If you’ve been following the industry press you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s not the best time to be working in programmatic.

Brand safety, transparency, and ROI are just a few areas under a barrage of criticism for this once so promising digital channel.

While another article slamming programmatic would be no arduous task, I want to instead explore the alternative viewpoint, the reasons to be optimistic about programmatic.

Media Consumption

Let’s start with one of the most common criticisms – poor ROI in comparison to other channels.

While this may be the case for certain advertisers, there’s a bigger picture to be considered. It’s fine moving 80% of your digital budgets into TV and Print now, but what about in 5-10 years’ time?

Modern generations rarely buy print media and increasingly don’t watch linear TV. With the advent of programmatic audio, out of home and VOD services we’re also seeing a blurring of the lines between traditional channels and digital. These factors combined mark digital as a key component to media plans in years to come, leaving marketers of the future a pretty clear choice: figure out more effective ways of engaging your audience online, or miss the opportunity to engage at all.


Belinda J. Smith (Electronic Arts) recently wrote a great article on the varying degrees to which brands are moving programmatic operations in-house. While bringing programmatic 100% in-house will likely remain the preserve of the large multi-nationals, I think brands working more closely with agencies in this space is a hugely positive development.

As brands move closer to the action, the industry is forced to become more transparent. Networks that used to operate in the shadows will be phased out and agencies and advertisers can rebuild the trust eroded by bad actors in the programmatic space.

Through this closer relationship we should see a convergence of agency and advertiser incentives with a spotlight on brand objectives, moving away from old practices like last-touch attribution and towards measurements such as incremental uplift and Omni-channel ROI.


To understand how programmatic became afflicted with the many issues it faces today you need only look at the industry regulation, because there is virtually none of it. Since we’ve been operating with a “free pass” for so long, new regulations are often viewed with scepticism and/or fear. But while more regulation could make our jobs harder it should make the whole industry better.

A pertinent example of this in the EU is GDPR, the pending data privacy legislation rewriting the rulebook on audience targeting. While the US relies primarily on self-regulation through independent verification, GDPR could be a sign of things to come for the wider market, as advertisers demand tighter controls and users fight to regain their online privacy.

The question we have to ask ourselves is: in this new world of transparency and data anonymity, can we actually improve on the current methodology?

As new regulations change the way we operate, we’re given a blank canvas to rethink the old models and try to improve the way we do business. If agencies and tech vendors are truly “disruptive and innovative”, we should view these changes as an opportunity, not a threat.

Talent and Innovation

Technically advanced, ever changing, and notoriously complex, it’s fair to say programmatic is an interesting space to work in. It’s for these reasons the industry has managed to amass a significant talent pool.

Math and Physics majors continue to join the ranks of ad tech data scientists, and you can observe many top developers crossing over from the lucrative Finance industry due to similarities with high frequency trading. It is also an industry that is full of start-ups, where you’ll find smart, ambitious problem solvers looking to make their mark on the industry.

Moving Forward

Looking at the history of programmatic, it is a tumultuous one. Unlike many other channels, whose core business operations remained static for years at a time, programmatic has been a rollercoaster of constant change and innovation.

It is this large talent pool combined with a proven track record to adapt and make opportunities out of changes in the digital eco-system that fills me with confidence that programmatic will overcome the challenges presented today. With hard work and collaboration across the industry we can continue to innovate and refine programmatic advertising into a truly effective and high potential medium for the long-term.