Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

CBS Tells Ad Networks It’s Going Cold Turkey

340x_no_sale_351Here’s a blast from the pre-Lehman past: A big Web publisher that says it is going to dump ad networks and sell every piece of inventory itself.

CBS (CBS) says it will stop doing business with the ad networks, which are ubiquitous on the Web, and will offer access to its audience of 60 million unique visitors solely via its own salesforce.

AdAge’s Michael Learmonth says CBS, bolstered by its 2008 purchase of CNET, is the biggest publisher on the Web to cut off the hundreds of networks that try to match publishers and ad buyers.

Sounds right to me. Because while lots of people like to complain about ad networks, almost everyone uses them.

Other big publishers that have cut off ad networks entirely include Time Warner’s (TWX) Turner Networks, the Gawker Media blog network and…not many others.

The ad network debate in a nutshell: Anti-ad network types argue that handing over inventory to the networks gives publishers a short-term boost because it allows them to sell ads they wouldn’t move on their own. But doing so trains buyers to avoid buying higher-priced inventory from the publishers themselves, which means that stuff gets harder to sell in the long run.

The counterargument: What are you people smoking? Ad buyers should be trying to reach their target audience at the lowest possible price. And trying to fight that impulse is like fighting gravity.

Still, there is a larger movement afoot to try to at least sell some inventory at higher prices, even if that means leaving dollars (or pennies) on the table.

That’s one of the cornerstones of Aol CEO Tim Armstrong’s strategy, and it’s what Yahoo (YHOO) is trying to do as it reshapes its Right Media platform. See also: Firms like 5to1, which say they can turn publishers’ low-rent “remnant” ads into more valuable stuff.

The countermovement, though, is at least as strong, as ad buyers and brokers use technology to move more and more inventory at ever-more “efficient”–i.e., cheap–prices. See: Google’s (GOOG) relaunched DoubleClick exchange and the one that Microsoft (MSFT) intends to roll out next month.


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There was a worry before I started this that I was going to burn every bridge I had. But I realize now that there are some bridges that are worth burning.

— Valleywag editor Sam Biddle