ExchangeWire: ATS London 2019: The Review

2019 marked a decade since the inaugural ATS London event, and the tenth anniversary edition of the conference certainly did not disappoint. A host of experts, ranging from ad tech aficionados to global publishers, addressed the focal challenges of the year, which are perhaps the most severe to have ever faced the industry.

The day started strongly, with ExchangeWire CEO Ciaran O’Kane, in conversation with industry titan Sir Martin Sorrell. From S4 Capital’s mission to populism, Sorrell reserved his most stinging criticism for holding groups, stating that they ‘are gone’, and that the arguments against in-housing were ‘bullshit’. The outlook for Google and Facebook was less negative however, with Sorrell stating that it was difficult to attack the major platforms given their core services, although he noted they were starting to behave more like traditional media companies.

There is no doubt that the dominant theme of the day was identity, led by the ICO’s examination into RTB, browser-level restrictions on identity, and the increasing clout of the walled gardens. ATS attendees received valuable insight and clarification on the first of these three challenges from Ali Shah, head of technology policy at the ICO. Speaking to ExchangeWire COO Rachel Smith, Shah stated that the objective of the report, and of the ICO itself, was to help shape an environment which fosters respect between businesses and consumers. The six-month window stipulated in the report is an “opportunity for the industry to show good faith,” said Shah, and gave an open invitation to the ad tech industry to engage with them. However he also warned companies that do not engage: “the tide is coming in.”

In a predictive chat addressing how such browser restrictions were affecting ad tech, and what the future of the ad-funded model looks like, Ciaran O’Kane was joined by Andrew Casale, president and CEO of Index Exchange. Mozilla’s Firefox was deemed ‘ineffective’ for monetisation and this, along with the continual decline of media spend in Apple’s Safari, meant that Chrome has been dubbed as the last ‘safe haven’, leaving programmatic on a precipice. However Casale doubted whether Google would move to kill off third-party tracking in the browser due to factors including the increasing anti-trust scrutiny on the web giant. The difference between a future ‘authenticated web’, and one dominated by relatively ineffective contextual advertising was highlighted, though Casale was keen to espouse the potential benefits to premium publishers.

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