Fairfax and Mi9 taking control of mobile inventory launching delayed APEX exchange

APEcNews Corp’s decision not to join a new advertising alliance between Fairfax and Mi9 has been blamed on a switch in internal politics after the sacking of CEO Kim Williams.

The new premium mobile exchange APEX is set to launch today two and half years after the idea of a publisher exchange was first touted with the publishers looking to take back control of their own premium inventory from the likes of Google.

Originally conceived as a desktop exchange APEX has gone through several iterations, with potential launch partners including News Corp and Yahoo7 pulling out, to launch with mobile inventory from sites including The Age and Sydney Morning Herald, NineMSN and the Daily Mail.

The exchange aims to address a gap in the market by giving traders an “ability to access a large pool of premium inventory that is 100 per cent brand safe programmatically”.

“At the moment in the open exchanges there are a vast amounts of what we would call long-tail amateur inventory and small pockets of  premium dotted within that,” said head of APEX Pippa Leary. ” But the way that gets sold to advertisers is ‘oh look you can buy across here and you can get access to this premium inventory’.

“What that does is it commoditises the premium inventory and has it sold around the same prices as the amateur long tail but the premium publishers believe there is a fundamental difference between premium inventory and long-tail.

“What APEX does is it puts a ring-fence around premium and offers one centre of gravity, one pool of premium supply for demand partners to come in and access.”

Despite reports it was meant to launch in February Leary said it had always been slated to launch at the end of the financial year, despite being in beta for many months and Fairfax and Mi9 already being on the same AppNexus technology it is using to power it.

Leary added the reason for the slight delay was to have AppNexus CEO Michael Rubenstein in Australia for the launch. The US based company is the “tech builder” behind the APEX platform, and are technological solution behind the publisher’s attempts to compete with the likes of Google or Facebook, Leary said.

“The technology provided by companies like AppNexus allows us to leapfrog and stay at pace or ahead of these Silicon Valley giants. That’s why we really value this relationship for us it’s like a conduit to Maddison Ave or to Silicon Valley,” she said.

“The relationship with Dave and this team brings it straight into Sydney and then we can share that amongst the premium publishers so it does give us a strong competitive advantage.”



Unsurprisingly Leary said there are discussions in progress with the soon-to-be-launched Huffington Post Australia, which chose Fairfax Media as its local launch partner.

“HuffPo fits very well within our target of premium inventory,” Leary said.

Initially both Yahoo7 and News Corp were meant to be involved in APEX’s “coalition” of publishers, however both companies dropped out before launch.

Leary said Yahoo7 pulled out in the early stages when APEX was “very much a desktop play”. According to Leary, the company “found it too difficult to say we can commit to this”.

News Corp AustraliaAnd while  News Corp were “completely signed up” to the alliance the sacking of former News Corp CEO Kim Williams put paid to that.

“Projects that Kim had been actively involved in all got put on hold. We saw a change in the politics happen in News Corp,” Leary said.

“They went from being quite forward thinking and strategic and having an understanding that we’d need to get together, to retreating to an older way of thinking which was more along the lines of ‘we have enemies in this particular environment’ and that became more important to them. That was unfortunate timing.”

Last night News announced its own premium exchange at its upfront presentations.

Leary added APEX still has “fairly open dialogue” with the two companies “and they’re always very interested in what we’re doing”.

“We’re in discussions with a number of different publishers,” she added.

On what’s next for publishers in the race to remain competitive with Facebook and Google, Leary described the process as a “crawl, walk, run scenario”.

“In this first step we’ll create this pooled supply of premium mobile inventory that can be traded programatically. One of the next steps is we really need to make APEX a centre of programmatic excellence,” she said.

“The other thing we need to do is we really need to make some moves on the ad formats and get aggressive about pulling brand budgets into mobile. Everyone is aware of the gap between the time that is spent on mobile devices and the amount of media that is spent there and that’s an opportunity, and we’re excited about that.”

This is the fundamental reason behind APEX’s decision to only work in the mobile space initially.

“We chose mobile because upwards of 50 per cent of users are accessing content through mobile devices but up until now very few of the publishers have had very strong monetisation strategies around those,” she said.

“Interestingly because mobile has been later to the game in terms of programmatic trading there aren’t any very robust marketplaces in which to trade mobile. We saw mobile as a fantastic opportunity to something unique in this marketplace and it will be one of the first in the world.”

APEX also wants to push to create an industry standard on mobile ads in an effort to combat low mobile ad yields.

“Mobile yields have been pitifully low for a long period of time. I speak to other players in the market a lot and everyone has different theories: the restricted space, the form factor, it’s the lack of attribution or it’s just the fragmented nature of the mobile ad market,” Leary said.

“What we think is going to have to happen – and APEX is incredibly well positioned to do this because it’s such a large centre of gravity – is that a couple of leading premium players will need to get together, we will need to identify and back a number of what we call hero brand ad formats and we will need to push them through to become the industry standard.

“If we don’t do that, we look across at competitors who are moving very quickly in the mobile space, we realise this will be an industry move. No single publisher, no single marketer is going to have the heft to do this so we’re going to have to get together to do this.”

When asked how APEX differentiates itself from its competitors such as Pangea, which locally sells inventory for The Guardian, and Dentsu Aegis’s Camelot, Leary said in market currently there is no “single competitor” for APEX “as it stands now”.

“What you have in the market are a number of different very small private marketplaces, a number of mobile ad networks, but there isn’t one place where you can come and trade premium inventory on mobile platforms programatically,” she said.

The only offering that is similar is Audience Square which has been in operation in France for around two years, Leary said. The Audience Square platform also uses AppNexus technology however itAppNexuss shareholders are 11 media groups.

“They offer desktop and mobile, they added mobile to their desktop offering. We haven’t seen any other bespoke mobile marketplace, we think this will be one of the first rolling out in the world,” Leary said.

Miranda Ward and Nic Christensen 


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