The death of media-buying direct from publishers, at the hands of so-called private marketplaces (PMPs) and even open real-time bidding (RTB), is greatly exaggerated. Indeed there’s data indicating that programmatic buying is growing and becoming the most popular way to buy digital media. But there are a lot of factors that complicate the argument.

The notion that one type of buying will replace another is like saying pizza will replace hotdogs – as if human beings only eat one thing. Great-performing campaigns may use multiple tactics to procure audiences and media. Media professionals who run these best can apply tactics fluidly. Tactics can vary from one campaign to the next depending on numerous factors – goals, budget, time constraints, personal relationships, resources, etc.

Considering the notion of campaign goals, let’s level-set for a moment. One of the reasons PMP-buying emerged was because of publishers’ desire to reserve good inventory for select buyers who were willing to pay more for it but wanted to access it through RTB. Buyers get more premium inventory while knowing what they are buying, and publishers can make more money off that inventory instead of putting it into the open marketplace which traditionally had low bids (because of seemingly endless supply).

So then, do PMPs have all the valuable inventory a publisher has to offer so that the media buyer can bypass going direct to the publisher? 

Unique arrangements

Theoretically, yes – there are DSPs in the marketplace that offer evergreen PMPs that offer more premium inventory than the open marketplace. However, these can also be used by other buyers who are using the same DSP. For a custom PMP buy, she’d still need to go to publishers directly to negotiate a deal and make arrangements unique to her.

Another factor is the buyer’s preference. PMPs may be preferred because it’s the hybrid of the access and agility of open RTB plus the control and safety when dealing directly with publishers. So what would the direct channel have that is unique?

Through PMPs, buyers lose some customisations they could find through a direct channel such as unique creative units and access to certain areas of a website that is not available in the open exchange. Digital advertisers may also want products such as homepage takeovers, co-branding opportunities with the publisher, sponsored content, guaranteed inventory and other custom negotiations that require a human touch and a relationship. These are offerings that have been traditionally difficult to execute through programmatic buying channels. Furthermore, in a direct buy, inventory is guaranteed – the buyer knows exactly where and when ads will run. Compare this to PMPs, where there is more fluidity in buying – with fluctuations in CPMs and impression count.

A buyer and seller should have different expectations from different buying tactics and a buyer and seller may be limited in what they can execute. A number factors affect how advertisers buy.

The most important part of any buy is the goal. What do advertisers want and what do they have to work with? And furthermore, do those goals align with what a vendor can provide. Depending on the goals and the budget, either PMPs or direct buying could work well. A buyer can try them both and optimise accordingly. Why can’t we love our buying tactics equally?


To say that PMPs are replacing direct buying is premature. Yes, automation is affecting direct buying. And if advertisers find a more efficient AND effective way than a direct buy to get the audiences and inventory they want, they will flock to it. But today, the benefits of a direct buy still garner great interest from advertisers, and their corresponding tactics are challenging to automate. But if they can be automated, would they then be classified as “programmatic?” And would that, then, kill the direct buy…or simply be the same thing with a different name?