Undertone Acquires Upfront Media, Plans To Sell Premium Units Programmatically

Big, Splashy Premium Units To Go Programmatic

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Ad network Undertone has acquired Upfront Media, a programmatic buying technology company, for an undisclosed sum.

Undertone is an ad network known for big, splashy premium ad units. It plans to use technology from Upfront -- formerly known as Legolas Media -- to offer those units via programmatic transactions, where advertisers use automated technologies to buy audience across devices.

Eric Franchi
Eric Franchi

"Our goal is to have the programmatic capability for high impact units this year," said Undertone co-founder Eric Franchi in an interview with Ad Age.

Programmatic ad inventory today largely consists of standard display units. But with some of the country's biggest advertisers, including P&G and American Express, signaling intentions to shift the vast majority of their digital spend to programmatic channels, there is likely an opening for more premium inventory formats to attract programmatic dollars well.

"I think it gives us a fantastic leg up to work with customers in a manner they want to work us and bring formerly only direct sold ad formats to market." said Undertone co-Founder Eric Franchi in an interview.

Undertone will not stray from its roots however. Mr. Franchi said it will continue to sell the majority of its ads direct to advertiser, via salespeople. "We're not becoming a three letter acronym," he said. "It's about plugging programmatic capabilities into what we do and using it to accelerate our plan of bringing those high impact formats ot market in a programmatic matter."

Mr. Franchi also said the transactions will primarily occur via private marketplace deals which will be unlocked after advertisers reach agreements with Undertone salespeople. If executed properly, the initiative has the potential to upend the conventional wisdown that premium ads will largely stay out of the programmatic ecosystem.

Upfront was founded in 2009 and raised $9 million dollars. A year ago, Upfront said it employed 35 people, but it numbers just 11 today.