"What we have done with our clients for the last six months or so has been to trial RTB on a much smaller scale with a single ad network or DSP," shared Yean Cheong, Mediabarnds head of digital for Asia-Pacific. "Education is a big thing for us. Clients are keen to get RTB into the media mix, but they have to understand how it will help them."
The online webinar discussion was led by Asia Media Journal editor Mike Savage and also featured Financial Times digital commercial director Hiroko Hoshino and Stephane Pere, vice-president and head of the Ideas People Media business unit with The Economist Group.
Globally, the FT has launched a private ad network, which works with major agency trading desks, in the UK and Europe and plans to roll it out to the US and eventually to Asia. It grants access to a private trading desk to selected clients. "We've adopted a mixture of trial and resistance," said Hoshino. "We have tried out RTB tech and will be ready when it's necessary for us to move forward more openly, till then we're doing controlled trials," she said.
Speaking for The Economist from New York, Pere commented that the title was interested in expanding its programmatic buying offering to Asia and is having "conversations" around it but could not give a firm timeline.
Publishers and clients alike have adopted a wait-and-see stance in Asia because the platform is still very much in its nascent stages everywhere except Australia and Japan, the latter of which has its own unique set of challenges.
Cheong pointed out that on the buyer's side, there is a lack of inventory from publishers, whereas for the publishers, the lack of demand on the buyer side leads to fears of devalued inventory.
"Clients in Asia are working with fixed budgets and often don't have a flexible budget set aside for RTB," said Hoshino. She added that FT is starting to test out low-value inventory because that is the bulk of the marketplace inventory, even in Japan which is Asia-Pacific's strongest RTB market.
Emarketer forecasts that RTB digital display ad spending in Japan will be worth about US$351 million this year, up from $200 million last year. The insights firm also expects that China will be worth $83 million this year and the rest of Asia-Pacific to only rack up $7.3 million.
Beyond lack of premium inventory, challenges for the industry in Japan include the reluctance of major players such as Yahoo Japan and Nikkei.com to allow third-party ad servers on their sites, pointed out Cheong. Yahoo finally signed a deal with Mediamind last fall, but Nikkei.com is still holding out. "International DSPs are also not well-connected to Japanese DSPs at the moment," she added. "We're testing it out, but it's an issue. China too has problems that are similar to Japan."
Besides Japan and China, media companies have their eye on India as a potentially strong programmatic buying market, which Cheong described as "ripe for the picking".
The truth is that RTB may never be the right option for every publisher, Pere said, but programmatic buying and automation certainly is. "It's important to automate whatever processes you can so your team doesn't spend all its time on spreadsheets," he said. "In terms of effiency and value, automation can't be ignored."
With the market so young, it's important for media buyers to be responsible so that everyone benefits from a strong ecosystem down the line, commented Cheong. "As a media buyer we have to work with both publishers and networks to educate clients and at times, to push back," she said. "If we allow a campaign to run for only two weeks, for example, that's a short-term gain that won't reap the benefits of allowing the system to learn and gain effiencies, and reduces CPA. We need to work with publishers to make sure we're not selling ourselves or the technology short."
The ideal duration of a campaign, she commented in response to a question, is a minimum of four weeks, and the best budgets are flexible and on-going. "If it's an always-on campaign it shouldn't be restricted to a fixed budget."
For now, buyers, clients and publishers alike in Asia have to work together to enable mutually beneficial exchanges. For publishers the key is to focus on content that resonates with their audiences and to maintain a distinct identity attracting audiences, which clients want to target and be associated with, agreed panelists.