The real-time bidding digital ad market is expected to reach $1.6 billion in 2012, according to Parks Associates. But the RTB market is shrouded in mystery, split up among a half-dozen major players from Google's AdEx to Yahoo's Right Media and AppNexus.
Who are the biggest spenders? It's hard to know precisely, but in August data provided to Ad Age , publisher Rubicon Project is giving some clues. Rubicon, like Pubmatic and Google's Admeld, helps publishers maximize the value of their ad inventory, so it sees a big chunk of the ad market, and knows how much advertisers are bidding, and paying, for ads.
No. 1 on the list is AT&T, which is joined in the top 10 by telco competitor Sprint Nextel. The list also includes two car companies -- Ford and Toyota -- two e-commerce sites in Amazon and eBay, and two airlines. One observation: there's not a great deal of overlap between this list and the Ad Age Top 100 National Advertisers. Only three of the 10 Rubicon spenders overlap with the Top 10 advertisers on Ad Age 's list: AT&T, American Express, and Ford.
One caveat to the list: it doesn't account for all RTB spending but, again, only the RTB spending that occurs through Rubicon technology. Rubicon will see around 10% to 15% of Parks Associates total RTB estimate flow through its pipes in 2012, based on estimates from industry sources and some back-of -the-envelope math. Still, the list provides a decent look at who the biggest players are in RTB ad buying here in the U.S.
Rubicon is said to be currently weighing whether it can play the role of consolidator in the ad-tech market by acquiring competitors and complementary technologies or whether the public markets would be amenable to an ad-tech IPO -- its own -- in the next year. The company is profitable, but if it goes the consolidation route, it would likely need to raise another big round of funding. Rubicon has raised $60 million over several rounds since it was founded in 2007. Rubicon acquired Fox Audience Network in 2010 in exchange for giving a stake in the company to News Corp. It acquired mobile ad server Mobsmith for $10 million earlier this year.
Like several others in the space, Rubicon regularly tries to position itself as an alternative to Google and its collection of ad-tech technologies by saying it works predominately with the top 500 websites in Comscore rankings. A recent Comscore report shows it surpassed all other ad networks in reach, including Google's, on the web.