Advertising Guest Columns
4 mins read

Curation puts publishers back in programmatic’s power position

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Streamlining the programmatic ecosystem (using curation) transforms publishers’ ability to close the gap between themselves and the premium advertisers that are their most valuable source of revenue. It also restores transparency and efficiency to the programmatic landscape, argues Stephen Cutbill, General manager, UK, Yieldmo.

Curation is one of ad tech’s hottest trends, and for good reason: the programmatic ecosystem has become fragmented and opaque, driving publishers, advertisers, and third-parties alike towards more refined, deliberate methods for buying and selling digital ads. By combining the trust and transparency of deals with the scale and speed of programmatic, curated marketplaces promise the best of both worlds for publishers keen to regain control of their sales and boost the value of their inventory.

As we head into this new era in the ecosystem, let’s take a look at how programmatic became so cumbersome, how curation benefits publishers, and the technology behind the most exciting developments in curated programmatic.

Why programmatic desperately needs curation

Initially, the programmatic supply chain promised to simplify the digital advertising marketplace, automating the buying and selling of inventory so that publishers could set their prices, sit back, and watch revenue roll in. Programmatic advertising boomed as it became the backbone of monetization on the internet, but as the supply chain expanded, so too did its complexity.

As more and more exchanges, DSPs, SSPs, data companies, and various ad tech intermediaries entered the digital advertising market — lured by its rapid year-on-year growth — the programmatic ecosystem transformed from a simple exchange between advertisers and publishers into a tangled spider web of overlapping and competing solutions. Investment bank Luma’s infographic visualizing the display market alone is intimidatingly dense.

Today’s complex and fragmented supply chain has now made it difficult for publishers to optimize their revenue — which was the appeal of programmatic to begin with — and has left them receiving only around half of advertiser spend on average according to ISBA, while a third of supply chain costs seemingly vanish into thin air.

Curated marketplaces offer publishers an opportunity to close the gap between themselves and the premium advertisers that are their most valuable source of revenue, moving on from the inaccurate and wasteful “spray and pray” approach of programmatic’s earlier years towards a boutique service that protects their interests.

Benefits of curation for publishers

A curated marketplace provides an environment for goal-oriented trading between advertisers and publishers, bringing the two parties closer and restoring transparency, and efficiency, to the process. Any party within the exchange can offer curation, whether it’s an agency providing bespoke supply management for advertisers, a coalition of publishers centralizing their audience data, or a third-party data company overlaying their insights to improve participant KPIs.

Curators can each put their unique spin on the programmatic marketplace, cherry-picking the data, technology, and intermediaries best suited for a particular objective. Marketplaces can be designed to serve specific inventory, audiences, formats, devices, sales funnels, markets, DEI initiatives, trends, and so on. With the right partner, the opportunities are effectively limitless.

For publishers, curation solves two of the biggest problems they face in the programmatic space: a loss of control over their inventory and the flattening of its value in the relentlessly competitive open market. Seller-centric curated marketplaces allow publishers to define how their inventory is segmented, how it is sold, and the terms of their deals.

Publishers can also use a curated marketplace to deploy their precious first-party data to secure a higher price for their inventory and differentiate their offerings, while ensuring that there is no breach of their privacy policies throughout the process. 

Redefining automation to give back control

Though curation reintroduces the human element to programmatic buying and selling, that does not mean automation no longer has a role to play. In fact, many of the most exciting tools used in curated marketplaces are powered by machine learning (ML) models that allow for real-time predictive optimization, personalization, and brand safety controls. Since every publisher’s inventory is different, it’s essential for the ML models to be specifically tailored to each individual publisher’s inventory and goals to maximize outcomes.

In such instances, though machines are still doing the heavy lifting in terms of number crunching, publishers retain control as they can set parameters toward their objectives. For example, ad formats can be intelligently curated to signals received from the user, enhancing the appeal of inventory to advertisers while preserving the user experience — vital for audience retention — by having fewer, higher-performing ad slots.

Intelligent curation tools redefine seller platforms as environments that enhance inventory value and create attractive, brand-safe packages for advertisers, rather than merely providing pipes for automated bidding. By cutting unnecessary steps in the bloated programmatic ecosystem, curated marketplaces and the technology behind them restore simplicity, transparency, and control for publishers and advertisers alike.

Stephen Cutbill
General Manager, UK, Yieldmo

Yieldmo is an advertising technology company that operates a smart exchange that differentiates and enhances the value of ad inventory for buyers and sellers. As a leader in contextual analytics, real-time technology, and digital formats, we create, measure, model, and optimize campaigns for unmatched scale and performance. By understanding how each unique impression behaves and looking for patterns and performance in real-time, we can drive real performance gains without relying on audience data. Visit to learn more.