Time for programmatic to face the music
Programmatic is the future but the industry needs to be open-minded and face up to the need for “strict industry standards”, says hdtMEDIA’s Benjamin Tsang.
The financial year started on a high note for hdtMEDIA — literally.
April marked hdtMEDIA’s 15th anniversary, and the company commissioned acclaimed conductor Lü Jia to lead a full orchestra to entertain staff, clients and friends with a programme of classical music on the theme of harvest. “The management team wanted to have a celebration rather than a normal business event, something a little more elegant,” says Benjamin Tsang, hdtMEDIA’s executive vice-president. “It was very relaxing.”
The event was envisaged, he says, as a way to make the anniversary stand out in an already packed events calendar, differentiating hdtMEDIA while creating an informal environment for industry contacts to catch up. “The advertising circle in China is not that big.”
Tsang, who joined hdtMEDIA in January 2014, says the company was a pioneer in the Chinese programmatic field even its inception — a time when “the tech wasn’t referred to as programmatic but it was”. In the decade-and-a-half that have since passed, the sector has expanded and morphed beyond recognition, and it is still evolving.
“The understanding of programmatic in the market is changing,” he says. “The scope of programmatic is now much bigger than it was even two or three years ago. It’s the core [of advertising today].”
Until recently, the concept of programmatic was largely limited to real-time bidding, Tsang says, but more recently “the ecosystem has really expanded to the whole picture”.
“This is a hot topic,” he adds. “A lot [of programmatic] is related to the content rather than pure media buying. It has moved to the mobile area more quickly than we expected. It is no longer limited to PC but has to handle both PC and mobile.”
But any programmatic platform, no matter how all-encompassing, can only be as good as the data that underpins its algorithms.
“Every client knows about big data now,” Tsang says. “But how you use that data makes the difference.” Without reliable insights about the market, the numbers alone are no silver bullet. To have an effective impact on real-time organisation, this needs to be implemented at the developing stage, and it is crucial to ensure clients and agencies have their goals aligned.
“We have a lot of meetings in order to make sure we are on the same page in terms of market development.”
And while Tsang is a champion for the virtues of programmatic, he admits the technology is still developing and the industry is facing a number of concerns, particularly in China.
“For sure, there are still a lot of limitations,” Tsang admits. “The whole of programmatic is not in a very mature stage in terms of the platform.” The industry is working to develop more robust data management systems, he says, adding that both clients and agencies increasingly “want to have their own data management team” to ensure they are positioned to make the most of programmatic.
Problems with data in China — including the reliability of the figures, the existence of fake data and unscrupulous players taking advantage of the comparatively lax personal data laws — mean there are “definitely more things we need to be concerned about”.
“It’s really dangerous that there are these kinds of things happening,” Tsang says. “As a professional platform of high standing we need to work to global standards when it comes to handling personal IDs — hdtMEDIA is very sensitive about consumers’ privacy concerns.”
hdtMEDIA, which positions itself as ‘China’s leading digital media platform’, is working with others to draw up a set of industry standards to help shore up the sector’s reputation, he says.
The sudden and unprecedented move to mobile — “something that has happened in the past 12 months” — is another key challenge. Coupled with that, the lifecycle of mobile apps is accelerating, narrowing the window for developers to gain revenue while their app is at peak popularity.
“I don’t see this as a limitation but as a beginning,” Tsang says. “We need to work with them and give them the technology they need. We do need to be more open minded.”
The company launched its H2 platform at this year’s GMIC (Global Mobile Internet Conference) in Beijing in May. The mobile advertising exchange platform connects to China’s all main DSPs and was specifically designed to work with the publishers of mobile apps to enable them to sell in-app ad space more efficiently.
Tsang says the company is already seeing “very good traffic” through the H2 platform, in part because it has been designed to enable clients to get grips with fast-developing new technology in what has become “a core task for mobile”.
“It’s something that we see in the potency of mobile marketing development,” he says. “People can learn using our H2 platform.”