by Adam Heimlich, Ben Weissler and Samantha Price


In late 2018, Keystone participated in the PROGRAMMATIC I/O conference in New York City, a semi-annual gathering of the leading thinkers in marketing and advertising technology. The conference takes its name (programmatic) from the increasingly prevalent form of digital advertising in which ads are transacted in an automated fashion, typically in the form of real-time auctions where algorithms bid on the chance to show a user an ad. In aggregate, these auctions are conducted tens of billions of times per day and contribute to what is currently a $90B digital advertising market in the U.S. alone.

The advertising-funded model is a core driver of multi-sided platform businesses such as Facebook and Google, in which users pay nothing for the service while advertisers pay for a chance to reach and influence those users. With market share concentrated into the hands of a few dominant players, the industry is rapidly evolving and this has brought increased scrutiny from economists, governments and antitrust regulators. In recent years, innovations such as header bidding and cross-device measurement have fundamentally transformed the industry—not to mention regulatory currents such as the GDPR in Europe and the California Consumer Privacy Act.

Actively engaged in the digital advertising space, Keystone works with clients to help them better understand the wide-ranging implications of new technologies and trends. Here are the business drivers we predict will shape the digital advertising landscape and technologies in 2019 and beyond:

Data Ownership: The increased focus on data privacy—coming from lawmakers, privacy advocates, and the general public alike—will have sweeping effects in the digital advertising industry. ePrivacy in Europe, when it comes into effect in 2020, will further strengthen restrictions on data usage and tech initiatives such as Apple Safari’s Intelligent Tracking Protection (ITP) will pressure other players to adopt more privacy-friendly measures.

New Entrants: Amazon continues its rapid growth into the digital advertising market. Its ads business is now estimated at $10B annually, making Amazon one of the few viable challengers to the Facebook and Google ad duopoly. Amazon’s valuable assets include its huge trove of user data and its status as the default place consumers begin their online shopping journey. Other nascent ad players include (renamed TikTok, this is a popular lip-syncing video app now pushing into ads) and Twitch (the video game live-streaming site; also part of the Amazon empire).

Accountability and Fraud Reduction: Ad fraud, estimated at $8B annually in lost sales in the U.S. , continues to be a pervasive problem in digital advertising. In Fall 2018, BuzzFeed News published an exposé detailing a network of fraudulent mobile apps which secretly tracked the behavioral patterns of real-life Android users and then used that data to program a botnet which generated “hundreds of millions of dollars” worth of fak ad impressions and clicks. Meanwhile, researchers have discovered significant holes in Ads.txt, a technology adopted by the industry in order to reduce fraud. We expect new technologies such as Ads.cert and OpenRTB 3.0 to gradually improve the outlook here.

Transformative Technologies: There are numerous technologies with the potential to eventually disrupt the entirety of digital advertising, but which are still premature. Blockchain and artificial intelligence are generating much buzz in the industry, but the immediate applications aren’t there yet. Another transformative trend was highlighted at the conference by Adam Heimlich, a Keystone consulting expert and SVP of Media at Gale Partners, who urged advertisers to shift from a “channel-based” view of media to an “audience-first” paradigm. In the channel-based view, advertisers have separate, siloed media teams buying television, digital display, and search advertising but ultimately waste advertising dollars targeting the same user across myriad channels. In contrast, an audience-first approach allows the advertiser to become channel-agnostic, ultimately improving an advertiser’s efficiency and ROI.