Rob Norman Calls Out Danger of an 'Oligopoly' in Mobile

'A Few Privileged Players That Are in an Advantaged Situation'

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Rob Norman
Rob Norman

More dollars may be moving to digital media, but with every inch of progress comes a new wrinkle. To warm up for his talk on viewability at the upcoming Ad Age Digital Confernce in April, GroupM Digital Chief Rob Norman weighed tried to iron some of those wrinkles out -- or at least call them out -- including the "danger of an oligopoly" in the mobile ad business.

Ad Age: What are you working on at the moment on the digital buying front?

Mr. Norman: It's getting the infrastructure and toolset right for the whole biddable media space. I use the term "biddable" as opposed to programmatic since it covers all auction-based environments we work in, including search, social or programmatic display and video. We're keen on joining our thinking up across those and having a unified platform and view.

Ad Age: Biddable media only heightens the debate around viewability. GroupM has said it wants to set standards for 100% viewability. What's your personal and professional position on the topic at this point?

Mr. Norman: We don't want anyone to think that GroupM is not a respecter of the work that's been done by the industry. We absolutely are. We have a lot of respect for the work the IAB and industry has done in propelling the marketplace to a far better place than it was before.

It's our view however that there is a higher standard that can be achieved. We demonstrated to our own satisfaction that that standard can be negotiated. We think the fact that we've taken our stance is not to dismiss the standard but say here's the baseline; now we want to raise the bar in terms of viewability in the market.

Ad Age: Talk about the biggest challenge when it comes to mobile buying.

Mr. Norman: The thing that worries me about mobile and more broadly about the market is that the percentage of the total value of digital advertising market that is at some level mediated by Facebook and Google is worrying from a market control point of view. The same is true of data. There is a danger of an oligopoly emerging in the market. There are a few privileged players that are in an advantaged situation. We are strong supporters of competition and think there should be competition in ad tech and data access everywhere. And it's a worry when you look at the share of Facebook and Google in that market.

Ad Age: Should we expect to see more publishers selling solely based on time-spent metrics -- the amount of time spent on an ad -- versus impressions?

Mr. Norman: What will happen is there will be a qualitative modifier of impressions based on engagement. I think that the currency of the market will remain impression-based rather than time-based.

Ad Age: Are the NewFronts video upfront a fad? Do you really need a period of time devoted to commitments ahead of time?

Mr. Norman: You have to think about the upfront market as a futures market. I'm not sure how relevant that is in the digital market. Also think about the scarcity issue. If you're buying impressions on the bundle there's no restraint on the supply. The purpose of an upfront market in a traditional sense is a futures market in which the industry takes a bet on the balance of pricing in a limited inventory marketplace and makes a call as to whether upfront market is more or less expensive than the scatter market. Our view is that the availabilityand sustainability of inventory doesn't really require the same kind of futures market as is inferred by an upfront or newfront.

To hear more from Rob Norman on viewability, come to the Ad Age Digital Conference on April 14 and 15 in New York.

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