in Germany which seems to be a good solution, and of course OpenAds. Then there is the mightly aQuantive with Atlas Solutions and also emediate. There are likely others I forgot (leave a comment) and of course there are lots of targeting companies at the moment that just plug in to a banner server, like wunderloop. Above that there are the market places like Right Media (bought by Yahoo!) who have a great demo by the way!
Lots of companies out there, all growing well, and things are moving closer together. Companies are slowly seeing that internet is core to what they do and they are investing into that. The best sign of that is WPP going into the Banner Serving Space.
The problem is that simple banner serving is no longer special. Service is what distinguishes and special features above the standard. Having built one specialized banner server already, and now building another system I would call a solution rather than a server, I can tell you that building your own can make sense in many cases. Especially if like us you have the knowledge in-house including one of the original Falk eSolutions developers. This is especially true if you need something different than a standard top of the fold big size banner.
And this is where the space will likely be moving in the future. We need APIs more than ever in this space as there will be more small systems, specialized for the portals they are used on, as well as some big players with lots of power behind them. We need a real market place not created for making money but for facilitating performance. This is a performance play people! We can measure things and as soon as we can we do we are moving in the performance mode. Currently this is the internet space, but it will become standard in many other places because rather sooner than later (probably later and bigger because we always overestimate but that’s another point ;)) lots of things will become measurable. Digital Paper, TV with a backchannel.
I really see a VISA like structure to be established as a non-profit. Problem is that only the good ones would win. Transparency would be king. And we are not there yet. We are still in the wining and dining business and it’s probably going to remain that way for some time. But it’s good seeing the buying action because it shows that things are changing and ad serving is becoming central to the strategy of the big ones. That opens us up for new thinking. Looking forward to it. But first I need to revolutionize the local market. :)