The display advertising industry continues to evolve at a blinding pace as new technologies make an ever-expanding array of media buying and selling models available to savvy advertisers and publishers. In February, we partnered with DigiDay to explore the growth and impact of real-time bidding (RTB) with a Real-Time Display Advertising State of the Industry survey. The study revealed significant adoption - 87% of media buyers plan to buy via RTB in 2011 and 45% of publishers planned to make inventory available via RTB platforms this year.

Building on the back of this study, we conducted new wave of research to explore the broader trends impacting online sales channels from both a buyer and seller perspective. We presented the highlights of this study yesterday at DigiDay’s DPAC conference in New York.

The survey identified a variety of perspectives between buyers and sellers, and also made it clear that both parties were optimistic about the opportunities presented by new innovations across the display landscape.

Buyers were most bullish on spending growth via networks and exchanges:
  • 30% of buyers believe that networks and exchanges will drive the most incremental digital ad spending. Top drivers identified by respondents included the need to reach audiences at scale (64%), a focus on buying efficiency (60%) and the ability to optimize (43%).
  • Buyers saw less of an increase in buys via direct sales, with only 14% of respondents identifying this channel as a top driver of spending. Motivation for direct sales channel investment was focused on the ability to execute custom sponsorships (56%) and the ability to negotiate price (48%).
  • 18% of buyers believed that Private Exchanges would be the top spending driver with transparency (29%) and the ability to negotiate price (26%) as the key influencers, and notably differentiating this channel from ad networks and “open” exchanges.
Publishers have a huge, and ever growing range of choices about how to best monetize and manage their inventory:
  • 79% of publishers believed that direct sales would be their biggest source of growth this year. Top drivers identified by respondents included growth from new formats and devices (57%), new audience targeting capabilities (44%) and unique ad units / sponsorships (39%).
  • 14% of sellers believed that networks and exchanges would be their leading growth driver. Top reasons for publishers to exploit these channels included access to new buyers (26%), excess inventory (21%) and the ability to reach data-driven buyers (21%).
  • Private Exchanges remained somewhat nascent, with only 7% of publishers identifying them as a leading channel for growth. Publishers preferred this new model for preventing channel conflict (56%), the ability to leverage their brand equity (50%), and the ability to maintain direct relationships on an exchange platform (47%). Most interestingly, 43% of publishers considering Private Exchanges saw growth in this channel as completely incremental.
What to make of these seemingly mismatched expectations? While audience reach and efficiency are at the top of the buyer agenda, it’s also clear that context and relationships still matter. With the right protections and controls, publishers can also use the rapid pace of industry innovation to their advantage by experimenting with new selling models that leverage their assets and relationships, while unlocking new demand.