In Shift, IAB to Grant Ad-Tech Companies Full Membership

Move Signals Major Philosophical Shift Among Digital Publishers

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The publisher-dominated Interactive Advertising Bureau has long relegated ad-tech companies to second tier, "associate" membership. But that era is now over. Today, the industry group announced a restructuring which will grant ad-tech companies full general membership, allowing them to vote on the IAB's policies and assume leadership positions for the first time.

"This reflects the changing and evolution of the industry," said Patrick Dolan, exec VP-chief operating officer of the IAB, in an interview with Ad Age. "It's much more representative of what reality is."

The inclusion of ad-tech companies signals a major philosophical shift among digital publishers. Not long ago, these publishers engaged ad-tech companies with a sense of dread, fearing automation and the aggregation of audiences would drive down their ad prices. In a short period though, automation turned into an unavoidable fact of life in the digital advertising industry.

"This environment has changed," said Mr. Dolan. "Obviously, automation has become incredibly important." Increased efficiency and the ability to add value to their existing inventory with data, Mr. Dolan said, are two reasons why publishers are taking to automation.

While the changes announced today are significant, the IAB foreshadowed such a move last year, when the organization forcefully came out against Mozilla's plans to opt users out of third-party cookies by default in its web browser. "If Mozilla follows through on its plan to block all third-party cookies," said IAB CEO Randall Rothenberg at the time, "the disruption will disenfranchise every single Internet user."

The stance was unpopular among some publishers, who believed the IAB was giving preference to ad-tech companies (which rely on such cookies to work) over its members' efforts to protect their audiences. Jim Spanfeller, head of a mid-sized publishing group, called the IAB's stance "totally wrongheaded."

Today, that debate seems long in the past. "When you take a look at the evolution of the industry and how much automation and technology and data and optimization are becoming the way that business is conducted, the IAB didn't see that there was a reason to create that separation," said Mr. Dolan.

IAB Tech Lab
The IAB also said it would create a new independent programming group, called the "IAB Tech Lab," which will write code to help the digital advertising industry implement its standards such as VAST, a blueprint for the capabilities a digital video ad server should be able to provide.

The group will hire a number of engineers, though Mr. Dolan would not say how many.

The Tech Lab will also create a certification for tech vendors, which will give the IAB Tech Lab's stamp of approval to ad-tech companies, a distinction meant to guide publishers as they decide on which vendors to select.

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